Spotlight – September 2017

Solar Sister – A meeting of minds: including women in clean energy solutions

By: Fid Thompson, Communications Associate, Solar Sister

On August 24 2017, Solar Sister and the Energy Access Practitioner Network brought together key actors in Tanzania’s renewable energy sector to discuss how to meaningfully include women in clean energy solutions. The workshop was supported by ENERGIA, International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy.

Women can play a crucial role in scaling up energy access, especially in underserved communities across Tanzania, but so far few have gotten the opportunity to do so.

Solar Sister entrepreneur Hilaria Pascal, from Tanzania, receives award and speaks at ENERGIA’s Women Entrepreneurship Awards at SE4All Forum in New York. Photo credit: Adam Schultz / ENERGIA

“If we want to tackle poverty, and bring clean energy to the remotest corners of Tanzania, we have to involve women,” said Fatma Muzo, Solar Sister Tanzania Country Manager. “Solar Sister is rising to this challenge: we offer the livelihood opportunity and back that up with skills and market linkages support so that Tanzanian women gain the confidence to start clean energy businesses.”

The event brought together players across the sustainable energy sector in Tanzania to identify the challenges and unique opportunities for women to contribute to the sector’s growth.

Solar Sister entrepreneurs consider new solar products on the market at a product fair in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo Credit: Fid Thompson / Solar Sister.

 “As a long-standing champion of both energy access and girls and women, the UN Foundation is committed to ensuring women are at the heart of clean energy access value chains and policies” says Jem Porcaro, the Senior Director of Energy Access for the UN Foundation. “We are delighted to be partnering with Solar Sister to explore the way forward for gender inclusivity in the distributed energy sector, and to bring into the conversation the diverse perspectives of our Practitioner Network members.”

Hon. Devota Mkuwa Likokola, former Tanzanian Member of Parliament and Founder of Vicoba Sustainable Development Agency was a Guest of Honor. She noted in her special remarks that “women have to develop in the energy access sector, especially in existing modern energy such as solar, clean cooking technologies, and other energy innovations.” She called on the government to ensure measurable impact on gender inclusion in the sector.

Edward Ishengomu from the Ministry of Energy agreed that “the lack of modern, reliable, and affordable energy for lighting is a serious challenge facing women in Tanzania.” He called on all present to brainstorm solutions to help advance women in the energy sector and pledged government support to achieve this.

Katherine Lucey (far left), CEO and founder of Solar Sister, speaks to the audience during a panel on best practices and challenges to advance women in the energy sector. Pictured: Katherine Lucey (Solar Sister), Andrew Mnzava (Lighting Tanzania), Hamisi Mikate (TAREA), Everline Kihulla (Tanzania National Gender and Sustainable Energy Network), Fredric Mushi (Hivos). Photo credit: United Nations Foundation.

Turning on the Lights

Solar Sister also took this opportunity to officially launch findings from a recent study by Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The 30-page report, Turning on the Lights: Transcending Energy Poverty Through the Power of Women Entrepreneurs, examines the impact of solar on customers and Solar Sister entrepreneurs.

Solar Sister Felicia Abiola-Ige markets clean energy products at a market outside of Oyo Town, Nigeria. Photo Credit: Fid Thompson / Solar Sister.

Dr. Leslie Gray, lead author, presented her findings, noting that the element of trust played a key role in the success of Solar Sister’s clean energy entrepreneur model. “Women to women networks foster a network of trust, which lead people to buy from Solar Sister,” Dr. Gray said. The study showed that the impact of solar energy often a ripple effect on households. Women are more likely to use energy for household chores, freeing up time, and women often spend the savings they make from no longer buying kerosene to pay for children’s education. Dr. Gray emphasized the need to enhance these kinds of small-scale energy access. “Small-scale energy access is affordable for women and studies show they use it,” she said. Practitioners at the event found the evidence presented in the report particularly relevant to more intentionally integrate women in their diverse range of clean energy efforts.

Challenges and progress

Lively discussions followed in Swahili and English on the reality and the goals of mainstreaming gender in Tanzania’s renewable energy sector. Diverse participants from industry, civil society and entrepreneur communities contributed valuable insights.

Jodie Wu (far left) takes notes from the audience as they ask her questions about her presentation on how women can advance across sustainable energy value chains. Pictured from left to right: Jodie Wu (GCS Tanzania Limited), Msololo Onditi (Climate Action Network), Halima (Solar Sister), Luc Severi (United Nations Foundation). Photo credit: United Nations Foundation.

Jodie Wu, CEO of GCS Tanzania Limited, emphasized the importance of collaboration both within businesses and also with communities: “The technology is not only about the hardware, but also the software, and is not just about the customers, but also about the entrepreneurs.”

Wu added that getting more women in the industry requires training more women in key skills. This will show that women are entirely capable of the work if given adequate training and support. Wu ended with a call for action: “How do we start to increase women’s voices in all these spaces and how do we make sure they are heard?”

Halima Mdee, a Solar Sister entrepreneur since 2015 in her community in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro region, agrees with Wu. She feels all actors need to support more women in the renewables business. “I request that the government and other energy stakeholder prioritize women in the energy access value chain because when you educate a women you serve the entire community,” she said.

Mdee, who has been able to support her husband, pay her children’s education fees, and build her own modern house, says being a Solar Sister entrepreneur has helped her gain independence as much as it has helped increase her income. One of Mdee’s biggest challenges is the number of cheap, fake products on the market.

Frank Mushi of Hivos noted that “ensuring that standards for product quality are in place and enforced is vital to ensuring that quality products remain in the market.” Hivos has worked with the Tanzania Bureau of Standards to support the government in officially adopting global lighting standards, which Mushi believes soon be put into action.

A workshop participant asks a question to a panel – one of many fruitful discussions that took place throughout the day. Photo credit: United Nations Foundation.

Andrew Abduel Mnzava of Lighting Tanzania shared the International Financial Corporation / World Bank led initiative’s ongoing efforts to mobilize private sector to create a vibrant commercial and sustainable market for high-quality solar energy products in the country. The four pillars of these efforts are quality assurance, market intelligence, consumer education, business support and access to finance.

Hamisi Mikate of TAREA, Tanzania Renewable Energy Association, made the important point that solar energy used outside of individual homes is an area with potential for great impact. He cited TAREA’s project installing solar lights at community bus stops that increased passengers taking the bus at night because of the reliable light source.

Putting ideas into action

How to put all these ideas into practical actions that will result in more Tanzanian women in the renewable energy sector?

All workshop participants pose for a group picture. Seated in the front row from left to right: Edward Ishengomu (Ministry of Energy), Katherine Lucey (Solar Sister), Devota Mkuwa Likokola (Guest of Honor), Leslie Gray (Santa Clara University), Halima (Solar Sister entrepreneur), Fatma Muzo (Solar Sister), Ansila Mukupa (Solar Sister). Photo credit: United Nations Foundation.

Some key messages and calls to action emerged. Many focused on increased education and technical skills training of women and girls, family involvement and support of women entrepreneurs, better access to financing for women, and development of platforms to share challenges and successful solutions.

Compared to other sectors such as education and health, the energy sector is lagging behind in engaging women. This daylong dialogue highlighted the pressing need to consider clean energy as a basic right and therefore a woman’s right. Now to put our words into action!