Sector: Social Enterprise, Solar Products and Technology

Location: Headquarters in Mauritius operates globally. In Eastern and Southern Africa operates and/or works with partners in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Madagascar, Tanzania and Ethiopia.


Background and History

ToughStuff was founded by Adriaan Mol and Andrew Tanswell in June 2008 as a social enterprise providing affordable solar-powered products for low-income people. By replacing expensive and environmentally damaging alternatives ToughStuff products reduce poverty, enhance the environment, improve health and generate micro-enterprise employment. ToughStuff's operations fall into two main spheres – development and emergency relief. In the former products are sold in developing countries improving customers' quality of life. In emergencies ToughStuff products provide much needed relief to those affected, helping them rebuild their lives.

After extensive product development and field testing, ToughStuff started trading in Madagascar in July 2009 with 125 000 units sold in the first two months. Following its success in Madagascar, ToughStuff moved into Kenya in July 2010. The company continues to grow and is expanding rapidly into neighbouring East African territories. ToughStuff is planning further expansion, initially into western and southern Africa, then internationally capitalising on on-going pilot programmes. In 2010, ToughStuff moved into emergency relief. Since the 2010 earthquake over 30 000 ToughStuff emergency kits have been distributed in Haiti by the company's partner organisations.

Vision, Principles and Mission

ToughStuff's mission is to bring affordable energy products to people without access to electricity thereby helping to increase living standards, improve health, enhance the environment, and build enterprise and employment.

ToughStuff's vision is to lift people out of poverty. The company is driven by certain key principles:

We have the power to change the world:

  • Poverty is unjust, offensive and wrong: we have a responsibility, and are passionate about addressing it.
  • We have a responsibility to protect our environment.
  • We are entrusted with resources which we can use to bring about the change we want to see.

An intimate understanding of the people we serve:

  • ToughStuff operates in close proximity to the very poorest people. We understand their lives, hopes, and concerns and have developed products to serve their specific needs.
  • Over 70% of those living on less than $1 per day are rural dwellers.
  • Its products are tough and durable to withstand the challenges of rural life. They must be inexpensive and accessible.

ToughStuff is a business

  • ToughStuff uses business principles to maximise our scale and reach.
  • We centralise production in sophisticated factories and make use of well-developed supply chains to ensure that our products are of the highest quality and reach as many people as possible.
  • We seek excellence in all we do and are accountable for the resources that have been entrusted to us, human and financial.

...with three bottom lines

  • We blend the values of the charitable sector with the commercial acumen of the business sector to achieve sustainable large scale environmental and social benefits.
  • We want to create a better place for people to live – creating wealth, improving security and opportunities, and enhancing the environment.
  • Ownership creates a sense of value
  • Giveaways provide only temporary alleviation, create dependency and damage the local economy. Commerce is a more sustainable solution to long-term poverty.
  • Community-owned assets fall into disrepair as no-one feels responsible for their care and maintenance.
  • Individuals attribute value to things they pay for. People feel a sense of responsibility and are more likely to use and care for tools they have bought.

Dignity through productivity

  • Enterprise has positive consequences for communities and the whole nation –a middle class who are more demanding and whose loyalty is not easily bought leads to good governance.
  • Our products and programmes such as Business in a Box release people's latent creativity, innovation, and energy – and their sense of dignity.
  • Enterprise solutions are the most enduring way to lift people out of poverty.

Where ToughStuff is Working

ToughStuff started trading in Madagascar in 2009 and has since expanded into 10 other African countries including: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mauritius, Malawi, Rwanda and South Africa. In these countries ToughStuff has generated employment hiring local people and making use of the in-country expertise of local partners and distributers. ToughStuff currently employs over 40 direct sales staff in Kenya and Madagascar.

Outside of Africa ToughStuff has offices in the UK and Hong Kong, has a distribution centre in the USA, and is working with partners in a number of countries including Haiti, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines. ToughStuff's interventions in Haiti and Pakistan have both related to natural disasters working with partner organisations to provide emergency relief.

Solar Products

ToughStuff's solar products harness the power of the sun to fulfil the three main energy needs of off-grid consumers: lighting, connectivity, and information. The products are modular offering flexibility, allowing customers to build their own, personalised solar energy solutions. Half the purchase price of every ToughStuff solar kit bought in developed countries goes towards funding the Business in a Box programme.

Business in a Box (BIAB)

ToughStuff runs a micro-enterprise programme Business in a Box (BIAB) as a way to create jobs and stimulate entrepreneurship in local communities. Local Solar Village Entrepreneurs (SVEs) are selected, they are equipped them with a proven business model, and their efforts to build profitable micro-businesses are supported. As well as allowing SVEs to make money, the scheme also increases access to ToughStuff products in off-grid communities.

Typically Solar Village Entrepreneurs (SVEs) raise funds to purchase ToughStuff kits at discounted prices. Increasingly, NGOs and microfinance institutions play a vital role in raising much needed working capital. ToughStuff establishes SVEs by providing them with a proven business model, product and sales training, as well as access to networks and marketing support.

Emergency Relief

ToughStuff has worked with partners in Haiti and Pakistan to provide emergency relief in response to natural disasters. In Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake over 30,000 ToughStuff emergency kits were distributed. This included work with HelpAge International to distribute over 3000 solar kits to elderly people living in 75 camps in Port-au-Prince and Leogane. These kits included a solar panel charger, a radio and a flashlight, these items help provide greater security to older people living alone in the camps. In these kinds of emergency situations ToughStuff's solar energy solutions can provide support in a number of ways including:

  • Security – Lighting significantly increases people's sense of security when living in emergency camps.
  • Productivity – Lighting gives 2-3 hours more productive time each day
  • Connectivity – People can use mobile phones to share information, remain in touch with loved ones, and in some places to transfer funds electronically. Radios allow access to information.
  • Rebuilding livelihoods – micro-entrepreneurship opportunities through Business in a Box

International Awards and Recognition

ToughStuff has received a number of grants and awards in recognition of its impact, for example the Global Social Business Incubator Award in 2009, the NEMEX Energy & Environment and Tech Awards in 2010, and the Ashden Awards for sustainable energy 2011. The Daey Ouwens Fund and Marshall Fund have also awarded ToughStuff with significant subsidies to support its efforts in driving village entrepreneurship and providing affordable energy products.

Partners Commercial and Non-profit

ToughStuff works with a range of partners both commercial and non-profit. On the commercial side these include Chloride Exide, Interhealth, Kopernik, Goya and Baobab. In its commercial partnerships ToughStuff seeks not only reliable and efficient businesses to work with but also those that share its vision and values. On the non-profit side ToughStuff has worked with Help Age International to distribute emergency kits to older earthquake victims in Haiti. It has also worked with World Vision and the Salvation Army in Haiti. It works with Christian Aid to establish new solar village entrepreneurs in Kenya. It also works with Living Goods, Send a Cow Uganda and Edirisa UK in Uganda. Finally it is working with Humadica to distribute solar lighting kits to Somali refugees in Ethiopia.

Contact Details

East African Office:

PO Box 17726

Cape Office Park, 1st floor

(Opposite Yaya), Kilimani

Nairobi, Kenya

+254 20 260 6869