Request for Applications to conduct research on the energy ladder in East Africa

UNCDF is seeking applications from qualified research partners (e.g. commercial for profit firms, educational/research institutions, and non-profit organizations) with the capacity to conduct research on the energy ladder in East Africa.


There is reason to believe that entry-level solar lights  can act as a gateway to, or the first rung of, the energy ladder for low-income people; meaning that over time people are more able and willing to upgrade to energy products with more functionality or capacity.

There is anecdotal evidence of the energy ladder, but not enough rigorous, in-depth research on the extent to which having access to an entry-level light allows people to move up to larger and more comprehensive energy systems; how this movement is affected by different types of consumer financing options; and the spill-over impact in other development areas such as communication opportunities, financial access, cost savings and productivity improvements.

The United Nations Capital Development Fund’s (UNCDF) CleanStart Programme, together with other interested organizations, such as SolarAid, GSMA, GOGLA, CGAP, and the WB-IFC Lighting Africa Initiative, would like to find out through the energy ladder research what journey people travel when they have access to entry-level solar lights.

The energy ladder research will seek to fill a knowledge gap in the energy access industry by creating publicly accessible research results that will be published on various platforms to ensure wide-spread dissemination.

Research scope

This round of request for applications is to conduct a “PRE-randomized control trial (pre-RCT)” of one year (2015-2016) to pave the way for a larger, multi-year RCT study if pre-RCT findings suggest one would be worthwhile.

The pre-RCT should provide insights on the following key questions:

I. Entry-level solar lights to more sophisticated solar products and services:

     1) To what extent does owning an entry-level solar light increase the likelihood of obtaining access to higher capacities of energy access?

II. Role of consumer finance in shaping the energy ladder journey:

     2) What impact does consumer finance, such as credit and ‘pay-as-you-go’ enabled by different types of digital payments, have on the customer journey of moving up from entry-level products to higher levels of energy access? (For example, does it affect people’s trust level in technologies, speed at which they move up, which types of people are attracted to what types of financing options?)

Research country: Uganda

Available budget: up to $150,000

Research project duration: October, 2015 – December, 2016; the research partner is expected to start working in early October, 2015.

Submission requirements

Eligibility criteria

Any type of organization (commercial for-profit firms, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations);
Can start working in October, 2015

Minimum qualification criteria

Experience with conducting randomized evaluations/research in sub-Saharan Africa, related to energy access (preferred), mobile money/services, and/or financial inclusion (desirable);
Able to dedicate highly-capable staff, in particular, a focused project manager for the research duration;
At least five years in operation;
CEO is aware and committed to the organization’s execution and participation in this research;
Complete application package

Submission format

The application should follow the submission format provided in Annex 1 of the RFA document.   


Applications and any consultation about this RFA should be submitted via email to the CleanStart Programme and Knowledge Management Analyst at
The subject line of the email should be: Energy Ladder Research
The deadline to submit the applications is 21 AUGUST, 2015 (FRI)  at 17.00 EST

Please refer to the full RFA document for more details about the research and the submission requirements.