Unilever and Azuri join forces to light up Africa
Global consumer goods brand Unilever and Cambridge solar technology pioneer Azuri Technologies have joined forces to transform life for millions of people living off grid in Africa.
Prime Minister Theresa May showcased the alliance on her recent trip to Africa and the companies have subsequently told Business Weekly that they have huge plans to shine a light on a whole new way of existence in African countries.
The PM announced more than £300m worth of deals for UK companies in Africa but beyond the commercial gloss, Unilever and Azuri have spelled out what their alliance means from dawn till dusk for families living in some of the poorest conditions on the planet.
The partnership is designed to accelerate delivery of pay-as-you-go solar home lighting to millions of off-grid households in Kenya, leveraging Azuri’s £16 million investment in Kenya to date and access to a further £16m in debt funding in the region.
Azuri CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth said: “Azuri is providing solar power to some of the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who don’t have access to electricity.
“Using Azuri’s technology, customers can pay for solar power as they use it and get access to some of the modern capabilities, from LED lighting, through to solar television and satellite content.
“Unilever is one of the longest standing companies in Africa and has enormous countrywide reach and many instantly recognisable household brand names such as Liptons tea and OMO washing powder.
“Azuri has partnered with Unilever to co-brand its solar home lighting system with Unilever’s famous Sunlight brand in order to bring the latest solar power to rural consumers across Africa.
“The partnership is starting in Kenya, where Unilever has more than 67,000 smallholder traders that can provide a route to deliver solar power to consumers and in addition provide support to those consumers.
“The partnership will enable many, many more consumers get access to solar power and technology that can improve their lives.”
Looking long term, Bransfield-Garth sees huge opportunity for the partners and for the people at the sharp end of the power play. He said: “The African sub-continent is in a phase of rapid growth and development and this comes at a time of new innovation and technology – be it the internet, smartphones or artificial intelligence.
“Azuri, with its innovative and pioneering approach, is ideally placed to work with counterparts right across the continent in order to deliver the benefit of this technology to million and millions of consumers.”
Azuri was founded in 2012 in Cambridge as a small startup with a handful of engineers developing and designing solar solutions based on mobile technology.
Now the business is one of the leading providers of pay-as-you-go solar power lighting and TV systems, with locally-based teams working in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Nigeria.
Azuri now has some 80 staff and has created over 5,000 new jobs via partner companies to sell, support and maintain solar home systems.
Bransfield-Garth accompanies the Prime Minister on her historic African sortie.
Africa is a young, vibrant and dynamic continent growing at an extraordinary rate. By 2050, one in four people on the planet will be African – a quarter of the world’s consumers. This represents a transformational opportunity for UK firms to increase trade with African countries, May said.
During the visit deals worth more than £300 million have been agreed within a variety of sectors, creating close to 3,000 jobs across Africa.
The PM said: “The deals being announced demonstrate the already close trade and investment links between the UK and African countries and the potential that exists for other UK businesses to make the most of the growing opportunities on the continent.
“With a shared passion for entrepreneurship, technology and innovation, now is the time for UK companies to strengthen their partnerships with Africa to boost jobs and drive prosperity both at home and overseas.”
As part of the visit, the Prime Minister also announced that an agreement with the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique means the UK will be ready to carry over the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreement as soon as the EU deal no longer applies to the UK.
This represents the most advanced statement of progress yet of around 40 existing EU trade agreements that the UK is rolling over. The UK-Africa trade relationship is already worth more than £31 billion.
• PHOTOGRAPH (top of page): Justin Apsey, managing director East Africa at Unilever with Azuri CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth