The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the US Government’s development finance institution, has announced a US $4.1 million (about Kshs 414 million) loan to Mawingu Networks, a provider of solar-powered wireless internet for rural Kenya.
Mawingu Networks was able to establish its current operating model using an initial grant in 2013 from Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The firm received equity funding from Angel Investor Jim Forster, Vulcan Inc, and Microsoft Corporation two years after its first phase of support.
Using a network of solar-powered “nomadic” wireless internet stations, Mawingu provides last-mile connectivity access to areas that cannot economically access the internet. Spurred on by the promise of Mawingu’s initial pilot operations, OPIC’s loan will allow a commercial expansion of a proven model to utilize existing technology of TV White Space (TVWS) connectivity for off-grid internet access.
“We are excited to announce during this week’s Africa US Business Forum an additional round of OPIC support for a highly-developmental investment in Africa,” said Elizabeth L. Littlefield, OPIC’s President and CEO. “Mawingu’s technology and ingenuity will make it possible to provide affordable, solar powered wireless internet to communities throughout rural Kenya. It’s extensive reach will connect many of these developing communities to the world wide web for the first time, and we look forward to the growth and unlimited potential that this project will unveil with OPIC financing.”
“As a partner of the Mawingu project since its inception in 2013, it is exciting to see it reaching the next stage of commercial roll-out. Our studies show that Mawingu’s business model is affordable for consumers even in the least developed areas,” said Amrote Abdella, Regional Director 4Afrika Initiatives. “Ultimately, the expansion will build Africa’s knowledge economy by connecting more people to educational and advancement opportunities.”
“Mawingu is proud and honoured to be working with the support of OPIC and the American government. We see this as a tremendous opportunity to build upon our successful pilot project, and this funding will help us to accelerate the roll out of our network in rural areas across Kenya and beyond,” said Tim Hobbs, Director Mawingu Networks. “It is becoming increasingly clear that affordable access to the internet is a powerful driver of economic growth and Mawingu is committed to making sure that this opportunity is available to as many Kenyans as possible.”
“This partnership is a perfect example of how stakeholders can come together from government and industry to bring those online who might not otherwise be connected,” said Catherine A. Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, U.S. Department of State. “The State Department commends OPIC and Microsoft for this important step toward bridging the digital divide and supporting the goals of the Global Connect Initiative to help bring an additional 1.5 billion people online by 2020.”
“Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. believes in the untapped potential and persistence of Africans to develop innovative solutions that meet the needs of their communities,” said Lauren Kickham, head of Vulcan Inc.’s Impact Investing program. “That’s why he’s supporting Mawingu, whose scalable model holds promise for deep social impact in Kenya and beyond. Our work is focused on finding those local entrepreneurs who can provide African communities sustainable opportunities to develop and grow.”
OPIC is the US Government’s development finance institution established in 1971. It mobilizes private capital to help address critical development challenges and in doing so, advances US foreign policy and national security priorities. Because OPIC works with the US private sector, it helps U.S. businesses gain footholds in emerging markets, catalyzing revenues, jobs and growth opportunities both at home and abroad. OPIC achieves its mission by providing investors with financing, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds, when commercial funding cannot be obtained elsewhere.
Mawingu Networks is a Kenyan company specializing in delivering affordable internet into the rural areas of Africa. The combination of solar power and new radio technologies — TV Whitespaces (TVWS), Microwaves, and WiFi – enable a solar-powered network which delivers much needed ‘Packets and Power’ to the people and businesses of these areas.
Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative was launched in Feb 2013 to help accelerate Africa’s economic development and to improve its global competitiveness. It is a long-term commitment to help empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent and beyond. The initiative is built on three key enablers critical to the success of that mission: innovation, world-class skills and affordable access.
Vulcan Inc is a nimble private company founded by founder Paul G. Allen (a co-founder of Microsoft together with Bill Gates) which works to solve some of the biggest global issues, pursuing projects and investments inspired by the ideas of the founder. Vulcan supports innovative approaches that can save endangered species, address climate change, improve ocean health, explore new frontiers, research how the human brain works and build sustainable communities.