Updated: Aug 11, 2019
Ferenji Phiri is a Malawian primary school teacher. Together with her husband and two
children, she lives in a humble home which until recently had no electricity. Ferenji shares
this plight with 600 million other people in Africa and a full 80% of those living in rural areas.
Apart from the obvious inconvenience, this creates in her day, the lack of this fundamental is
eroding the opportunities for her and her children to play a relevant role in the global society.
By 2050, a quarter of the world's population will live in Africa. On its current path, the
continent will struggle to sustain it. Resource scarcity will result in conflict. Urbanisation will
spur the growth of mega slums. Mass illegal migration into Europe and Asia will intensify.
Africa's natural resources will continue their rapid decline as billions try to eke out a living. Its
people will fall further into obscurity.
Yellow, an entirely African tech company, sees things differently. “The web of technology
and markets in the 21st century offer a different path for Africa's people. Our customers are
showing us exactly how Africa can leapfrog the 20th-century industrial growth path,” says
Michael Heyink, Yellow’s co-founder.
Yellow is a distributed digital retailer. Through a network of digitally connected rural agents,
Yellow offers low-income household’s access to electricity from as little as USD 5 per month.
The start-up identified that while solar technology and flexible payment plans exist as a
solution to the energy access challenge, the lack of formal retail and distribution chains on
the continent stand in the way of wide-scale adoption. Through mobile internet, data,
automation and gamification, Yellow have built a machine that works.
“Yellow is one of the smartest, if not the very smartest, off-grid solar efforts I’ve seen” says
Ramez Naam, a global energy thought leader and Chair of Energy and Environmental
Systems at Singularity University.
Naam is not alone in this view. Despite its short operating history, Yellow has closed seed
equity from several funds and high net worth individuals at home and abroad. These include
Opes Capital, the company’s founding backers, Singularity University Africa, and Buffet
Investments, one of Africa’s largest private equity investors.
USAID think so too. This month the Power Africa funded Southern Africa Energy Programme
awarded Yellow a grant of USD 1 million to co-finance the connection of 65 000 households
Speaking at the awards ceremony, Yellow’s 26-year-old country manager Cynthia
Makunganya laid out the vision: “Yellow’s progress has been rapid. Demand for our solar
offering is insatiable and every day our team is making life better for our customers. But this
is just the beginning for Yellow. Through exponentially scalable technology, we will continue
to innovate on the largest challenges faced by people of this continent. Access to energy is
the first step, but access to information, education and opportunities is where we are going.”
For Ferenji Phiri and her family, the installation of their solar system earlier this month has
been life-changing. Already her nine-year-old son is able to study after dark, and the radio in
the small lounge area brings information about the outside world into their home for the first
time. If Yellow has anything to do about it, there will be much more to come.