Bonergie is an excellent example of how a single person can take an idea and have an immense impact on the lives of many others by carrying through what they believe in. The UN sustainable development goals are only guidelines until one takes action to tackle the goals in the real world. The dedication of Bonergie to bring a simple idea to life has been able to and continues to address seven of the UN sustainable development goals, each having an impact on the other. Bonergie has been able to contribute to addressing the gender equality gap in Western Africa by showing that women can succeed on their own by becoming entrepreneurs (SDG 5). By focusing on the employment of women and creating further employment opportunities Bonergie has also been able to create better working conditions as well as contribute to the economic growth of the local economy in Western Africa (SDG 8). Through the products and services which Bonergie has brought to the market, it has been able to change the industry and provide insight into how innovations must be adjusted to be in accordance with the local needs to succeed and truly bring impact with it (SGD 9). The innovation itself has been able to provide clean water (SDG 6), as well as affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) by allowing people to have cost-free energy after 18-24 months. Access to affordable energy has created the opportunity to become profitable, thus giving people the tools to fight against poverty (SDG 1). Last but not least, Bonergie has been able to create all this impact sustainably by creating opportunities for people to change from diesel to solar energy which is not only better for the climate but also able to change their lives in many other aspects (SDG 13). The business model of Bonergie is unique as it continues to have a significant impact on the lives of others, even after its operations have ceased to exist. This is what the goal of Bonergie was truly about. On top of that, the business model of Bonergie could be scaled to provide solutions to other regions around the world that are facing similar issues, such as in Asia. Because many off-grid, poverty-ridden, and agriculture-dependent areas are located in regions with limitless sunshine, such as Western Africa, Bonergie’s business model can be utilized to create positive impacts for many issues in these regions also. To make a difference in the world and help to work towards the UN sustainability goals, one must persevere and truly believe in the ability to create change. We hope that by sharing the story of Bonergie it is to be able to inspire others to take similar action and create positive changes together all around the world one idea at a time.
Hanken School of Economics
Bonergie is a company that offers customers products based on solar energy to help to provide access to light, electricity, and water. The mother company is located in Munich but the operational business is in Senegal in Western Africa. The company is a social business founded by the German IT entrepreneur Gabriele Schwarz and today the company consists of 52 people, of which 40% are women. Bonergie offers high-quality products like solar water pumps, streetlights, fridges, or fruit dryers that are almost exclusively German-produced. Their target group includes mainly small and medium-sized companies in rural areas, but their products are also suitable for e.g. households, hospitals, and schools. To simplify the payment for their customers, Bonergie has developed a flexible payment method based on a micro-credit system to ensure that they fully meet the customer needs. Also, Bonergie has a trained sales team that offers personal advisory to its customers. Besides that, Bonergie's staff also helps customers with the installation and maintenance of their products. “There is something for everybody here”, Gabriele Schwarz says. As a social business, the company is purpose-driven which means that the purpose is not to maximize revenue but to offer a solution to a social problem. Bonergie tries to solve issues related to power outages or water scarcity. They aim to offer everyone, regardless of where they live, access to energy, light, and water, which is both affordable and sustainable.
The idea of founding Bonergie appeared when the German entrepreneur Gabriele Schwarz, after working for many years in the German and American IT industry, decided to start a new chapter in her life to help make the world a better place to live. She decided to combine all her previous knowledge and come up with something that could have a meaningful impact. At a young age, Gabriele Schwarz had no idea that she later in her life would become a founder of a company in the field of energy supply. After visiting Africa several times, Gabriele identified a gap in the energy network and realized that the African people could benefit greatly from sustainable energy. She also understood the benefits of implementing solar energy, as Africa's climate is one of the sunniest in the world. After the foundation of Bonergie, its main purpose was to make profits for a good cause. Before founding the company, people laughed at Gabriele and called her crazy, but today the same people give her compliments on the business strategy. As a result of Bonergie's operations, more people in Africa get the opportunity to influence and participate in global life. After succeeding well with the new challenges that Gabriele dared to face in the past when she started the business in Senegal, she states today that the positive result contributes to a lot of joy for her. “You need to be a little bit crazy to do this, but it is worth it” she admits.
Even today, over 600 million people in Africa are without access to any electricity, which causes a lot of problems in e.g. food preservation or health care. Further, 43.5% of the population work in the primary sector, and therefore, agriculture accounts for 40% of the country’s GDP. Bonergie’s operations and products have been able to impact the lives of many locals. Thanks to Bonergie more people in Senegal are provided with access to electricity, which also means that they have easier access to information. Thus, Bonergie’s products promote equality and create an opportunity for everyone to participate in global life. Additionally, Bonergie contributes to reducing water pollution, as solar power does not require any water for generating electricity. Also, solar power is extremely profitable and reliable, as the sun is a source, which is available free of charge almost every day around the year in Senegal. This reduces energy costs extremely over the long-term. One of Bonergie's several positive social impacts is to ensure all kinds of companies and households in rural areas the opportunity to be independent of centralized energy producers. A very effective way to try to reduce crime, child mortality, and poverty, is to invest in creating equal opportunities for all and to help people in developing countries to have access to clean water and electricity so that they can keep up with the development of industrial nations and thus can take part in global decision-making.
When Bonergie started its operations 10 years ago, they saw an opportunity in the French-speaking market in Western Africa because fewer companies had shown interest in the area and other economic and geographical factors were favorable for investment. Even though there are some competitors in Senegal, Bonergie was able to convince its customers of its high-quality products and services and its unique microcredit business model. Today the company can already look back on the sale of more than 1000 products, which improved thousands of peoples’ lives. After the purchase of a solar product, its positive influence can grow and expand. The successful sale and installation of Bonergie’s products has allowed many entrepreneurs to grow their own businesses and further employ others. Being a social business, Bonergie’s focus is to solve a social problem. The profits are invested back into the company to increase the impact it can create. Even though the main focus has not been to create profits, Bonergie has become profitable since starting its operations in Senegal 10 years ago. Furthermore, Bonergie’s business model requires the possibility of being close to their customer. Therefore, Bonergie currently operates 5 regional offices and hopes to expand to other regions in Senegal in the future. Within the next three years, Bonergie will implement a project with the help of an investor to install 2000 solar pumps all over Senegal. The long-term goal is to expand to other countries in Western Africa as well.
Most farmers in Senegal still use manual or diesel irrigation. Even the irrigation of a small piece of land is hardly profitable for the farmers since up to 70% of their income is spent on the acquisition of diesel. Bonergie's solar pumps offer farmers a sustainable and effective method of land irrigation through groundwater while also providing access to clean, unpolluted drinking water. In addition, Bonergie offers its customers through its microcredit system an affordable solution for the purchase of their products, which are paid off after 18-24 months. By providing people sustainable resources to start their business, they can develop and employ others and create a further positive impact on society. Access to energy means for many people an improvement in their quality of life and can become a way out of poverty for them. For Bonergie it was always important to offer environmentally friendly energy. They used the sun and solar energy as a source of energy for their products, as in Western Africa sunshine is a free and reliable resource that could create instant change. Wind energy instead, would require a longer time to execute, since large wind parks would need to be constructed first. Bonergie also focuses on helping youth and women, by creating employment and possibilities for entrepreneurship for them. 40% of Bonergie’s employees are women. Access to light and water also increases security by saving women from long and dangerous journeys to the old wells and ensures safety at night.
Gabriele Schwarz, Founder and Managing Director
Gabriele Schwarz, Founder and Managing Director
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Business Website: https://www.bonergie.com/de/
Year Founded: 2010
Number of Employees: 51 to 200
Bonergie is a Social Business in Senegal. They sell decentralized Solar Energy products, which can be paid in affordable monthly installments.