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Scaling household energy solutions

 Photo: Rwanda Red Cross
Photo: Rwanda Red Cross

Norwegian Red Cross partnered with private sector partners to provide people in humanitarian settings with household lighting, and energy efficient cooking solutions. The project was supported by the HIP Norway Scaling Programme in 2018 and was discontinued in 2020.

Scope of the project

Access to household lighting and especially cooking energy is a major issue for refugees and often also for the greater population in some developing countries. This project, managed by the Norwegian Red Cross and implemented by the IFRC, in partnership with the Ugandan Red Cross and Rwandan Red Cross, was built on the experiences and findings from a pilot project on household energy kits, funded by Innovation Norway. The original program (2017-2018) set out to field test cooking and lighting technologies in Mahama camp in Rwanda, and in the Imvepi and Bidibidi refugee settlements in Uganda, with a view to developing a catalogue of items which might then be selected for ‘Household Energy Kits’. Several local private sector partners, including Wonderbag and Green Bio Energy, were engaged. One component of the project was to develop a questionnaire and a methodology which could be used with refugees so that they could influence the choice of items put in the kit, ensuring that the kit would meet their needs in the best way. A third aspect explored how the humanitarian sector could work with local private sector organizations in a more complementary fashion than is currently the case – local companies in the sustainable energy sector with products which could have a humanitarian impact.

The pilot revealed barriers related to logistics, which led to the realization of an innovative business model for production and distribution of necessary household energy kits, which could contribute to more sustainable and cost-efficient utilization of humanitarian funds. The project aimed to use refugee settlements as a catalyst for changing cooking practices and cooking energy markets among the wider population as well. The goal of the 2018-2020 grant was to scale the innovative business model to five countries in the East Africa region, and to focus on setting up local production facilities and training refugees to be part of the value chain.

Some of the key impact seen in the original program were reflected in both the cost and time burden. There was a decrease in the consumption of fuel for households (with a variation of between 30% to 70%) and a decrease in time taken for preparation of meals; in some cases, up to 60%.


Lessons learned

One of the key lessons learned from this project is that it is important to ensure that innovation projects have proper support internally. The project was largely owned by individuals, without institutional systems created to support its management and accountability. Having both clarity of roles and responsibilities among implementing partners as well as dedicated resourcing aligned to organisational mission is crucial for the success of multi-partner projects.  

There was a need for an extensive market fit analysis to ensure that the innovation is responding to a community need and can be fulfilled at scale. While this project has closed, some of the partners have continued to collaborate, with innovations like Wonderbag rolling out in several East African countries with the support of other RCRC National Society partners.

The project implementation was also severely impacted by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, due to both the nature of the on boarding for the kit (these needed in person demonstrations) and implementing partners shift in focus to more urgent pandemic response.