social empowerment

social empowerment

South Africa
Organization type: 
for profit
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Empower communities that have no access to common electricity. Use green alternative energy that is safe, reliable, available 24/7 and affordable to create possibilities for disposable income on a sustainable basis. We set up service shops in villages, train local persons as fuel cell technicians and install our zinc air fuel cells into individual homes. The fuel cells get re charged manually about once a month by the fuel cell technicians for a small fee. Waste zinc oxide is partially used as high value fertilizer in local community vegetable gardens to grow nutritional vegetables and crops for food security.The energy provided is used for home industry like sewing machines, internet cafe, haicutting, copiers, computers for assisting people to write CV's, make copies of documents etc.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The community is situated in a very rural area in the Northern Cape, South Africa. The closest town is Kuruman, some 30km away. The 2 villages have some 1200 community members including children. The unemployment is about 80%. Most community members rely on government grants or income that their children who work in urban areas, send home every month. The education is very low, 65% of the grown ups can not read and write. Women are the traditional workers and more willing to work then men. The villages were a previous homeland under apartheid and was incorporated into South Africa after the political change. Our experience over 7 years, is that it takes a lot of effort to win the trust of the community members. Children are our intermediaries as they have open minds and are keen to learn. They educate the parents. 89% of the community has a cell phone but needs to spend a lot of money to get the batteries charged. They give the phones to persons that go to town and pay them to get the batteries charged ( about 1 U.S.$ every 4 days). By providing basic energy the community increase their life style and can charge their own batteries. Winning the trust of the community is not easy and needs constant interactions. We have different factions of pro active and non active people to deal with on a daily basis. We use the trained service technicians and children to help with these challenges. The technicians provide the fuel cell exchange and inform us with information of what we need to do in order to be more successful. Over time we have now created 16 jobs for community members and reduced the unemployment by 5% of the possible employable work force. There are some 600 children and 300 persons over 60 years of age.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We manufacture and supply zinc air fuel cells that provide basic energy 24/7. The energy has no carbon foot print and is safe, cost effective and portable. The use of our energy is cheaper than using candles and paraffin. We approach the projects on a holistic basis. Taking into consideration the needs of the community members in very rural areas that have over 80% of unemployment. We provide workshops for the whole community, rally the children to influence the parents to new thinking and provide tools that benefit the individuals to create home industry. We encourage the use of existing skills like expression of local arts in sewing and embroidery projects for women, form community operated vegetable gardens for food security and sale of products to shops in the nearest town. We use some of our waste zinc oxide as high value fertilizer to grow organic products. We encourage entrepreneurship and to become self reliant. We provide long term mentoring as it takes time to change mind sets. we are working in partnership with other organisations that want to help communities to become more self reliant and successful, we share the cost of resources made available. This reduces risk of duplication. The projects must demonstrate a win win situation for all and get the buy in from the community in order to be sustainable. We support communities for years in order to be able to have an impact and create measurable milestones of improvement in these communities. Learning is not only for the community but we learn from the community as well in order to refine further projects.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The primary activity is the provision of reliable basic energy, available 24/7, in non grid areas to increase the quality of life and to create sustainable employment through education of the community members of what they can do with that energy. Training of service technicians and computer training,forming partnerships with other organisations that will provide assistance for further job creations are part of the program. Empowering community members to self reliance and not to rely on government grants are a important factor. We created in 2 villages 12 sustainable employments for women and 4 male entrepreneurs.We reduced the unemployment by 5% in these villages.
About You
Alternative Energy Development Corp.Ltd.
About You
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

Alternative Energy Development Corp.Ltd.

Organization Country

, GT

Country where this project is creating social impact

, NC

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

My name is Rolf Papsdorf, I am a born entrepreneur since the age of 6years old. My passion is to be able to create a better life for people that have limited opportunities in life. I got involved into alternative energy some 12 years ago and designed a low cost reliable zinc air fuel cell for basic energy. The fuel cells need to address the needs and affordabilty of the end users. For this reason I spent 1 year researching rural areas in South Africa in order to find out what is needed and what can the people afford. In 2006 we implemented the first larger pilot project in Namibia. We won the Globe Energy Award in Brussels for this project, as best rural electrification project with social empowerment impact. I love challenges and rural life, as it is less stressed and much saver to live in these areas.In 2008 I was accepted as Ashoka fellow for a year. As I had however too little time to interact with the local branch on a regular basis, I was not able to become a full Ashoka Fellow even though Dr. SHIT ( Trevor) wrote a glowing report of my activities at the time. In 2009 I won the tech award in San Jose for the project in Limpopo. The awards and recognicion received inspires me to carry on and make a positive impact. I attended the GSBI program at the Santa Clara University in 2010 and became more corporate orientated and developed with my mentors a new marketing model that allows a faster growth and expansion. I am implementing this project right now. I do to day the possible as to morrow is only a concept of ones imagination.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

We have provided 250 house holds in 2 villages with our fuel cells, creating 1MW ( 1 million Watt) of energy a month. We have reduced petty crime as people have now outside lights in their yards and can see what is going on.We have created 16 sustainable jobs and reduced the unemployment by 5%. We have acceptance by the community and the support of the school going learners who love our technology and what it does. How do you measure success? If a community member comes to you after having received his fuel cells and lights, can watch now TV and charge his cell phone batteries and says: "You make me feel now like a valuable person" that to me is success.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001- 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

We are now implementing our new marketing model developed during my inhouse residence program at the Santa Clara University. The model is designed for the lower income groups ( less than U.S.$ 200 per month).
We have formed a partnership with CAPITEC BANK that provides low cost micro finance to our target market that is informal settlements around Johannesburg and other larger cities. We set up retail outlets and create entrepreneurs to operate the service shops and retail outlets. Our marketing plan is conservative and targets 11600 fuel cell sets into the Ekhuruleni area near Johannesburg in the next 3 years. This would be to the benefit of some 50 000 persons as each house hold has 4+ persons per dwelling. It will create over 500 sustainable jobs for service technicians alone.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

In the past years we had to rely on corporate sponsorship. This is not sustainable for the company as it takes time to get projects financed. ( 1 project a year)By implementing our new marketing plan and not relying on sponsorship or government, we have now our own destiny in hand. We are implementing presently a private financing in the U.S. with a venture capital company and have formed a partnership with the 4th largest bank in South Africa, CAPITEC, that makes available low cost loans to our customer base.We have 9 franchise agents that are paying for franchise rights in the area of Ekhuruleni. Our financial projections are conservative but will demonstrate a positive cash flow in year 2 after implementation of the new marketing plan. The expected profit of U.S.$ over 1 million is in year 3. This allows us to grow rapidly into other ares in South Africa and adjoining countries.

Tell us about your partnerships

We have formed a partnership with the 4th largest bank in South Africa CAPITEC BANK, that seeks to extend its client base into our target market.
We have a partnership with Connect Africa that uses our fuel cells in projects in Southern Africa.
We have a partnership with SAEDF ( Southern African Economic Development Fund, that is financed by USAID.)
We have partnerships with various NGO's that promote education and working with women in rural areas, Like Ilithuba that gets skirts and other items made by rural women, using electric sewing machines powered by our fuel cells, with unique african embroidery under fair trade.
We have a partnership with the Santa Clara University and my mentors to help us grow and provide support.
We have formed a partnership with Africa Union, a African business organisation that promotes our energy solutions into Africa

Explain your selections

We form partnerships with different organisations. In that way we do not duplicate projects and safe money by sharing costs.We plan long term service back up to create sustainability. We are a unlisted public company in South Africa that includes some 220 individual share holders from all over the world. We do not need bank overdrafts or loans. We worked with capital raised from share holders in the past, but have now achieved after 9 years, the first time a positive cash flow.
We invlove all our business partners as share holders in our company in order to create loyalty and and share risks. We are now in a position to expand without financial constraints due to the partnership with Capitec Bank that finances our low income customers.We need to stay in control of our future as not many organizations are thinking social empoerment first but look more at the return of investment. We work to the tripple bottom line principle, ROI, social impact, environmental impact. This can only be done with no interference by government and local politics. The private sector must be the driver of the projects.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

We will expand into other South African areas that have no grid energy ( some 12 million households)By targeting only 1% of this market it would effect 120 000 house holds ( some 400 000 persons)
We will grow in a controlled manner and into specific geographic areas in order to reach a target market that can be effectivly serviced by the service shops and retail outlets we set up. The critical mass is 250 customers per service shop in order to have a sustainable and positive cash flow business. Reaching a target market of 1% would mean 480 service shops. This would create over 1000 sustainable employments and entrepreneurs spread across South Africa , without taking into consideration the secondary businesses we create in the end user market.
We will open up the first world market with our fuel cells for disaster relief, and UPS power. As we have controlled power cuts for the next 5 years in South Africa we have a interesting further market into the urban market.
We will expand the business to other African countries and have already exciting projects happening in August 2011 in Zambia.
Our aim is to expand into India and other South East Asian countries as we have many enquiries already to form joint ventures in these areas.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Lack of skills/training


Lack of efficiency


Lack of access to information and networks

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

We provide skills training as fuel cell technicians
We train with partners women in different skills like electric sewing machines and embroidery machines
We teach how to work smart and not hard
We train school children to operate computers and what they can do now with the energy provided.
We provide energy on a 24/7 basis to operate computers, media, TV'S and internet

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Grown geographic reach: Multi-country


Grown geographic reach: Global

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

1)We target the Ekhuruleni area that has 136000 informal dwellings that have no access to energy. We will set up 9 retail outlets and service shops that will create sustainable employment for 27 persons direct as entrepreneurs.
2) We expand to other large urban areas like Cape Town were there are 100 000 informal dwellings with no services
3) we expand into Zambia and Malawi
The target is to establish a customer base of 11600 households in the next 3 years in South Africa. This will effect the life of some 50 000 people and create over 500 sustainable employments

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

The most helpful and exciting help I got was during my inhouse residence program (GSBI) at the Santa Clara University.
For profit companies like Anglo American, Kumba Resources, EXXARO, have funded projects in the past but are not suitable to be relied on in order to create a large user base outside their mine operations.
The winning of the tech award opened new opportunities not available in South Africa. Venture capital companies approached us, as they see the global impact we can make and the share holder value we create at the same time.
the CSIR ( Council for Science and Industrial Research) tested the fuel cells and made recommendations to government to use our technology. It gives us the credibility to be accepted in the market.