The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s Development Finance Institution, has signed a mandate letter to begin financing discussions with Mawingu Networks, a provider of solar-powered wireless Internet across rural Kenya.
OPIC’s President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield is in Nairobi for the 2015 Global Entrepreneur Summit, and signed the OPIC mandate alongside Antony Cook, Microsoft’s Head of Legal and Corporate Affairs for the Middle East and Africa, who served as a witness to the mandate between OPIC and Mawingu.
Mawingu Networks was able to establish their current operating model using an initial grant from Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), an investment from Angel Investor Jim Forster, and early funding from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.
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 consideration of a potential $4 million loan would allow a commercial expansion of a proven model to utilise existing technology of TV White Spaces (TVWS) connectivity for off-grid Internet access.
“The development potential from creative private sector organisations like Mawingu captures the spirit and promise at the heart of this week’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit,” said Elizabeth Littlefield, OPIC’s President and CEO. “Financial support at crucial stages of a company’s business evolution can transform a great idea into a deeply impactful reality for millions in the developing world. By leveraging technology and ingenuity, Mawingu’s massive reach to connect rural African communities to the Internet is just beginning, and I look forward to the growth and scalability of this model that OPIC financing can unlock.”
“Mawingu was the first of the 6 TV white space pilots Microsoft has deployed in Africa in collaboration with partners, making Africa a leader in TV white spaces. We hope regulators across the continent develop legal frameworks that support broader commercial deployment of the technology. It is now time to work with both local and global partners such as OPIC to go commercial and scale to impact not just thousands, but millions of lives across Africa,” Says Antony Cook, Microsoft’s Head of Legal and Corporate Affairs for the Middle East and Africa.
“This is an exciting day for the Mawingu team. The support from OPIC will really help us deliver on the potential of this opportunity to help connect millions of Kenyans to the Internet for the first time” says Mawingu Director Tim Hobbs.
“Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc. is investing in African entrepreneurs and startups in order to develop scalable solutions from within Africa,” said Lauren Kickham, Vulcan Inc.’s head of Africa entrepreneurship program. “We are pleased that our investment in Mawingu will help drive resiliency in African communities. Through our pilots and partnerships, we will de-risk and catalyse growth of new businesses.”