Solar Sister: Bringing a women powered clean energy revolution
The key question that should be addressed in this dialogue:
How to integrate gender inclusive, market based and scalable solutions like Solar Sister in the global+local dialogue and action on energy poverty and climate change?
Solar Sister is an award winning innovative social enterprise eradicating energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. 1.6 billion people in the world i.e a quarter of humanity lives without the most basic access to modern energy. 70% of these are women & girls. Solar Sister addresses this female face of energy poverty by combining the breakthrough potential of solar technology with a deliberately woman-centered direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to even the most remote communities in rural Africa. Solar Sister is the only organization in the world formed with the exclusive mission to build an Africa wide network of women clean energy entrepreneurs. As the primary consumers of household energy, women must be integrated in a bottom up green economy. Solar Sister does this through a smart investment in women's enterprise.
Solar Sister introduces new technology to households through women hearing from their trusted Solar Sister entrepreneur, 'I use this solar light at night and my child is doing better in school, or I know that you lost a child to a kerosene fire last year, and I have a solution that will make sure that never happens again.' A founding story of Solar Sister is that of Rebecca, a rural farmer in Mpigi, Uganda. Rebecca chose to put a solar light in her chicken room. Rebecca knew that chickens only eat when they can see, and by increasing the hours of light, the chickens ate more, and were healthier. They laid more eggs, improving the economics of her operation and providing income that allowed her to buy seeds, and eventually a goat, pigs, and even a cow. From the simple improvement of a single light, Rebecca built a farm and eventually a school where she teaches children to read and write, and also how to do small plot farming. With a little bit of light and opportunity, women like Rebecca have the power to improve their lives. This is Solar Sister’s vision. Today, Solar Sister is empowering many more Rebecca’s across Africa and has grown into a thriving social enterprise with a network of more than 400 Solar Sister entrepreneurs in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan who are bring the benefits of solar power to more than 50,000 people in Africa. In 2013, this women's enterprise is replicating in Tanzania and Nigeria as well. Solar Sister is proving that green power plus women power can create a sustainable future for all.
Reasons for working in this topic, project or business:
Solar Sister is building market linkages for enhanced solar power penetration in rural Africa. The last few years have seen a spur in technology innovations in development of portable solar products for the base of pyramid markets. However, product innovation has not gone hand- in-hand with innovation in creating last mile distribution chain, which has become the weakest link in improving rural energy access.
Solar Sister changes this by empowering women with economic opportunity and clean energy. Solar Sister brings clean energy to rural customers’ doorstep where traditional distribution channels simply do not exist. By using a women-driven “last mile” distribution model for solar portable lights and solar mobile phone charging solutions, we create sustainable businesses that empower rural African women to become solar entrepreneurs.
Root causes of the problems in this field and main barriers:
With the breakthroughs in product design in portable LED technology, affordable clean energy solutions exist today but that they are not easily accessible to the people who need them most - those living in remote rural communities in developing countries. Despite product innovations, there is a huge gap when it comes to last mile distribution of these life transforming technologies to those who need them the most – the rural energy poor. Solar Sister also addresses a make or break gap in the existing base of pyramid markets - women were not being treated as a part of the solution. Since women are the primary consumers of household energy, they are key to successful adaptation of clean energy technology solutions – both as end users and as a crucial link in the supply chain through their rural networks. People tend to think that women don't have access to money and aren't making or influencing any monetary decisions, and while that may be true at a larger, cap ital expenditure level, it's not true at the household level. Purchasing power isn't the only reason why the women make the best entrepreneurs in rural Africa. The women are experts in their local market, and form the most effective distribution system with a combination of their strong social networks and their own ingenuity. Given the opportunity to participate fully in the creative process of building a business, the women become stronger and more confident. This self-belief is transformational. As Solar Sister Entrepreneurs, they become evangelists for clean energy and women empowerment by being role models for other women and young girl in their communities.
What is needed to overcome barriers to implement solutions:
Empowering women to become an active part of a grassroots green economy – both as sellers of affordable and high quality solutions, and as users themselves benefitting from the transition from dirty and expensive fuels like kerosene to life transforming portable solar solutions that bring better income opportunities, savings, improved public health and better opportunities for children to study at night.
Specific needs and/or support requests:
You can support Solar Sister by:
a) Advocating for gender inclusive solutions to address energy poverty
b) Support Solar Sister's scale up and building linkages with strong grassroots women’s networks with whom Solar Sister can partner to bring clean energy and women’s enterprise to the communities. Presently, Solar Sister has a strategic focus on Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria
c) Supporting innovative public-private partnerships to champion Solar Sister's unique innovation which is promoting women in clean tech at a grassroots level
Suggested best local solution for this topic:
Solar Sister provides a locally driven solution to energy poverty by empowering women as clean energy entrepreneurs. Solar Sister’s innovation has been featured by:
- CNN Solar sisters' spreading light in Africa http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/17/world/africa/solar-sister-africa-light
- Forbes.com This International Women's Day, Find (and Fund) the New Faces of Women's Empowerment http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/03/08/this-international-womens- day-find-and-fund-the-new-faces-of-womens-empowerment/
- The U.S. Department of State Official Blog, Women Light the Way for Future Generations, http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/women_light_way_future_generations/
- Rockefeller Foundation Blog by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Momentum for Change: Women for Results, http://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/news/news/momentum-change- women-results
- DW.DE Germany, Solar Sister – Lighting Up Uganda, http://www.dw.de/solar- sister-lighting-up-uganda/a-16647163
- Huffington Post Will President Obama Seize the Moment for Action on Climate Change http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-rigg/obama-climate- change_b_2081022.html
- National Geographic, Low-Cost Solar Brightens Lives in the Developing World, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2012/06/120606-low-cost- solar-in-the-developing-world/
- United Nations Environment Program, Empower Women today, Invest in the Future, http://www.unep.org/wed/news/empower.asp
Yes, to share more about your interest, please write to Solar Sister at firstname.lastname@example.org , learn more at www.solarsister.org , follow us on Twitter at @Solar_Sister, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/solarsister.org
Suggested best global solution for this topic:
Solar Sister suggestions to address the gender face of energy poverty:
a) A women focused clean investment fund to support scaling up of innovative business models like Solar Sister
b) Platform for highlighting contribution of grassroots women entrepreneurs towards a global green economy
Best practices and policies:
There is a need to proactively engage women across the clean energy supply chain to address energy poverty and climate change. Policies that recognize and encourage gender inclusive and market based solutions to make this possible at scale are needed.
Women in clean tech, community enagement in clean energy
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