Investments in this strategy aim to improve social and technological connectivity by improving individuals’ ability to power devices like cell phones, radios, and televisions, which can allow them to communicate with friends and family, connect to informational platforms and programming, and access mobile banking services. The sections below include an overview of the strategy for achieving desired goals, supporting evidence, core metrics that help measure performance toward goals, and a curated list of resources to support collecting, reporting on, and using data for decision-making.

What

Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What is the problem the investment is trying to address? For the people experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Families in rural areas in emerging-market countries often lack access to the same types of information as those who live in urban political and economic centers. Rural populations may also struggle to communicate with family members who have moved to other communities. Families and businesses with access to solar electrification can power “connective” devices, such as cell phones, radios, and televisions (1). Improved connectivity to friends, family, information, and markets can help end beneficiaries by:

  • improving individuals’ ability to communicate with friends and family, which can in turn improve mental health (5);
  • improving access to market information (for business owners and farmers), online educational resources, and news sources;
  • improving communication and information-sharing between service providers and their clients, such as between doctors and their patients;
  • increasing access to mobile banking services, which improves the financial inclusion of rural communities (3); and
  • reducing acceptance of spousal abuse, increasing autonomy, and increasing the likelihood young girls are sent to school, among other positive social outcomes shown to be related to increased television access (6).

What is the scale of the problem?

Ten percent of people around the world lack access to mobile phones with basic voice and text service, and one third of people globally lack access to mobile broadband internet (3). Approximately 25% of households in developing countries do not have access to a radio (2). According to a 2012 study, around 58% of households in the developing world do not own a television; less than a third of African households own one, due primarily to lack of electricity (4).

Who

Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who/What is helped through this strategy?

Improved connectivity—to the community, markets, information sources, and entertainment—can have wide-ranging outcomes for many types of people, including the following often-targeted end beneficiaries within this strategy:

Low-Income Families in Emerging Markets: Beyond basic illumination, electricity is used most often to charge mobile phones and run televisions and radios. Household members must either take their batteries to a local business for charge or purchase a system to charge their batteries themselves (1). Access to televisions, mobile phones (with and without internet), and radios increase a household’s access to news outside of their community and increase connections with friends and relatives who live elsewhere. Further, access to clean lighting can increase hours available to a household for socializing within the community.

Women: Women who can charge their own lighting, mobile phones, televisions, radios, or other connectivity-enabling systems with solar electricity spend less time traveling into town to charge their devices. Access to television can also lead to higher enrollment by girls in school.

Farmers: Connectivity improves farmers’ ability to access accurate information about crop prices and weather. Some government programs also provide market-access data and information about disease prevention, which helps farmers both grow and sell their products more efficiently (1). Smartphones, which also provide internet access, can boost farmer productivity through online resources, farming applications, and use of the global positioning system (GPS) (2).

Doctors and Patients: Increased connectivity through mobile cell phones helps doctors and midwives communicate important information to their patients, who may live in more remote communities, and allow medical professionals to consult each other. Through text and voice messages, medical professionals can check on patients and send reminders to take medications (1).

Business Owners: Business owners may own a solar charging station or benefit from the social connectivity enabled by mobile phones to place business orders, make deals, or stay in touch with clients (1).

What are the geographic attributes of those who benefit?

Most households without access to mobile phones or televisions are in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (3, 4).

Contribution

Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

Is the investment’s contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How Much and Who?

The extent to which this strategy can improve connectivity depends on the specific investee business and the product they are bringing to market. For this strategy, increasing access to means of connectivity through either hardware or software may yield better outcomes than what would happen without the investment, particularly if a product creates new, reliable connectivity where there was previously none. While the market might eventually reach low-income and remote individuals without investments focused on them, investments that expedite their access to quality phones, televisions, radios, internet access, and other means of connectivity would improve on what would likely happen without the investment.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many can receive the outcome through this strategy?

The potential impact depends on the number of individuals in emerging markets who lack access to a consistent source of clean energy for their devices. Because this strategy also requires connective equipment, it also depends on the number of individuals owning connective devices, such as mobile phones, radios, televisions, and computers.

How much change can beneficiaries experience through this strategy?

The amount of change end beneficiaries derive from this strategy depends on the product delivered and the extent to which it can enable social connectivity. For individuals who purchase energy-generating solar panels but lack enabling equipment, such as cell phones or other data-enabled devices, this strategy has little to no impact. Given both power and connective equipment, the possible outcomes include the following example outcomes from investments in this area:

  • A two-year study in India found that farmers with access to mobile phone–based information services saw cumin yields increase by 48 kg per acre (28%) and had household profits more than USD 200 higher than the control group (7).
  • A study in Uganda found that 86% of microenterprises that invested in a solar home system used mobile phones for work, compared to 62% without a solar home system. The same study found that solar owners had better access to television, which connected them with local and national political news stations as well as other informational and entertainment shows (8).

Illustrative Investment

Sixty-four percent of Nigeria’s adult population lacks access to formal financial services, primarily because they live in rural areas where it is difficult to visit a traditional bank or automated teller machine (9, 10). To combat this challenge, Alitheia Capital invested in the savings and payments company Pagatech, which helps its clients save, transfer funds, and pay bills at lower cost through a mobile banking platform. It also improves clients’ safety, as they need no longer carry cash. The company places strong focus on security to prevent fraud and money laundering. After two years of operations, Pagatech attracted over 1.2 million users.

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

NESTA: 3
Access To Energy In Rwanda: Impact Evaluation Of Activities Supported By The Dutch Promoting Renewable Energy Programme

Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2014. Access To Energy In Rwanda: Impact Evaluation Of Activities Supported By The Dutch Promoting Renewable Energy Programme. IOB Evaluation No. 396.

NESTA: 1
Social Impact Assessment of BBOXX in Uganda

Enea Consulting. 2012. Social Impact Assessment Of BBOXX In Uganda.

NESTA: 2
Welfare Impacts of Rural Electrification: Evidence from Vietnam

Barnes, Douglas French, Shahidur R. Khandker, Minh Huu Nguyen, and Hussain A. Samad. Welfare Impacts of Rural Electrification: Evidence from Vietnam. No. 5057. The World Bank, 2009.

NESTA: 2
Stiftung Solarenergie (Sts) & Hybrid Social Solutions (HSSi) - Social Impact Assessment

Planète d’Entrepreneurs. 2011. Stiftung Solarenergie (Sts) & Hybrid Social Solutions (Hssi) – Social Impact Assessment.

NESTA: 3
Impacts of Solar Lanterns in Geographically Challenged Locations: Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh

Kudo, Yuya, Abu S. Shonchoy, and Kazushi Takahashi. Impacts of Solar Lanterns in Geographically Challenged Locations: Experimental Evidence from Banglades. No. 502. Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), 2015.

NESTA: 3
Powering Impact Phase 1 Report

Powering Impact. 2014. Powering Education Project Phase 1 Report.

NESTA: 3
A First Step up the Energy Ladder? Low Cost Solar Kits and Household's Welfare in Rural Rwanda

Grimm, Michael, Anicet Munyehirwe, Jörg Peters, and Maximiliane Sievert. “A First Step Up the Energy Ladder? Low Cost Solar Kits and Household’s Welfare in Rural Rwanda.” The World Bank Economic Review (2016): lhw052.

NESTA: 1
Access to Clean Lighting and Its Impact on Children: An Exploration of SolarAid's SunnyMoney

Esper, Heather, Ted London, and Yaquta Kanchwala. “Access to Clean Lighting and Its Impact on Children: An Exploration of SolarAid’s SummyMoney.” Child Impact Case Study 4 (2013).

NESTA: 1
Accelerating Access to Electricity in Africa with Off-Grid Solar: The Impact of Solar Household Solutions

Harrison, K., A. Scott, and R. Hogarth. “Accelerating Access to Electricity in Africa with Off-Grid Solar: The Impact of Solar Household Solutions.” Overseas Development Institute ODI Report (2016): 9.

NESTA: 3
Impacts of Rural Electrification in Rwanda

Bensch, Gunther, Jochen Kluve, and Jörg Peters. “Impacts of Rural Electrification in Rwanda.” Journal of Development Effectiveness 3, no. 4 (2011): 567-588.

NESTA: 1
Energy, Gender, and Development: What Are the Linkages? Where Is the Evidence?

Köhlin, Gunnar, Erin O. Sills, Subhrendu K. Pattanayak, and Christopher Wilfong. “Energy, Gender and Development: What Are the Linkages? Where Is the Evidence?.” Where Is the Evidence (2011).

NESTA: 2
Self-Reported Impacts of LED Lighting Technology Compared to Fuel-Based Lighting on Night Market Business Prosperity in Kenya

Johnstone, Peter. “Self-Reported Impacts of LED Lighting Technology Compared to Fuel-Based Lighting on Night Market Business Prosperity in Kenya.” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (2009).

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.