Growing up as a refugee, Francine had no access to electricity. Francine’s founded Munyax Eco to harness the Africa’s recurring problem – lack of access to electricity and to solve Rwanda’s energy challenges in rural and urban areas by providing solar equipment adapted and tested for the African continent. Francine is well known for her gender-oriented recruitment and sales strategy which is to bring women into the fight against climate change while empowering them economically. To date, over 10,000 people across Rwanda, DRC and Burundi have access to clean energy, thanks to Munyax Eco’s women-led and focused solutions. In this interview with Oke Peter, she speaks on the challenges crippling renewable energy and how African nations can be energy sufficient. Excerpts
Can you tell us about the idea behind the establishment of Munyax Eco-Solar Energy?
Well, the idea of founding MUNYAX ECO is linked to my life story. I was born and raised partly in Europe, then later back to Rwanda in rural areas and growing up as a refugee in DRC, there were challenges to access electricity. Again 30 years later, during my globetrotting (across Africa; Middle East & Asia) where I was working in humanitarian sector, I noticed same energy access challenges; and that time I was even mature enough to see and understand all the negative impacts of climate change. Therefore, I decided to resign from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); took my savings to start my business venture that would provide access to CLEAN energy. That was the birth of Munyax Eco Ltd.!
You have been impacting lives with clean renewable energy and advocating the fight against climate change. Are your solutions affordable, convenient and functional?
That’s a good question because we all know that clean energy technologies are expensive especially in Africa, (as we don’t have required human and financial resources to manufacture all equipment locally) additional expenses of shipment increases the final price of equipment. Since we know well the market and the purchasing power of our clients (African community), Munyax Eco offers flexible payment plans which make our solutions affordable. Accepting payment in instalment up to 12 months in business requires more than enough patience but we do it because we want solar power to be accessible to as many people as possible across East Africa). Furthermore, all our products are convenient in their respective categories and of course functional because we wouldn’t sell products that will destroy our good reputation later. We also sign contracts with our customers, and warranty on products makes its own article!
How have you been coping with project execution and various challenges associated with this considering the current economic realities?
That’s the real challenge, but I manage through partnerships, and I apply also for additional equity and loans at concessional interest rate.
Despite the huge financial and human resources available, African nations are lagging behind in the renewable energy and climate compliant. How do you think Africa can be energy sufficient?
I think that Africa can be energy sufficient by ensuring qualification of our own human resources; I mean to empower human resource to ensure capable work force and expertise on the continent, invest in continental manufacturing instead of importing everything from other continents.
We need to invest in research and the development for renewable energies on the continent. African Governments need to set own strategic framework that promote renewable energies. This should have a clear mechanism and regulations that support Renewable energy operators and reinforce their follow-up. Because some governments would establish strict regulations, and even track their implementations. However, on the other side to approve the tariff they are skeptical and want the tariff to be as low as possible which does not reflect the quality and compliance regulations for project execution. We need to promote homemade solutions; I mean African solutions.
You are running a private company working in collaboration with private sector, government administration and NGO’s by providing national and regional emerging markets with solar equipment adapted and tested for our regions. How do you get funding for your projects?
Like I have mentioned before, the governments and international institutions are progressively setting up programmes for rural electrification where the private sector is associated to participate by offering grants and loans at concessional interest rate. We are also applying to alternative funding on the international level.
Your company has deployed more than 3000 Solar thermal and PV systems (solar water heaters, Photovoltaic systems, solar mini-grids, solar cold rooms, solar home systems in Rwanda. How sustainable are your products?
We give warrantee up to 10 years; we also already have a recycling department, and we are recycling old/defected products. Furthermore, we have an ambitious project of starting a manufacturing firm starting on SWH and we have already signed partnership agreement with key stakeholder to cooperate in manufacturing.
MUNYAX ECO was recently recognized by the London Stock Exchange Group to be among Africa’s fastest growing and the most dynamic businesses in Africa. In the next five years, where do you think MUNYAX ECO will be?
Munyax Eco is currently on East African market level, in the next five years, my wish is to embark in other regions of Africa.
Congratulations, MUNYAX ECO has been selected to be part of the 10 finalists of the Africa’S Business Heroes Award. Are you fulfilled with this award and how would you use the grant. Do you have any project in mind?
Thank you very much!
I am really grateful and happy for the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) award I got, but to be honest, I can’t say that I am fulfilled because during a competition everybody want to win! Right? The same for me, my target was to be among the top 3 finalists. Since, I am very ambitious towards my goals, the dreams were so much about how Munyax Eco would expand if I managed to secure higher prize! But the competition was very though; I admit that I got what I deserved.
ABH prize share is mainly going to be used in cold chain technology, and we believe to become a success given the fact that we provide solar cold rooms and solar freezers on reasonable lease agreement. New cold rooms will create new job opportunities for locals during construction and operation later, local farmers will benefit by storing they production while waiting for buyers which reduce post-harvest losses.
Besides the money you got out of the competition, what else did you learn from this competition?
First lesson is that high tech holds the future! Whatever solution you are providing, for you to be competitive, your project needs to be very scalable, it has to be adapted to this century’s dynamicity and lifestyle. Another lesson is that African entrepreneurs are doing great works in their respective fields, some of them are widely known and others only locally known due to limited financial means, but still the brains are sharp with strong desire to contribute to the overall development of our continent.
What advice can you give to future entrepreneurs willing to participate in the ABH prize competition?
I would tell them that knocking on a door doesn’t cost anything but if you don’t do it, you may never get in! ABH is a big and powerful competition for African entrepreneurs, there is no condition about business stage; age limit; gender or any other thing, the most important thing is your business model, its scalability and impact. Learn from your peers and us who participated in previous competitions to get advice on how to prepare yourself. You never know how life-changing this competition can be, a breakthrough window that led you to an open platform where growth opportunities are shared amongst those who manage to make it the top 10 finals, living alone the prize.
It’s possible. If I did it, If Munyax did it, you can do even better!