AAMEG Africa Awards 2020: Emerging ESG Leader Nominee – Mobility for Africa

By AAMEG | 5 November 2020

HAMBA : Piloting solar powered transportation for rural women in Sub-Saharan Africa[i]

Company Description

Mobility for Africa (MFA) is a start-up registered in Zimbabwe under parent company Locomotion for Africa and in Australia as a social enterprise working with social impact investors to build a market for low-cost transportation for rural women using a social enterprise model. MFA’s vision is to bring clean energy solar powered electric transport solutions to women and their families that are affordable; efficient and adapted to peri urban and rural areas in Africa.

By doing this MFA aims to:

  • empower rural women in Africa with transport that can help them save time, better sell their goods at the market, take their children to the clinic and school, collect water, as well as improve their economic opportunities within the households and local communities.
  • contribute to improving the quality of life of women and their families.
  • contribute to expanding renewal energy for transport in Africa contributing to longer term sustainability and mitigating climate change.

MFA are currently piloting electric three-wheeled tricycles (the Hamba) in the rural Wedza district of Zimbabwe. Phase one was initiated in February 2019 with ninety-two female participants self-organised into thirty groups using e-tricycles to pursue opportunities to generate additional income for their households (supporting around four hundred people in total).

MFA are now entering the second phase of the pilot with a focus on confirming the financial viability, assessing the use of lithium batteries, exploring different fast charging options and off grid energy charging systems.

As a field-tested sustainable development solution that can easily be tailored to meet site specific needs across many African nations, we believe the MFA model is a potential good fit for explorers and mine operators seeking to create long-term sustainable local impacts.

Approach to environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters

In many parts of rural Africa, neither regular supplies of energy nor petrol are available. This means most transport is expensive, often unreliable, doesn’t reach many rural off-road areas and means people, especially women, spend hours carrying heavy loads and walking long distances.

MFA believe that by transforming the way women move in rural areas from point A to point B, productivity will increase and the quality of life in rural life can be improved.

The growing availability of low-cost renewable energy, along with the huge investment in battery technology to drive low-cost transport, means we have the potential to transform rural areas.

MFA believe tough sturdy renewable energy charged electric bikes and tricycles, backstopped by trained community support services, provide an avenue for small scale farmers to overcome distances to services, tackle gender inequality, contribute to dynamic local economies and enhance livelihoods.

We know that unlike a charitable donation, impact investors require start-up enterprises such as MFA to have their numbers, business models and financial sustainability ready to pitch along with rigorous data on their social and environmental impacts. Through our pilot work, we have gathered stories and the evidence needed to gain investor traction and land a few grants to now move us to the next stage.

Example of a Company initiative in Africa that aligns with one or more aspects of an ESG topic

Pilot launch: February 2019 Location: Wedza District; Zimbabwe.

Problem to be solved: Mobility is critical to social and economic development in rural Africa. Long distances to health facilities contribute to maternal and child mortality, long walks to school force children to drop out, crops rot before they get to local markets, hours are wasted collecting water and new economic opportunities are missed.

Studies indicate that more than half of the untapped potential for cultivation in sub Saharan Africa is located more than six hours from a major market, and less than 40 percent of rural Africans live within 2 kilometres of an all-season road—by far the lowest level of rural accessibility in the developing world.

Target Market: Rural women surviving on less than $5 per day. According to FAO3 , 80 percent of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is managed by smallholders (working on up to 10 hectares) and almost 50 percent are women. Smallholders provide up to 80 percent of the food supply sub-Saharan Africa. FAO estimates that with more productive resources, women farmers could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, lifting 100-150 million people out of hunger.

The pilot specifically targeted rural women as they often have 1) no prior experience in bike riding 2) carry the heaviest burden on carrying things in rural area and 3) are often excluded from owning transport.

In addition to the direct livelihood impact, green energy and electric vehicles will reduce carbon emissions whilst rural off grid energy has the potential stimulate new economic activities.

Current Objective: Proof of Concept piloting to test viability of electric mobility for rural women.

Detail: The initiative is a partnership between Mobility for Africa, China’s Tsinghua University Lifelong Learning Lab, Midlands State University Incubation Hub and local business Solar Shack, seeking to find a viable way to bring off grid sustainable transport solutions to small scale farmers and rural communities.

The aim of phase one is to collect qualitative and quantitative evidence measuring the suitability and durability of the design of the tricycle to local conditions, test the efficiency of solar energy for recharging batteries, trialling a micro-credit based leasing model and demonstrating the ability of a shared transport system to improve economic productivity and ultimately livelihoods of participants.

Thirty electric tricycles of a type commonly used in rural China were imported for the pilot. One reason for selecting the model used was that because of its size and speed the Hamba doesn’t require a driver’s license (in Zimbabwe). The containerised re-charge station was manufactured in Zimbabwe by our local partner Solar Shack.

Establishing a workshop in Harare to assemble the tricycles was a significant investment in creating a safe, efficient working environment and skills development in EV and mechanical maintenance for our Zimbabwean team.

Ninety-two women, supporting four hundred household members, participated in the trial. Organised as thirty groups of three sharing a rented e-tricycle, the women are able to access opportunities for supplementing income from agriculture and small-scale trading and provision of taxi and transportation services. Initial demand to participate in the pilot was high with over 100 women placed on a waiting list.

Mobility for Africa has also trained community health workers on how to drive the Hamba. Before having access to the Hamba, health care workers reported that women had to walk over seven miles to the nearest health centre because they lacked transportation. Cladys Mhlanga, a nurse at a local IGAVA clinic is finding that transporting patients who live far from medical services, especially elderly and pregnant women, is much less of a challenge on the bike.

On-ground support includes a coordinator, a small “troubleshooting” technical team and two local “electric lady agents” to deliver training in the safe operation of the Hamba and to assist with repairs

GPS generated usage data shows the participants reside up to 15km north and approx. 6km east and west of the MFA charging station, accessed 32 plots, 27 gardens, 13 waterpoints, 18 firewood collection areas, used 3 battery swap locations, and visited 13 common locations (main market centres/ clinics/ churches/ schools.)

The trial tested both daily and monthly rental payments with the long-term aim of rolling out a pay-as-you-go system, an approach that is well understood in rural Africa. The pilot is now entering its second phase, with a focus on financial viability, the use of lithium batteries and exploring different fast charging options and off grid energy charging systems.

Contribution to Global Development: Empowering women, gender equality, eliminating poverty and hunger, improving health, reducing carbon emissions and working in partnership are major platforms of the 2030 SDG agenda, all of which benefit directly from adoption of the Hamba.

Positive Impacts: The voices of women farmers provide a clear indication of the value of the Hamba:

“My field is some 7 km away I used to spend $ 5 a week to travel to the field. The saved money is now used for purchasing agricultural inputs.”

Read more of Angeline’s Story

“I used to carry 1 bucket of maize to millers before the hamba, Now I can carry 3 buckets at any given time”

“Using the hamba has reduced cost of travel from Chipesa to Masikana from 20 RTGs to 3 RTGs (15%)”

“Selling avocado pears is now much easier I can carry 3 buckets using hamba up from 1 bucket by head” “I can now fetch water in 4 buckets at any given time from 1 bucket carried by head”

“Using a hamba I can carry a bigger load of firewood at any one time for sale in the community”

“Previously I would go to church alone due to high transport costs but now we travel as a family.”

“Our water tank is down for renovation and we are using the hamba to fetch water from a nearby borehole. We are also doing home visits and follow-ups. We had cases of malaria so we are visiting affected families and testing other family members for malaria and doing domiciliary visits.”

Other useful supporting information

Mobility for Africa-who what where

The Pitch

Electric mobility: harnessing Africa’s engine of growth, its women

Mobility for Africa wins Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant

Learning Perseverance – Perspective from an African start-up

CleanTechnica 11 May 2020

CleanTechnica (pt2) 13 May 2020


For more information please contact Mobility for Africa


[i] (Hamba means “go” in Shona, the local languages of Zimbabwe)