Today in Washington DC, the International Center for Research on Women released findings from a qualitative assessment of the Solar Sister business model.
ICRW conducted an assessment of Solar Sister, a network of women in Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania who are reaching the most poverty-stricken and remote areas with affordable solar lamps, mobile phone chargers, and fuel-efficient stoves—technology that increases productivity and improves household health and safety. Women use the solar lamps to provide light for their children to study later into the evening, as well as to continue their own income-producing work when there is no power.
The mission of Solar Sister is to eradicate energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. Solar Sister taps into the power of women’s social networks to bring energy access to the most hard-to-reach communities. Solar Sister helps local women launch clean-energy businesses and earn an income. Each Solar Sister entrepreneur buys her lights and cookstoves from Solar Sister, then sells and delivers them — woman-to-woman — to her family, friends and neighbors.
- Income from clean energy businesses allows women to contribute to household earnings and gain financial independence;
- Businesswomen benefit from increased status at home and in their communities. Income from clean energy businesses (and money saved that would previously have been spent on expensive fuel, such as kerosene) increases household economic stability. Additionally, solar lanterns and improved cookstoves produce fewer emissions, reducing respiratory and eye problems in the house;
- Having access to solar light allows students to reliably study later into the evening. Money saved with solar lights can be redirected to school fees and school supplies;
- Access to lighting creates safer communities: businesses are able to stay open later at night; households avoid dangerous kerosene lighting that can cause damage to property and, in some cases, even death; and community members experience enhanced safety as they are able to move freely at night; and
- This assessment also reinforced that idea that putting income and energy in women’s hands can have powerful economic and social impacts on not only individual women’s lives, but also the lives of their families and communities.
“We know from previous research that the income of self-employed, rural women who have access to energy is more than twice that of their counterparts without access to energy,” said Allison M. Glinski, co-author of the report. “For rural women, access to energy is correlated with 59 percent higher wages. These numbers clearly show how critical having access to energy is for their family, specifically because it translates into additional income to be used on things like schooling or to invest back into entrepreneurial opportunities that continue to generate more income.”
More than two thirds of those in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to reliable electricity and 80 percent rely on biomass for cooking. The growing clean energy market has the potential to bring reliable and affordable green energy technologies to the doorsteps of those throughout Africa. As the World Bank and others are looking for global solutions to climate change and poverty, there is a worldwide focus to improve the world’s poorest populations’ lives with clean energy and new technology.
“ICRW’s research with Solar Sister and other clean energy enterprises has shown that engaging women in clean energy initiatives not only improves the lives of these individual women, but is also good for business- the way that these women are viewed by their husbands, children and community members changes as they become leaders in their community, while the company benefits from their vast sales networks and relationships with clients,” said the lead author, Kathryn Farley.
Solar Sister serves as the backbone of women’s enterprise, decreasing the risks and costs women face in starting independent businesses in the clean energy sector. Their business model is as follows: Management staff recruits and trains Business Development Associates (BDAs), who are locally hired field staff and Solar Sister’s direct link to entrepreneurs. In turn, each BDA recruits, trains, and supports a group of 1-25 self-employed women entrepreneurs (Solar Sister entrepreneurs or SSEs). Since establishing operations in 2010, Solar Sister has empowered 2,000 entrepreneurs in Uganda, Nigeria, and Tanzania, who have in turn provided solar and clean cooking solutions to over 370,000 beneficiaries.
“ICRW’s assessment shows how Solar Sister’s unique model of recruiting, training and supporting female clean energy entrepreneurs leads to a ripple of benefits for the individual, her family, and her community,” said Katherine Lucey, Founder & CEO of Solar Sister. “With these insights, Solar Sister will be better able to target our outreach, training, and support of entrepreneurs to increase the impact of energy access and economic opportunity for women.”
The photos in this story come from ICRW’s PhotoVoice Project: PhotoVoice is an innovative participatory action research methodology that allows people to use photography and/or video to capture the social, economic, political, and psychological changes they experience and share them with others. It is unique in that it provides participants with the power to decide for themselves what kind of information and representation they want to share and provides them with a dynamic medium to speak out and be heard. For this qualitative assessment, ICRW taught a group of female Solar Sister Entrepreneurs (SSEs) how to use digital cameras, and then asked them to go out into their communities and visually capture how being a part of Solar Sister has changed their lives.