2017 public's prize winner Majika: "Things are moving in the right direction."

The Majika project won the Orange Social Venture Prize Africa & Middle-East 2017 public’s prize. The two co-founders, Nicolas Livache and Moustapha Zafilahy (a North Madagascar native) tell us about their story and their social entrepreneurship project, which aims to improve access to energy in the rural communities of Madagascar.

Entrepreneur Club – Why did launch Majika?
Moustapha and Nicolas – In August 2016, we launched the Majika social business to bring a new answer to the issues of development and energy access in the countryside. We relied on more than two years of observation and analysis of the energy industry. We have developed a strong and grounded approach, which fits the rural zones of the island. We are convinced of the leverage effect of energy in these areas and of the relevancy of the economic model.

What innovations do you bring to energy access?
Majika innovates on multiple levels:
technical; because we set up solar fields with dual orientation capability where the goal is not to produce more, but to minimize the gap between production and consumption;
social; because we devote as much energy into electricity production as we do making sure its consumption can make a productive impact. We do not limit our spectrum of intervention to merely producing electricity;
governance; because of our strong partnership with the local community. We have identified this local connection as a success factor for rural energy access projects. The commune manages with us the fund dedicated to the replacement of the material;
information and communication technologies; because we monitor our setup in real time. A website displays the data in real time and we have set up an alarm system using text messages. Bills are sent by SMS and the users can pay with mobile money. We are also developing a solution to study the demand in energy and thus further exploit our experience and data.

How is your project going along?
In October 2017, we exploit our pilot project, 32 kWc in a village west of Diego Suarez. It provides energy to about 100 people. We are bringing the finishing touch to our second project, 100 kWc of solar energy for 5,000 people. The studies are done, we just need to complete the financing plan.
We also plan to launch by the end of the year an all-in-one solution for rural entrepreneurs without access to our mini-grids. These are “productive solar kits” purpose-designed for supporting rural entrepreneurship. Innovative smart meters will allow us to provide distant monitoring of the installations and to put in place a payment system for entrepreneurs to acquire the kits within 12 to 24 months.

What is your take on the evolution of the renewable energy industry?
Things are moving in the right direction. Both users and politicans start to integrate renewable energy in their thought processes. A huge awareness-raising effort is needed to help the users acquire less energy-hungry devices (LED lights, energy-saving fridges, etc.) and thus further improve energy efficiency.
The biggest issue is the initial investment. We work with banks and microfinance to come up with solutions, but the process takes time.

What are the assets of Madagascar in that sector?
Madagascar enjoys an important solar potential suitably long round the year. Remote habitats also helps decentralized solutions. The high cost of oil makes solar solutions competitive.

What are the key elements a new entrepreneur in renewable energy should take into account?
The management of energy and investment (again!). You should be aware that it’s a new world for the consumers. You don’t consume solar energy the way you consume from the national grid. For investment, you need to integrate this issue in the strategy in order to avoid providing material of poor quality.

Your project attracted the most votes from Internet users in the international voting phase. How did you manage to activate these supporters?
What happened was great! We don’t know for sure how we got first, but we are really dedicated to our project and, despite the lack of funds, we keep trying to advance things. People may respond positively to that. Also, we have put in place systems, proven a capacity for action and validated working hypotheses. Our adventure gets more mature and provides answers to actual issues on the ground. We feel supported and strong. All the messages we have received during this voting campaign make us want to move mountains.

What’s your message to Entrepreneur Club readers?
Take your shot! We started with many ideas and dreams and few means to support them. The road ahead is still long indeed but this adventure is meaningful. You have to launch, start small and think on the spot. We keep having conversations with young people full of ideas but who won’t give it a try. You have to step up!

Are you looking for partners?
We are looking for technical partners to help us structure or to develop tools. We are also looking for help to finance our rural mini-grids and our production toolkits.

Thanks!

I learn more on the Majika site.

Plant and start of the grid

Boat repair workshop

Ampasindava solar plant

Beneficiaries

Grounding an electric pole

The children of Ampasindava after school

Team in charge of setting up solar panels