Great article in the Daily Beast about a solar start-up network for women in Uganda. Solar Sisters began as a small project training women about solar energy so that they would be able to spread the word and to sell affordable small solar lamps in their communities, but now the organization has grown exponentially and has even gained some financial support from ExxonMobil.
Solar Sisters started when a former investment banker, Katherine Lucey, decided to start a pilot program of bringing affordable and reliable solar energy to areas in sub-Saharan Africa that do not have access to the energy grid. She started with a group of 10 women in Uganda and trained them in the benefits of solar energy so that they would then be able to take that knowledge and sell the lamps to their neighbors and friends.
“As the entrepreneurs sell their lamps, they earn a commission and reinvest the rest of the proceeds back into new inventory, creating a sustainable income stream for years to come. So the investment has a tremendous leveraging of social impact.”
Many of the women now use the solar lamps to run small businesses – cell phone charging stations, for example – or to provide light for their families. Before the lamps, many families would spend a large portion of their income on kerosene and now that income is available for use in new ways – school fees, capital for small business start-ups, etc.
Another interesting point the article makes is the fact that these are women selling door to door and using solar energy.
When you ask a woman what she would do with the solar light if she had it, she apparently gives a very different answer than a man does, according to Lucey. For example, she explains, “women look at the solar and see ‘light,’ but men look at solar and see ‘technology.’ The women we talk to have very practical applications of what the solar light can do for them.”
The fact that it is the women in this community – their neighbors, family, friends – that are selling the solar lamps in this network provides a greater sense of trust and results that empowers the seamless incorporation of this technology in the community.