With nearly 75% of rural Africa lacking access to electricity and only 26% of women acting as entrepreneurs, several African countries remain behind the developmental curve and bogged down in poverty. Lack of light and decreased business-building based on gender and status stall improvement in nearly every facet of life. Therefore, access to electricity and increased female entrepreneurial activity could be pivotal in overcoming poverty. The nonprofit organization Solar Sister empowers women to conquer economic, healthcare and education challenges in developing nations by encouraging female entrepreneurship related to increasing electricity availability.
What Is Solar Sister?
Founded in 2011, Solar Sister is a women-led empowerment movement aimed at encouraging female innovation and entrepreneurship through solar technology. The organization trains and equips participants with the necessary skills to create and distribute clean energy solutions that help combat community problems. The overarching goal is to increase electricity access in the world’s most impoverished places. According one successful Solar Sister, “to progress, first you need light.”
Like most business ventures, many Solar Sisters report that their businesses are built largely on trust and willingness to “take risks.” Solar Sister empowers women by focusing intently on its founder and CEO Katherine Lucey’s motto that everyone deserves access to clean, affordable energy. By employing women’s personal knowledge about their peers’ and villages’ needs, the organization is quickly approaching Lucey’s goal by creating specialized clean energy solutions and promoting female entrepreneurship.
Hilaria Paschal, one of Solar Sister’s first entrepreneurs in Tanzania, began her journey with clean energy in 2013. She is a farmer, basket weaver, businesswoman, wife and mother of three. Paschal’s husband kick-started her company with minor capital, but she has managed the operation since. She purchased only 12 lights at her business’s conception, yet managed to sell 25 products in her first month. Since 2013, Paschal has sold nearly 400 products that now power more than 2,000 homes. She attributes her success to her specialized knowledge of her village’s needs and to her immense creativity.
In 2015, Paschal formed Mshikamano, a group of basket weaving women ready to learn more about clean energy, entrepreneurship and the possibility of becoming a Solar Sister. Mshikamano translates to “solidarity” in Swahili, a perfect depiction of Solar Sister’s mission and Paschal’s work.
For her outstanding performance in the Solar Sister Program, Paschal was named the 2017 Women Entrepreneur of the Year by the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy (ENERGIA). She was granted the opportunity to travel to New York, where she accepted her prize and was invited to speak at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum.
But Solar Sister’s praise and recognition does not end with Paschal. In 2015, former president Bill Clinton visited Solar Sister’s site in Karatu, Tanzania as a part of the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action. His visit resulted in higher publicity for the organization and its entrepreneurial opportunities for women.
Solar Sister’s Impact
To date, Solar Sister has launched operations in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, where its 4,000 entrepreneurs have collectively reached more than 1.5 million people and broadened electricity access in some of the world’s most energy-poor countries. Solar Sister products include clean cooking stoves, regular solar lanterns and even solar-powered cell phone chargers, all of which can improve several facets of life and surpass the abilities of simple light.
In an effort to explain just how beneficial affordable, clean energy can be in developing countries, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship conducted a 2017 study entitled, “Turning on the Lights: Transcending Energy Poverty Through the Power of Women Entrepreneurs.” The study concluded that Solar Sister provides much more than light to communities and opportunities for female entrepreneurs, as newly prosperous populations also experience an enhanced quality of healthcare and education. Women in particular are reaping the benefits of increased household incomes, greater respect in the workplace and higher economic statuses.
Empowering Women Helps Entire Communities
In addition, Solar Sister’s solar technology improves health and safety. Solar lanterns do not create the negative health effects that kerosene exposure causes, nor do they pose a fire hazard. Additionally, health clinics and hospitals can use solar lanterns to extend their services and increase their efficiency during night hours. In terms of education, 90% of parents believe their children have improved academically since obtaining increased access to light. This progress is partially due to children having more time to study at night, but mostly because kerosene savings can now be put toward education. Other benefits of solar power include eliminating the travel time required to acquire kerosene, which can now be used to work longer hours and increase household incomes. Higher incomes create more purchasing power and more opportunities for advancement which stimulates local, national and global economies. Overall, Solar Sister empowers women in Africa to live safer, financially secure lifestyles.
To follow the Solar Sister program and its progress, visit solarsister.org or search #IAmSolarSister on social media.
– Natalie Clark