The Avon Ladies Of Renewable Energy – Solar Sister Bringing Light & Jobs To African Women

All images courtesy of Solarsister.org

Renewable energy is a topic of major concern globally today, especially in light of climate change policies and the knowledge of human impact on our environment. One of the most important things to know about renewable energy is the rate of jobs it is creating.

In the US alone, it is now out-pacing fossil fuel jobs by 25%, and data shows the main reason is due to the increase in solar installation jobs. It is clear where the future of energy lies, and its impact goes far beyond taking care of the planet and job growth. In parts of the world, renewable energy jobs have become an opportunity for financial gain as well as female empowerment and poverty eradication, making it a win-win all around.

One organization in particular is seeing the fruition of solar jobs in the lives of under-served women. Solar Sister, which currently works with women in Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigera, is a women-centered direct sales network bringing clean energy technology to even the most remote parts of rural Africa.

Solar Sister brings light and jobs to women, who then bring solar solutions to their communities, which would otherwise be suffering acute energy poverty. They also help women build businesses selling solar-powered products. Solar sister believes investing in women is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

The organization can be best described as being a model similar to that of Avon, where the women are selling light and power instead of makeup. They are currently supporting 2500 entrepreneurs who collectively reach 700,000 customers.

Solar Sister was founded in 2009 by CEO Katherine Lucey. After a 20 year career in investment banking with a focus on energy finance, Katherine wanted to turn her attention to solving energy poverty. More than 600 million in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity, making the region the most energy poor in the world. Katherine developed the idea for a women-led sales network after meeting Rebecca, a farmer in rural Uganda.

Rebecca managed to obtain a solar panel but rather than using it for her house, she installed this panel on the chicken coop. She knew that chickens would only eat when they can see and if Rebecca gave them light, her chickens would eat more, get healthier and lay more eggs. Rebecca would then sell these additional eggs to buy more livestock, build a profitable farm, and improve her family’s standard of living.

She even generated enough profit to build a school to teach local children how to read, write, and start their own farms. If one woman could make that much of a difference with one solar panel, what could a whole network of women accomplish?

This non-profit sells solar lights and cook stoves to aspiring entrepreneurs in Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania. Solar Sister field staff recruit, train and support these entrepreneurs so that they can successfully sell the products in their communities and generate a profit. A 2015 assessment from the International Center for Research on Women found that for many Solar Sister entrepreneurs, this was their first opportunity to work and have access to their own income.

These women would use this income on basic household needs, school fees, and growing their farms. For Solar Sister’s customers, solar lighting is an opportunity to move to a safer, cheaper alternative to kerosene. Many of these customers live in remote areas and aren’t familiar with the economic and health benefits of solar lighting over kerosene.

When solar manufacturers do reach these communities, many potential customers are hesitant to make the switch. They question the value of these products and might not know how to install and use them in their own households. However, with Solar Sister, the distributors live in these communities. They’ve grown up together, understand each other, and know first-hand what does and does not work. In fact, a 2017 study found that this personal relationship between the entrepreneurs and their neighbors was critical in encouraging customers to make the switch.

With more households having solar energy panels installed, the benefits to women and girls increase exponentially, especially in poverty-stricken areas. More hours of light means more hours to study, solar energy means saving money on electricity costs, and it also allows rural communities to have access to digital technology and stay connected to the world. Women invest 90% of their income into their family’s wellbeing, which means the opportunity to raise up a female entrepreneur has a far-reaching impact.

The health benefits of solar energy in more households across rural Africa should also not be understated. Solar lamps replace kerosene which produce toxic fumes, black carbon, and increase the risk of burns. Smoke form cooking also constitutes the fifth worst risk factor for disease in developing nations, and causes almost 2 million premature deaths per year, exceeding deaths attributable to tuberculosis and malaria. Solar Sister is a source for improved cook stoves, which are 60% more efficient.

For the women entrepreneurs, they become powerful role models for other women and girls in their communities showing what it looks like to be a business owner working in one of the most sought-after industries globally.

When you look at the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, designed to help eradicate poverty around the world, gender equality is easily one of the most important. It outlines how empowering women financially will play a major role in lifting families and communities out of poverty, as well as contribute to a nation’s overall GDP.

There’s really no room or reason for skepticism. The data shows the benefits of renewable energy from multiple levels. To learn more about Solar Sister, watch the video below or visit the website.

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