Solomon Islands suffered a brutal period of civil unrest from 1998 to 2003 when government services broke down as a result of violence and criminal lawlessness. The civil conflict had a crippling effect on security and economic activity.
While stability is slowly being restored under the Australian-led RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands), the country is still considered fragile. Eighty percent of the population continue to rely on subsistence agriculture and fishing, the economic base is extremely narrow and formal opportunities for unskilled labourers to find gainful employment, particularly in the outlying islands, are extremely limited.
Even with the lack of opportunities, large numbers of teenagers, particularly males, are dropping out of school to find work. Unfortunately, with few opportunities, their levels of frustration are rising. In a country with a recent history of civil unrest, finding ways to productively engage these young people in the economy, and ensure they are hopeful about the future is crucial.
Anglican Overseas Aid has partnered with Australian company Barefoot Power to support the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) who have selected a group of 15-20 youth (both men and women) to be trained in entrepreneurial skills. The project uses a self-sustaining finance model that has been successfully implemented in other parts of the world and is based on selling solar lamps to households in surrounding villages.
The solar desk lamps are simple devices that, once charged, can provide up to 30 hours of light reducing a household’s reliance on kerosene entirely. Each of the entrepreneurs will initially be given two lamps on credit to sell in designated areas, after which they purchase further stock.
The initial training will be provided through the Regional Training Centre of ACOM situated on the island of Malaita. The micro-entrepreneurs participate in a three day program, provided at no charge to them. The training covers technical information on the product, sales and marketing techniques, and skills training in the areas of financial management, stock control, fundraising and entrepreneurship.
It is expected that the trainees will be available to deliver peer-to-peer training to other youth in the country following the pilot. The trainees will also develop a business plan (as part of their training) to assist them with ongoing marketing and sales of these products. As the entrepreneurship training is generic in nature, these skills could be transferred to other products or business opportunities over time.
ACOM, which will manage the project implementation in-country, will oversee a microcapital fund. This fund will purchase the solar lamps and make sure that stock is available for distribution to micro-entrepreneurs. ACOM and participants, will also develop a strategy for increasing the micro-capital pool and eventually use it to purchase other marketable goods.
The level of interest and uptake of this concept has been huge. Its potential is widely accepted by the target communities who understand the importance of providing gainful work opportunities for young people, particularly in the outer islands. Decreasing reliance on kerosene which is both expensive and dangerous is an obvious benefit. Following a full project evaluation of this current pilot phase, the aim is to scale up the project to include all six ACOM training institutions targeting communities across the whole of Solomon Islands. It is estimated as many as 40,000 remote households could access electricity through solar power over the next three years.
The project is also popular because of the environmental benefits it offers. Solar energy is recognised as a climate-friendly technology because it does not produce green-house gas emissions. Across the Pacific, communities are concerned about the impacts of changing weather conditions given their high level of vulnerability to climate shocks such as cyclones, torrential downpours and tidal changes resulting in flooding. Using solar energy supports both long term sustainability and improves quality of life for Solomon Islanders.
Our program has provided life-changing light that isolated families would otherwise not be able to afford. Since establishing our 'Business in a Bag' income generation component $10,000 in profit has been generated for Solomon Island communities.