Providing aid to developing countries was once a question of delivering food and medicines to relieve short-term distress. In more recent years, increasingly sophisticated approaches have been developed which aim to empower communities by providing them with the tools to meet their own longer-term needs.
Freeplay Energy works with organisations and agencies around the world not just to meet the needs of people living in poverty, but also to find new ways of building sustainable, long-term solutions to the challenges faced by people living in the developing world. Recently, Freeplay has been working with Onyx Développement, a company based in France which strives to carry out responsible entrepreneurship aimed at creating sustainable values and wealth.
Onyx Développement has been looking at building a distribution network, operating under the Barika brand, in the land-locked West African country of Burkina Faso. This will provide a mechanism for distributing and marketing modern, accessible and high quality products with significant social value.
As part of the process of defining the details of the project, Onyx Développement has been conducting a programme of product-testing in suburban areas of the Bogodogo district of Ouagadougou and the rural villages of Yamtenga, Saaba and Tanlarghin in Burkina Faso. Four of the eleven products initially tested were provided by Freeplay Energy, including lamps and radios. Each of the products is powered by wind-up and/or solar energy technology and feedback has been very positive.
Onyx Développement's Barika project leader, Pauline Jouvenaux, explains, "Barika is about giving access to a range of products that will have a positive social impact on communities in Burkina Faso. We chose the Freeplay products because they are ideally-suited for use in environments where there is little or no access to regular electricity and where supplies of batteries can be expensive. They are also reliable and ruggedly-built, so they should withstand extended use in rural and often challenging conditions."
Freeplay's Aid and Development Manager, Viv Jenkins, adds, "Freeplay's products are designed specifically for use in developing countries, such as Burkina Faso. By using alternative energy sources, they allow people living 'off-grid' to access light and information and, via our products' built-in mobile phone chargers, to communicate and even establish micro-businesses.
"I am delighted to say that, following the testing phase of the project, Barika has placed orders for our Indigo Plus lantern with additional solar panel, Assist radio, Companion radio, Mini Sherpa flashlight and Energy Centre lighting system and mobile phone charger. "
Referring to Freeplay's latest range of Encore radios, which are now in extensive use across Africa and Asia, Viv Jenkins continues, "Freeplay's Encore range builds on the success of our previous models, but each radio is smaller, lighter and offers more functions. They are powered using the same dependable technology, but meet a greater range of needs by not just offering access to information, but also by supporting increased communication and providing opportunities to build small businesses based around the phone charging facility."
Now that Barika has decided its current range of Freeplay products, economies of scale will help to reduce costs, ensuring that accessible and affordable products are available within Burkina Faso at the lowest possible price. There are plans to open a Barika shop in Ouagadougou, as well as to supply products to established local retailers in suburban and rural areas as a second step.
Pauline Jouvenaux concludes, "Getting good quality, affordable goods that have a positive impact on local communities is a constant challenge and this is certainly the case in Burkina Faso. By establishing the Barika brand, we hope to make products with a positive social impact more freely available and expand the range of choice open to the Burkinabé people, an added advantage being to encourage the development of both new and existing businesses. Whilst it is still early days for the Barika project, Freeplay's lights and radios demonstrate clear benefits for local retailers and users alike."