For many years, Africa has been home to many of the greatest development challenges on earth with hundreds of millions living in remote, underserved communities without home electricity, access to clean water, or proper medical service.
With undeveloped infrastructure, a rapidly growing population and the vast effects of Covid-19, many of these challenges are expected to remain, and even grow bigger in the coming decades.
The need for scalable and affordable solutions led to the continent adopting one of the most impactful sectors in the world: off-grid solar, with tens of millions of people already connected and able to enjoy electricity at their home for the first time.
Private solar companies are entering Africa and the SSA region in recent years, prices of solar solutions are decreasing, and millions more are expected to be connected in coming years.
Having electricity at home has a tremendous impact on people’s lives. It allows families to escape darkness, literally, with children able to learn and read after dark, and families able to comfortably sit together even at night. It also enables to charge a cell phone, eliminating the need to go to the nearest kiosk to do so.
Despite its many effects, electricity is not considered a solution, but an infrastructure. With time, more home appliances will be added on top of the basic lighting and chargers, upgrading people’s quality of life with affordable and sustainable technologies.
In recent years, televisions have slowly penetrated the African market, reaching up to 42% of households in 2018. But as with any other infrastructure or lifestyle solution, numbers vary significantly between cities and rural communities, and in remote villages, TVs are scarce.
In developing countries the importance of television is immense, boasting far beyond entertainment. Television is, first and foremost, one of the most effective and popular mass media forms in the world, allowing millions of people to stay up-to-date with current news.
Its importance has become even clearer during the past year, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, with hundreds of millions of people in Africa required to stay in their homes during weeks of lockdowns. Those with TVs enjoyed not only entertainment (especially essential during a long period of quarantine), but also continuous, visual updates and news.
The importance of television has risen even more during the pandemic, when it became an educational tool. During lockdown, many countries broadcasted educational content on state channels.
This content is designed to prevent children from missing out on valuable school days and from developing a gap that will be difficult to bridge later on. But despite being a creative, smart, and free solution, hundreds of millions of African children living without televisions in their homes could not watch the broadcasts. And so, not only did those children lose precious school days, they also accumulated gaps compared to their TV owning classmates.
The numbers are alarming. Over 250 million primary and secondary children in Africa are unable to learn as schools are shut down. Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director shed some light on the matter, saying: “The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency. The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come.”
A sunlight teaching moment
Once again, the solution for rural, last-mile communities comes from Africa’s most accessible resource: sunlight. In recent years, various companies have started distributing and selling solar-based TVs, allowing families to enjoy the device through solar panels alone. With a sustainable, energy-efficient, clean solution, many families can now enjoy not only electricity and light in the home, but also a television set.
As part of Ignite Power’s vast solar operations across Africa, and with the importance of TVs made abundantly clear in the past few months, we are combining advanced, energy-efficient technology, sustainable solar systems, and inclusive financial models, and providing the most underserved communities in the region with access to affordable solar-operated television sets.
TVs will not solve Africa’s challenges. But it is another step in the right direction, providing millions of families a news outlet, and millions of children with educational resources, all the while slightly improving the quality of life. We might take our TV for granted but believe me, it has the potential to change lives.
The writer is an entrepreneur and investor, leading sustainability-drivencompanies in Africa.