A career of sustainability and innovation: The German company Mobisol in East Africa
Charging your mobile phone, doing your homework or reading a book after dark – these are things that cannot be taken for granted in the rural regions of East Africa. Many people there do not have access to electricity. Following its slogan “Plug in the World”, Mobisol GmbH has set out to change this. The company with its head office in Berlin, gives people in Rwanda, Tanzania and, most recently, in Kenya the opportunity to move up the career ladder and promote sustainability at the same time.
“We are working to create access to electricity for as many people living in the East African provinces as possible.” says Johannes Sieland, Head of Human Resources for Mobisol at the company’s headquarters in Berlin. And Mobisol is pretty successful in following this “mission”, as Sieland calls it. Having started as a pilot project in 2010, the company has over 600 permanent employees working for it today – about a hundred in Germany and around 500 in East Africa.
Mobisol’s business model works as follows: A potential customer looks for information in one of the company’s points of sale, the “Mobishops”. They are offered a solar energy system which is installed on their roof and provides them with electricity immediately. Customers can also choose among a series of appliances, such as lamps, televisions or radios, which have been customized to work on solar energy. The devices and energy systems are produced in Germany and China.
“Most people living in the remote regions produce electricity in a variety of ways – for instance with generators – which are not particularly environmentally-friendly and often expensive,” says Johannes Sieland. The solar energy system provides reliable access to electricity, using a clean source of energy to replace fossil fuels such as diesel or kerosene.
Video: Mobisol – plug in the world!
“Our freelance sales staff and our employees in our shops provide comprehensive expert advice to our customers,” Sieland adds. “First of all, we ask how and for which purpose they intend to use the electricity. And we find out whether customers can afford our products.” The solar energy systems cost between 500 and 1,000 US-Dollars. They are fully delivered and installed and customers have to pay for them in instalments over a period of three years via their mobile phones – a very comfortable payment plan. After these three years, customers are in fact using their energy for free.
“Our business model includes microfinancing. We always provide a financing plan for the entire price of the product,” Johannes Sieland explains. The microloan granted by Mobisol is part of the company’s strategy. “Ideally, we help customers to provide solar electricity for a business which helps them provide for their families.” Johannes Sieland can point to many examples: A customer who serves to his entire village as a charging hub for their mobile phones, or another one who operates a barber shop with the energy the system generates.
Local employees are trained at an in-house academy
After the sale of a solar energy system, Mobisol enters into a commitment: “During the first three years, the service package warrants that customers are never left without electricity for more than 48 hours.” Installation and maintenance are guaranteed. To provide this service, Mobisol trains local experts for sales and technical service at a company-run academy.
Mobisol’s academy has various branches in the regions. Trainers are exclusively local experts who received their own advanced training at the academy, too. Participants go through a two-week theoretical and practical training program. Depending on which qualification they have chosen, this can be followed by an additional training module. Graduates of the academy then go on to either work on commission in sales or on a fee basis as technicians for installation and maintenance.
“Sometimes, this option is used as a second source of income,” says Johannes Sieland. “Some of our freelance employees have a second job, for instance in farming.” You do not need a particular degree or previous knowledge for attending the training at the Mobisol Akademie. “The academy allows us to spread knowledge in the East African region, and this in turn spurs economic development and increases productivity in the medium-term,” Johannes Sieland explains.
Market entry in Kenya in September 2016
To date, Mobisol has been present in Tanzania and Rwanda. A total of 500 people work as freelance staff for Mobisol in these two countries. There are more than 30 Mobishops in Tanzania and about ten in Rwanda. Mobisol has sold more than 60,000 solar home systems in Tanzania and Rwanda so far, giving 300,000 people reliable access to electricity.
Over the past weeks, Mobisol has launched its business for the Kenyan market, too. On 27 September 2016, the first Mobishop was opened in Kakamega, in the Western part of the country. “We usually choose rural regions for market entry, so that we can be as close to our customers as possible,” Johannes Sieland explains the choice of location.
Mobisol has great plans for Kenya: “We are currently employing a fixed staff of 25 in Nairobi and we are hoping for this number to double by the end of the year – and this is only the beginning!” says Sieland. Of course, the company will have to await the outcome, but Sieland expects Mobisol to open more than 20 Mobishops within the coming years and to have several hundred employees.
Many new jobs for graduates and lateral recruits
“We are offering employment across all professions and levels of qualification in Kenya,” Sieland says. According to him, applicants for a permanent position with Mobisol should have the following attributes:
- An eagerness to try new things
- A hands-on attitude
- Multi-cultural competence – people from more than 30 countries are currently working for Mobisol
- Very good knowledge of the local language and good knowledge of English
- Furthermore, previous professional experience would be welcomed, but is not an exclusion criterion.
“No one who is interested in working for Mobisol should be afraid to apply.” Johannes Sieland promises “Training on the job” and further training programs. “Of course, some positions require practical experience and a vocational or academic qualification. But we know that Kenyans understand the markets in their home country much better than we do in the German headquarters. And if he or she is keen to give people in Kenya an opportunity for a better quality of life and to promote economic and social development, we would be happy to receive their application.”
For Germany-Alumni in particular, Mobisol’s sustainability goals should be interesting and easy to share, as previous evidence shows that the members of the Alumniportal Deutschland are more committed to issues of society and environment than on average.
What is important for you in your job?