Community Engagement on Mini-Grids: 3 things you should know

This article was written by Abigail Jibril

With millions of Africans without access to electricity, decentralised energy systems, like mini-grids and solar-home systems, are verified examples of solutions to getting electricity to the most remote locations. In order to successfully and effectively deploy any project to new users, community engagement is a fundamental piece that should not be neglected. 

Community engagement involves effective communication among all stakeholders involved in the execution of a project. In decentralised mini-grids, it would involve various groups in the community – women unions, youth groups, religious bodies etc, with the community leaders, and elders amongst others to foster efficient planning, implementation and utilization of a community-centred project. Here are three things you should note about community engagement on mini-grid projects:

Community Engagement Builds Trust

Trust is an integral currency needed to build a business enterprise. With effective community engagement, relationships can be cultivated. A mini-grid/project developer who understands the importance of building trust will be humble, honest, transparent, authentic, consistent and available to receive feedback. 

Community Engagement is a Continuous Activity

For a project to be sustainable, community engagement is not an activity that will occur only during the project development phase just to fulfill the need to on-board customers. It is an activity that will need to continue at every phase of the project – project development, construction, operations, and maintenance. It is important to let your customers know that you will always be available at every phase. 

Community Engagement requires training 

Having to interact with people who may not immediately see the value in your proposition requires a lot of patience. Training in skills like the tone used in conversations; the methods of communication – drawings, pictures, videos, drama, PowerPoint presentations; how to respond to disgruntled customers; understanding and respecting cultural differences; how to get your prospective customers to ‘let you into their space’; how to communicate the value of your service and so much more are relevant for any community engagement team. Asides from the community engagement team, the vendors or operators on the mini-grid sites need to be trained as they are representatives of the utility company (developer) on the mini-grid sites. 

Community engagement enables both the community members and the project developer to have a role in the planning and decision-making throughout the lifetime of the project. Community engagement is essential to ensuring the sustainability of mini-grid projects and enabling communities to reap the full benefits of electrification, including empowerment of women, improved livelihoods, health benefits, new employment opportunities, and more.

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