How many solar pumps should we deliver to rural Malawian women's groups in 2023?

Dear Friends, Family and Compatriots:

In this friends and family letter, I am going to ask you to help me answer the question that I pose in the title.

You can also watch a video version of what I explain in this letter, here:


And the website that we created to focus on raising money for solar pumping for women's groups is here:


During my August trip to Malawi, I verified our ability to deliver solar pumping systems to low-income rural women's groups, and I verified that the women's groups really need and want solar pumps and will use them well.

During the dry season millions of women grow vegetable gardens to feed their families and make a little income. Currently they carry the water for their gardens by hand with water cans. They get really happy when they can pump the water through a hose instead of carrying ot by hand, especially when the pump runs on sunshine and costs nothing to operate. Diesel pumps exist, but they run diesel fuel which is expensive.

Why solar pumps for women's groups are so GREAT?

We figured out how to make our solar pumping systems even less expensive than before so that they cost $200 now instead of $300 each. We also verified that the women's groups can pay for about half of the cost, so that donors only have to cover $100 per women's group.

In addition, one solar pump can produce more than $1000 of farm income over the course of one dry season when irrigated agriculture is in demand.

As further evidence of the solar pump benefits, the women who get the pumps are visibly and demonstrably very very happy. Their enthusiasm and excitement is consistently expressed during the distribution process.

Groups of women are also able to gather together and pay about $100 per system. This is about one month salary in rural Malawi and is further testimony of how valuable the pumps are to the women.

Because of all of these observations, in my opinion, this is THE most cost-effective investment that we can make in the economic empowerment of rural women in Malawi that I know of.

Except, perhaps for some specialized health interventions (like mosquito bed nets or de-worming pills) I don't know of any poverty-reduction programs where for each $1 of donation can clearly create more than $10 per year of income for women who normally earn only a few hundred dollars of income over the course of a year. It's pretty cool.

Planning for next year's solar pump distribution ...

So, if subsidized solar pump distribution is the most cost-effective women's empowerment thing that we can do, how big should we try to make it over the next year?

Well, I argue that getting solar pumps to a 1000 women's groups or more during the summer of 2023 is both practical and feasible. And therefore, this is an effort, that we should collectively attempt.

Why pick the number 1000?

First of all, it's a nice round number that can fit in one 20 foot shipping container rather nicely.

But more importantly it matches our current distribution capacity. We think we have a distribution capacity of 100 systems per week, and we think the best period for distributing the systems lasts 10 weeks.

During this last trip to Malawi we had a smaller shipment pumps and pipes arrive. And shortly after they arrived, we were able to distribute about 100 pumping systems to four village shops in about one week. These shops then distributed them to about 100 women's groups.

Given that people start irrigating their gardens during the first half of the dry season from June through August, this gives us about 10 weeks to distribute whatever number of pumps we acquire. So 100 pumping systems per week for about 10 weeks is about 1000 systems. This is totally feasible and practical.

How much money do we have to raise and when for this to happen?

The total amount we have to raise is $100 per system for 1000 systems or about $100k. But only part of that money needs to be raised ahead of time, because some expenses occur early in the process while other expenses are incurred later.

Because the parts have to be ordered from the factory, produced and put on a ship to be sent to Malawi, some money needs to be raised more than six months before the pumps arrive in Malawi's villages.

How much has to be raised initially? Well the pump and preferably the pipe has to be purchased up front from the manufacturer in China. Meanwhile the panels, wires and sockets can be purchased later in the local market in Malawi. The initial pump and pipe cost is about $30 per system, so we have to raise $30k. One of our bigger donors has agreed to match new donations dollar for dollar, so we need $15k in new fundraising in the next few months in order to purchase the pumps and irrigation pipe in time for women to start receiving them in June.

So here is the plan:

First, between now and the end of the year, we see how much we can raise in new donations and matching donations. We divide that number by $30, and that is the number of solar pumping systems that we order for summer of 2023;

Second, between January and May we do a combination of fundraising some extra subsidy, and finding some inexpensive solar panels so that the remaining cost of distributing the solar pumping systems is only $100 per system;

Third, we sign up 500 to 1000 women's groups from March to June to receive the solar pumping systems; and

Fourth, between May and September 2023, we distribute the solar pumps to the women's groups with the groups paying the difference between the system delivery cost and the donation subsidy that we have been able to raise.

So that's the plan! Many of you will be hearing from me in the next couple of months. We just need 50 people to donate $300 each or 150 people to donate $100 each to reach the goal of helping 1000 women's groups next summer. And we have between now and the end of the year to do it. Should be possible!

In other news ...

In our recently arrived container, we also got many of the parts for 10 solar cars, many hundreds of solar electric cooker and several thousand solar lighting systems.

While we distributed the solar pumps first, work has also been done assembling and distributing these three other types of solar systems.

I'll give an update on much of that other work within a few weeks.

In love and struggle,

Robert VB