Uganda Posts

Feeling the Entrepreneurship Spirit in Uganda

Posted Sunday 8 May 2022 by Urs Riggenbach.

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Uganda and Kenya to see firsthand the amazing impacts of Lytefire with some of the 250+ entrepreneurs we have empowered in the last 12 months.

Visiting the training site in Uganda

As you know we have not only developed the Lytefire solar tech but also the entrepreneur-trainings to train women and youths to run their own solar businesses - with no prior experience.

The big mission we have taken on at Solar Fire, has made the last years of business development really hard for us. Awareness of solar concentration is still low vis-à-vis photovoltaics, and little focus is on solving the energy problems of the millions of entrepreneurs in low-income regions. With a truly decentralized energy source we also don’t fit the old centralized models that brought the climate and poverty crisis in the first place. But one beautiful result of our work is that we are sharing our experience with entrepreneurship and are able to provide all the key ingredients to create solar bakeries: From the Lytefire Oven to the baking skills, the entrepreneurship skills and the technical skills to maintain a Lytefire with local materials, something that fundamentally sets us apart.

Just like Solar Fire faces many challenges in scaling up, there are so many barriers our solar entrepreneurs need to overcome on a daily basis. But the basis of doing business is selling your product. To do that, yes you need a product, but you also need to have the courage to go out there and sell it. And if nobody buys, you don’t succeed.

As CEO of Solar Fire since a few months, my work is very demanding, being involved with both the delivery and acquisiton sides, keeping a bird’s eye perspective and going down to the nitty-gritty of day-to-day activities on a constant basis. We had just reached a milestone on the fundraising side and at the same time a major training program was coming to a close: It was time to jump on the opportunity to visit the projects, the entrepreneurs and see old and new team members, with 6 of them whom I would meet for the first time in real life!

So during my trip, I was able to visit one of the last training courses for a project we are delivering to our client Plan International in Tororo, Uganda.

It was a hot, sunny day, and after our bakery trainer Allan finished his first segment on making muffins (known as Queen Cakes in Uganda), the muffins were in the solar oven and our entrepreneurship trainers Callum and Hanna continued on the bookkeeping part of the training.

I’ve taken such workshops before and my body immediately reacted with a wave of tiredness as my mind wandered to the 30 other things demanding my attention at Solar Fire.

The typing noise of calculators that were handed out brought me back just 10 minutes into the session, and I noticed the strong engagement of the group. Callum asked, “Why is there more money in the account than cookies were sold?”. - A participant: “Shouldn’t we have cookies left?”- Another: “No, all cookies were sold by Sunday”. Callum: “So, clearly someone sold cookies between last Friday, brought the money into the account but did not subtract it from the inventory nor add it to the bookkeeping. You see, just now, a day after it happened it is hard to reconstruct what happens. That’s why the bookkeeping needs to be done right way. OK. Let it be a lesson and reminder for us. Let’s go into this”. …and they proceeded to figure out exactly who made the sales, and updated the accounting based on this, if you ask me, very positive problem.

Even what I would consider the most “dry” and theoretical part of the training was made engaging through the entrepreneurial reality we are creating in the short time our trainers are on-site. And it continued: As the muffins came out of the oven, the instructions were very clear: “No snacking”. I had to withstand my urge to just grab a delicious looking muffin: I asked about the rule and it is something they developed through the trainings: If you make it clear that every muffin snacked is a muffin not sold and a direct loss for the bakery, people’s business mindset is honed and put in place from the beginning.

Now we were inside a large compound in a hall where the training was conducted, outside on the main road construction works were happening. I would say a 10 minute walk from the construction site. Yet suddenly a man enters the building and asks if he can buy some Queen Cakes. A sale happened and I was really impressed: The word of mouth is really working, and the solar bakery is quickly worth a visit just because of it’s innovative aspects, and at the end of this day, all queen cakes were sold again, to few additional clients that the participants had called and animated.

The participants all made sales, brought in cash through their work and had a real entrepreneurial success just after one week when I arrived, and at the end of the second week, our trainers left them with a profit in their account and an inventory of starter-ingredients for them to efficiently continue running their bakery. This entrepreneurship-creation process was really impressive to experience firsthand. It was extremely motivating to see how with Lytefire we can create real entrepreneurship opportunities wherever we go.

The experience was confirmed by the various other solar entrepreneurs I got to meet on my trip, and from some of them, you will soon hear more!

Stay tuned.

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Uganda May Now Be East Africa’s Solar Baking Capital!

Posted Friday 1 April 2022 by Lorin Symington.

We are back in action in Uganda with Plan International and Plan Uganda! In 2018 we delivered two of our solar bakery and entrepreneurship trainings at Plan’s SmartUp Factory Hubs and now we’re back to do another nine installations and trainings! We have a bigger team and our ovens and Lytefire concentrators are better than ever.

We’re delivering these training sessions to two types of groups this time; SmartUp Hubs, which are youth training centers where underserved youth can come to learn life-skills and get training on a variety of subjects from tailoring to videography, and we’re also training ‘I-Decide’ groups which are typically women-led rural cooperative businesses that focus on empowering women economically so that they can decide for themselves how to run their lives and not depend on fathers, husbands, brothers or other men who might seek to control them.

During the training we cover three main areas: Lytefire Technical training so that participants have the knowledge to install, calibrate and maintain the equipment, bakery skills training where they learn hygiene, ingredients handling and the techniques to make a variety of delicious recipes, and entrepreneurship which includes everything they need to know to market their goods, do the accounting and manage their inventory.

Youth underemployment is a grave problem in Uganda, especially since the start of the pandemic but the great thing about baked goods is that they never go out of style. The fact that these young ‘solarpreneurs’ are using pure, direct solar energy to bake their products only adds to the excitement! Many of the areas where we’re training these youth have no local bakeries. Oftentimes the baked goods come from a town over an hour away, so this, in addition to using free, clean solar energy gives our young solarpreneurs a real advantage.

So far we’ve delivered 7 out of the 11 trainings that are planned. 9 are with fresh new groups and come with the latest and greatest Lytefires produced by our amazing team in Kisumu, Kenya, and the other 2 are ‘refresher’ trainings where we’ll revisit the Lytefires we installed in 2018 to train newcomers and conduct training according to the needs of the groups.

It has so far been a tremendous experience, meeting inspiring young people and adapting our trainings to the needs of each group. We’re recognizing that no two groups of young people from different areas are the same, and their needs differ greatly. Luckily, we have a really amazing team on the ground (if I do say so myself!). We have two training teams working at the same time, the first includes me (Lorin) as well as Augustine (who was one of the SmartUp youth we trained in 2018!) and Allen (a baking industry veteran who is based in Lira, Uganda) and they are training the I-Decide groups, scattered around Lira and the Northern Region, and the second team includes Callum, Hanna and Hasheem, who you might remember from our project last year in Tanzania at the Montessori School in Mwanza. Callum, Hanna and Hasheem are now rocking the SmartUp Hubs (if you’re not following us on Instagram @Lytefire_Solar, you’re missing out on some pretty incredible content!)

We are extremely grateful to Plan International and Plan Uganda for their support, and we’re proud to have a partner that is so dedicated to the wellbeing of young people. They’ve recognized that the Lytefire alongside the training we offer tick many many boxes: environmentally sustainable technology, healthy production of healthy products, socially just organization, empowerment for women and girls, cost effective business, and life skills not limited to hygiene, business administration, accounting and more! It’s not always easy when you assemble a bunch of young people together and put money on the table, but that’s the beauty of projects like this, we can facilitate life changing experiences and set youth on a course for a prosperous and sustainable future.

We’re looking forward to sharing success stories with you, and to working together with Plan to implement this program in more and more groups around the world.


Smart Up Factory is the only bakery in Nebbi!

Posted Monday 7 March 2022 by Hanna Williams.

After an energetic 3 weeks training course with the inspirational students in Nebbi, Uganda, it has been an incredibly successful experience! Nebbi’s Smart Up Hub enrolls 40 students at a time, so 15 students were carefully selected for the first ever solar bakery training in the district. We felt very fortunate to have such a motivated and focused group to train as every student was super eager to get involved with all aspects of the training!

Nebbi experiences many power cuts throughout the day which can cause great difficulty for many restaurants in the area that rely on electricity. Using the Lytefire solar oven meant when the team baked they did not need to worry about this occurring issue and as long as the sun was shining they could carry on baking all day without any interruptions.

The majority of local shopkeepers and hotels in the area heavily relied on electricity, only few with backup generators. So the only other methods they had to rely on for cooking were charcoal, which was accessible but around 60kg for 35,000UGX (12 EUROS). Charcoal was used daily in Nebbi and 60kg of charcoal would only last a week of cooking. That is a LOT of money and it would mean street vendors would barely make a profit from the products they sold and produced.

"Charcoal, which was accessible but around 60kg for 35,000UGX (12 EUROS)"

During week 1 the trainers introduced the expectations of what the training would involve and how the Lytefire would influence them greatly within the baking market here in Nebbi town.
In the first week of training the students were already selling solar buns, cupcakes and cookies without any influence from the mission trainers!
One of the challenges during the first week was that Nebbi being such a small rural town, ingredients were hard to find so they had to travel across the border of Congo and buy their equipment.

We soon realized that Smart Up hub had a very huge advantage in town being the ONLY bakery in Nebbi! Through market research, the students recognized that all local shopkeepers that sold baked goods like bread, cakes and cookies were all transported from Aura or Kampala! This was a disadvantage for shopkeepers as they had to consider transport costs and wholesale prices. From the local market research the students had already made connections with shopkeepers and were ready for business to supply these local shops with their solar baked goods using the Lytefire solar oven!

"We soon realized that Smart Up hub had a very huge advantage in town being the ONLY bakery in Nebbi!"

During week 2 of training the students learnt how to market their bakery by creating a bakery name as a team, naming themselves ‘Smart up Solar Bakery’ and designing a logo, flyer and business card to attract customers and create brand awareness.
In a group discussion we spoke about the products the bakery wanted to produce, they explained that mandazi was very popular and that they were deep fried in oil. So as a group they decided they wanted to recreate a healthier version using the Lytefire solar oven! Our baker trainer, Hashimu, produced an oven baked mandazi recipe with the bakery team that the students experimented with. We can proudly say using the Lytefire 5 solar oven that these were the very first ever solar baked Mandazi in the world! (You can check out our solar baked mandazi reel on IG)

The temperature was perfect for baking with solar, averaging at 35°C every day! The bakery team wanted to learn how to make bread loaves as they had lots of interest from the surrounding community and shopkeepers as this was what most shops sold the most of out of baked goods. When the team placed the bread loaves in the oven they soon realized the temperature was too high so the bread didn’t rise. This was one unfortunate experience that they learnt from so the second time round, when they made the recipe again the oven was kept at a stable temperature with 2 students supervising the Lytefire oven consistently so the bread rose beautifully!

During week 3 of the training the students had full autonomy with baking, selling and marketing their products!
They understood the concept of how to run a bakery when they were baking with Hasheem as they were understanding the costing and pricing of their products which encouraged students to produce high quality goods that were also affordable for the local community.
Throughout the training the students were competent in producing sales and there were many orders from locals, for the solar baked mandazi, bread buns and occasion cakes.

Our ‘Solar demo day’ took place on Thursday in conjunction with the graduation of students here at Nebbi’s Smart Up hub. Amongst the students’ family and friends, Plan International officials attended along with politicians and the Nebbi district Mayor and district councilors were all present! They presented certificates to the newly established solar bakery team and celebrated by cutting the graduation cake they ordered from the Smart Up Solar Bakery and sharing the cake with the audience! There was such a wonderful turnout with the bakery team selling out of cookies, bread and cupcakes! It was a huge success and the awareness of the bakery is now well known amongst the local community

The team provided attendees with their newly creative business cards and flyers whilst showcasing their marketing skills.
The demonstration of the Lytefire 5 impressed the locals as they were used to charcoal being sold in immense quantities on the street. This gave the bakery such a great advantage to showcase the solar oven and promote its direct solar energy! Westnile TV covered the day and it was broadcast on live TV in Uganda! You can view this video on Youtube which is linked in a previous article if you would like to check out the success of Nebbi’s ‘Solar Demo Day’!

Check out our journey with the projects we are collaborating with for Plan Internationals Smart Up Factories on our social media channels!!

IG: @lytefire_solar

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Lytefire.solar/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/38140646


Smart Up Solar training in Nebbi

Posted Tuesday 18 January 2022 by Hanna Williams.

We are beyond excited to start our 2022 training projects with Plan International’s Smart up hubs in Uganda beginning here in Nebbi! After a successful training program at the Kamuli hub in December 2021 the team is now in Northern Uganda. As a relatively small town, Nebbi is busy yet alive with exuberant energy! The sun smiles immensely during January and February but very frequently throughout the year with temperatures rising up to 35 degrees, it is truly a superb location for the Lytefire technology!

Nebbi is busy yet alive with exuberant energy!

Nebbi’s Smart Up hub is one of the recent sites constructed by Plan International, opening just over a 1 year ago with 6 mentors enrolling and training 40 students every 3-4 months. Although being the smallest hubs in Uganda, it delivers a very communal and more intimate space where students receive attentive education supporting and catering to each individual need. Due to the struggle of the Covid pandemic, they have had many obstacles to face as an emerging start-up hub as schools in Uganda have been closed for 2 years with them finally opening in January 2022. Plan International reopened their doors during the pandemic in June 2021 offering many disadvantaged young people the chance to carry on skilled training in sewing, beadmaking, business and hairdressing amongst many other subjects.

Plan International reopened their doors during the pandemic in June 2021

The training will progress over the course of 3 weeks with Callum (Mission based trainer), Hanna (Mission based trainer) and Hasheem (Expert baker from Tanzania!) educating trainees in the technical aspects of using and baking with the Lytefire technology, entrepreneurship, baking theory and practical. The trainees will have the opportunity to Implement their educational training knowledge on ‘Solar demo day’ using the Lytefire 5, combined oven and roaster where they will bake delicious bread, cookies and cakes! They will showcase their newly established solar bakery to friends, family and the local public at the end of their training where they will be able to sell these delectable baked goods.

The trainees will have the opportunity to Implement their educational training knowledge on ‘Solar demo day’

If you would like to keep up to date with our training program in Nebbi follow our social media channels!

Instagram: @lytefire_solar


Kamuli Youth Solar Bakers!

Posted Thursday 13 January 2022 by Hanna Williams.

Welcome our new Kamuli Youth Solar Bakers!!

After an exciting collaboration with Plan International back in 2018, the team arrived at Smart Up Factory in Kamuli where we were beyond thrilled with the entrepreneurial spirit the students displayed! Smart Up Kamuli were provided with 1 Lytefire 5 the combined oven and roaster where they could bake bread, cookies and cakes whilst also having the opportunity to roast peanuts! During the course of 3 weeks the students learnt many skills such as the technical maintenance and installation of the Lytefire, entrepreneurship, baking theory and practical.

During the entrepreneurship training, the Smart Up students were taught how to market and promote a business where the students learnt how to create their very own promotional flyer in hope to get regular clients, taking orders, as well as locals passing by. For now, they don’t sell at any market but take private clients. But for sure, there will be quite a development branching out to the markets in the future when they look further into it!

The purpose of the Smart Up Factory is to empower youths by promoting free educational training for youths especially young girls that have been victim of teenage pregnancies and forced to leave school due to caring for their child. Smart Up Factory inspires, motivates and transforms the lives of many vulnerable youths by giving them a second chance at education with a diverse range of trainings! This is where the Lytefire team makes an appearance! One of the training the Smart Up Factory wanted us to get involved with is Solar baking!

"Smart Up Factory inspires, motivates and transforms the lives of many vulnerable youths"

The group with their now defined roles (baker, inventory, sales, technical team..) work for the bakery at the Smart Up Hub in Kamuli. They agreed to work for free until there is some profit. There is this bakery committee who supervises the whole process/the bakery while the manager of the overall bakery that oversees all roles within the bakery is one of the mentors of the Hub who will manage the team making sure the team all work and communicate together.

The new “Kamuli Youth Bakery’’ on the very last day we called ‘Solar demo day’ sold many products earning a profit of 75,000 UGX (around 19EUR)! There was a very long and excited line of parents and visitors which meant the bakery team had a lot of solar baking to do! During the demo day we showed the audience the traditional stick burning test which gathered a huge crowd around the Lytefire!

“Kamuli Youth Bakery’’ on the ‘Solar demo day’ sold many products earning a profit of 75,000 UGX (around 19EUR)!"

The students had also baked a very impressive 3-level-cake for 150’000 UGX (around 37EUR), from one man from Plan International as he had ordered from the Kamuli Youth Bakery to pick up on Saturday! Asupas, the manager of the Kamuli Youth Bakery informed us that the team has been baking 2 cartons of bread buns a week! This is around 500 delicious solar baked bread buns which are sold to friends and families of the students at the Smart Up hub in Kamuli! They have even had order requests for occasion cakes such as governmental events, birthdays and graduations!

The community of Solar bakers is constantly growing! What a special way to end 2021!


Let’s inspire and educate with GoSol!

Posted Thursday 25 November 2021 by Hanna Williams.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” GoSol’s mission is to influence and inspire minds, young and old, to comprehend the potential of using free solar thermal energy. Using purely the Lytefire technology instead of relying on charcoal and firewood which releases C02 emissions into the atmosphere. Our vision is to help local communities by creating ‘solarpreneurs’ (entrepreneurs that use Lytefire solar technology), jobs and businesses and to contribute their impact in the fight against poverty in a developing country, rising up against climate change.

The beginning of our next project starts here in Uganda, a country of breathtaking landscapes and bountiful, native wildlife. It is a place with ‘pinch yourself’ moments all around you and surreal views. Unfortunately due to the contributing factors of climate change such as deforestation, rapid population growth and non-sustainable agricultural expansion there is now the potential threat of the ongoing pipeline construction happening in Uganda through to Tanzania.
The expected pipeline route will begin from Hoimia, near lake Albert extending through to the port of Tanga, Tanzania. The pipeline will reach 1,443km in total running through Uganda at 296km, then 1,147km in Tanzania.

The controversial pipeline “is likely to lead to significant disturbance"

The impact of this crude oil pipeline will have a devastating shock to the people, the biodiversity and endangered wildlife, causing irreversible damage.
A WWF Uganda report in 2017 warned that the controversial pipeline “is likely to lead to significant disturbance, fragmentation and increased poaching within important biodiversity and natural habitats”. Not to mention the impact of the total carbon emissions that will be released as a result of the consumption of oil.

The pipeline will run its route through Murchison Falls National Park, Bugoma Forest (home to around 600 endangered chimpanzees) and Biharamulo game reserve. There has been a significant decline of biodiversity already within these areas due to clearing of trees, commercial poaching and oil drilling. Even in my lifetime I have witnessed the extinction of the bongo, giant eland, black rhino, white rhino and the oryx and declining populations of buffalos, elephants, hippopotamuses and lions in some National Parks. Knowing my future children and further generations in years to come will never be able to catch a glimpse of these incredible animals in their natural habitat due to our actions creates so much despair in my heart.

If such a disaster happened here so many lives would be at risk, more poverty and deteriorating jobs

The pipeline will also be constructed alongside Lake Victoria’s basin, as one of the world’s largest tropical fishing destinations this will negatively impact the locals especially the 200,000 employees that rely on this as their main source of income. When travelling I visited the outskirts of Lake Victoria and I observed so many locals depending solely on the Lake to bring back food for their families. If such a disaster happened here so many lives would be at risk, more poverty and deteriorating jobs.
According to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery “A leak could have catastrophic effects on local water resources, the environment and the communities living in the basin.” Lake Victoria supports the livelihoods of 4 million people, if such an event did occur can you even begin to imagine how local families would suffer terribly?

With the knowledge of these environmental issues in Uganda, I began my journey in Lake Mburo, within a safari camp surrounded by zebras, warthogs and many other incredible species! From there, I then travelled to Lake Bunyonyi, quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The serene stillness of the lake, the 6am wake up call of the birds just before the sun rises each morning and not forgetting the views of the mini islands and abundantly rich terraced farmland. This truly is a paradise on Earth! It is heartbreaking to learn that where I am right now in East Africa, may look and be a completely different environment in less than a decade.

90% of Uganda’s total energy requirements are supplied by biomass

Uganda is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in Africa and I am learning about how they are facing many economic challenges such as reduction in forest cover from 24% of total land area (1990) to 9.5% (2017). Over reliance on firewood and charcoal as a primary energy source - 90% of Uganda’s total energy requirements are supplied by biomass. This is having a devastating impact on Uganda’s forests, contributing to 60% of forest loss annually.

If we shift our perspective and educate then maybe we can transform the future for younger generations to come

This is where the role of GoSol comes into effect. If we can change and direct the energy in a positive and empowering way, we can gradually change societies perspectives by living in balance and harmony with the environment around us. As a trainer my aim is to educate students on the benefits of using solar energy instead of using charcoal and firewood. Informing students on the overall accelerating rate of climate change and how we can prevent such disastrous events. If we can change the minds of people who have access to incredible solar thermal power then surely we can develop safer practices to ensure the resurrection of planet earth? If we shift our perspective and educate then maybe we can transform the future for younger generations to come.

(Montessori school, Tanzania, 2021)

We begin our training here in Uganda, Kamuli with Plan International’s SmartUp factory which supports over 3,500 young individuals learning new skills which give them the opportunities to find employment or create their own businesses. The unemployment rate here in Uganda is 80% for youths so it is an incredible project to be part of, training 15 students how to bake with solar energy with Lytefire technology!
Working in synergy with Plan International, the GoSol team is providing profound knowledge of how to start and run your very own solar bakery business.
Our team for this project includes Lorin, Judith, Jared, Callum, Augustine, Nigel and myself and what an extraordinary team they are to complete such a rewarding training programme for these young adults to benefit from!

Follow our training adventures on social media for the entire project until spring 2022!
Instagram: @Lytefire_solar


Announcing new Partnership with Plan International to Empower Entrepreneurs in Uganda

Posted Monday 1 November 2021 by Urs Riggenbach.

We are excited to announce this new partnership to empower entrepreneurs to run solar bakeries and food businesses across 11 locations in Uganda. The project will allow existing bakery cooperatives to transition from daily charcoal burning to using our powerful Lytefire 5 solar concentrator. In addition, we deepen our cooperation with Plan International’s SmartUp Hubs that started back in 2018: There we will equip the SmartUp Hubs with more Lytefires and train unemployed youths to become solar bakers.

It is a great opportunity to spread our entrepreneurial spirit to help boost incomes, grow local sustainable businesses, and at the same time reduce people’s exposure to toxic smoke from charcoal and other polluting fuels. Not to mention the carbon emissions this will reduce at the same time.

The cooperation is a collaboration between Plan International Finland as project initiator, Plan International Uganda as local implementation partner and Solar Fire, the creators of the Lytefire technology and the GoSol educational trainings to create solar entrepreneurs.


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