JOHANNESBURG — In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 600 million go without access to electricity every single day. In addition, more than 700 million people across Africa resort to harmful and dangerous alternatives such as kerosene or candlelight, which are expensive and economically inefficient. These alternatives are harmful to the environment and hazardous if left unattended. Lack of access to electricity also hurts the economy, obstructs job growth and keeps people in poverty. In Africa, the poor pay some of the highest energy prices in the world. Additionally, women and children are particularly affected by the devastating consequences.
Empowering Women While Powering the Poor
To help tackle this issue, Neha Misra and Katherine Lucey founded Solar Sister — an “Avon-Style” model that works to economically empower women while simultaneously providing impoverished communities with access to clean energy. As a result, this helps them improve their health and expand production, which is vital to escaping poverty. Solar Sister works by recruiting and training women across Africa to become clean energy entrepreneurs. They support the women by providing them with affordable solar-powered products such as phone chargers, lamps and clean stoves. The women then sell these items to communities without power at an affordable price and make a profit. The women are able to build an entrepreneurial enterprise where they are in control. This model allows them to keep all the profits and grow their business further, while the communities that they sell to get health, financial and educational benefits from using clean energy.
Despite only starting in 2015, Solar Sister has made a tremendous impact on sub-Saharan Africa, providing millions of people with electricity and thousands of women with empowering careers. Solar Sister has trained and supported more than 4,000 clean energy entrepreneurs, of which an overwhelming majority are women. In turn, these entrepreneurs have been able to provide 1.6 million people with electricity in just four years. Research has found that the Solar Sisters model does not just provide women with an additional income; it also improves a woman’s health, education and status. The income that they earn helps women have more control over household decisions and resources. The skills and knowledge that they acquire throughout their career help them foster positive change in their communities and serve as role models to other women.
Providing impoverished communities with affordable, durable and clean energy has also been shown to provide countless benefits. Clean cookstoves and improved lighting offer tremendous health and economic benefits. Using a clean cookstove reduces smoke which in turn improves health, particularly among women and children. In addition, families no longer have to spend time searching for wood.
People with solar lights report a 170 percent increase in the amount of light that they use after sunset; this leads to a massive increase in productivity. Thanks to Solar Sisters, people are able to do more after sundown since they now have a reliable light source. As a result of switching to clean energy, 24 percent of households increased their monthly income by $52, while 38 percent were able to expand existing business and increase their monthly income by $28.
Looking to the Future
Solar Sister is currently active in Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania, but the organization hopes to operate in at least five countries across Africa by 2022. The team is continuously looking to expand their scope and want at least 95 percent of them to be women, which would be a 12 percent increase from the current 83 percent. They also hope to sell one million products and reach 10 million people by 2022.
– Nicholas Bykov