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Photo voltaic Sister is addressing gender fairness, power poverty, and local weather change

The Transformational Tech collection highlights Cisco’s nonprofit grant recipients that use expertise to assist rework the lives of people and communities.

When an individual lives in a group that doesn’t have entry to an influence grid, it means no electrical energy. While you lack entry to sustainable and inexpensive power companies and merchandise, it’s referred to as power poverty.

Folks experiencing power poverty are pressured to make use of higher-cost fuels, like operating diesel gasoline by way of a generator and utilizing kerosene lamps. The price for this gasoline may very well be 20 to 30 % of your family earnings every year. As compared, most households throughout the US spend between 2 and three % of their annual earnings on electrical energy.

Power poverty has damaging penalties for the setting as properly. Eighty % of individuals in Africa use stable fuels for cooking, like wood-burning stoves and charcoal stoves, which emit black carbon. One Kg of black carbon (from a wood-burning range) creates 70 Kg of CO2 circulating within the air for 100 years.

Based in 2009, Photo voltaic Sister is a nonprofit recipient of Cisco’s social affect grants that recruits, trains, mentors, and helps girls entrepreneurs – Photo voltaic Sister Entrepreneurs (SSEs) – and provides them with sturdy, inexpensive power merchandise. SSEs promote fundamental photo voltaic lanterns, photo voltaic house methods (a number of lamps, cellphone charger, and so forth.), clear cookstoves, radio, followers, water filters, and so forth., to individuals of their communities, almost all of whom reside off-grid.

To date, Photo voltaic Sister’s answer has averted 926K metric tons of CO2e emissions; empowered native entrepreneurs, leading to elevated family earnings; and improved group members’ well being by lowering their publicity to stable gasoline emissions.

I not too long ago sat down with Photo voltaic Sister CEO and founder Katherine Lucey to be taught extra concerning the group, why an entrepreneurial mannequin works, and the affect they’ve made thus far.

What impressed you to begin Photo voltaic Sister?

Katherine Lucey, founder and CEO of Solar Sister
Katherine Lucey, founder and CEO of Photo voltaic Sister

Katherine: I had been working in banking and the power trade, elevating funds to construct energy vegetation. Via that, I knew that you just actually couldn’t come into the fashionable period when you didn’t have entry to power.

I took a break from banking, frolicked with household, and pursued passions, together with the setting and girls’s empowerment. I turned concerned with a small household basis engaged on rural electrification in sub–Saharan Africa. We ended up in a rural space of Uganda, and along with colleges and clinics, we put photo voltaic in properties. I acquired to speak with individuals who had trendy power of their properties for the primary time. As a substitute of lighting a kerosene lamp for gentle, they may activate a bulb; as an alternative of cooking over an open fireplace, that they had extra environment friendly cookstoves.

Only a single gentle bulb adjustments all the things in a household’s wellbeing. They don’t have to burn fossil fuels, so it’s higher for the setting, and it’s a lot cheaper. The household is not spending as much as 30 % of their earnings simply on one thing like kerosene.

Moms had been so proud that their youngsters had been finding out and doing higher in school, and girls used the sunshine to energy up small companies. One girl is a basket weaver, and he or she does that within the night after taking good care of her household and taking good care of the farm. As soon as everybody goes to mattress, she will weave baskets and earn cash by promoting them. I’m so impressed by girls making these adjustments of their lives and supporting their households from this easy little intervention.

What challenges do communities with out power face?

Katherine: In rural Africa when the solar goes down, it turns into pitch black as a result of there aren’t any streetlights. There’s no ambient gentle. That’s it, that’s the top of the day. It’s additionally an actual difficulty for security. Girls are way more weak simply strolling house from city after darkish. Even if you’re attempting to stroll to an out of doors latrine at night time, you may journey on a root or step on a snake with out a well-lit path.

Productiveness ends within the night if you don’t have any power. Folks should journey farther to make use of gentle or energy. If you wish to cost up your cellphone, it means you may’t cost it up at house; you will need to stroll into city and pay to cost your cellphone at a generator-run kiosk.

If you wish to gentle up your own home, you will need to purchase kerosene, which is the most costly lighting possibility since you’re shopping for it in very small portions. That’s cash that you just can not spend on different issues, and that kerosene causes fires. It’s very smoky. It’s horrible for indoor air air pollution.

The mixture of the kerosene lamps and the indoor cooking fires is equal to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. That considerably impacts girls, who’re those tending to the house. Their youngest youngsters, typically strapped on their backs all through the day, are leaning over and inhaling these fumes. So, lack of power has a number of results, and that’s why I’m bringing in clear power, which has a direct and highly effective ripple impact of optimistic affect.

Why did you select an entrepreneurial mannequin to distribute your clear power merchandise?

Katherine: One downside we needed to remedy was ‘How will we carry the merchandise to individuals and get them to modify from kerosene to photo voltaic?’ Determining how to do this in a market-based, scalable method finally introduced me round to utilizing a community of native girls entrepreneurs because the distribution community for these merchandise, as a result of that solves two challenges. The primary contains last-mile distribution – simply bodily getting the merchandise into these very distant, hard-to-reach, underserved, neglected communities.

The second problem was bringing a brand new expertise answer right into a family. By embedding native girls as entrepreneurs, girls attain out to different girls and inform them, ‘I exploit this product myself, and my child doesn’t cough anymore. My eyes haven’t been having issues due to smoke. I’m saving a lot cash, take a look at my new footwear.’ They’re capable of clarify to a different girl what the advantages are, and the client will belief her as a result of she is aware of her. The power and the spine of Photo voltaic Sister is that this native women-to-women community.

Lastly, utilizing a market-based mannequin the place persons are buying the merchandise implies that we will scale exponentially. This mannequin reaches extra individuals than if we had been doing a philanthropic giveaway of merchandise as a result of we aren’t restricted by the quantity of donations we generate.

GIF about Solar Sister's goals

How are you utilizing expertise to assist your work?

Katherine: Photo voltaic Sister couldn’t exist with out expertise as a result of it permits us to function a world grassroots motion.

We assist our entrepreneurs by way of a community of workers members referred to as enterprise growth associates, who reside and work in these communities. Every affiliate has a pill, by way of which all transactions run. The information they gather is shipped to our central knowledge administration system, the place we will analyze details about gross sales and the totally different entrepreneurs. That offers us this unimaginable abundance of knowledge that we will use to handle the enterprise and make predictive assumptions about future enterprise.

We work in areas the place individuals don’t have entry to electrical energy, however most individuals have cell telephones. A rural space might have 10 % entry to electrical energy however 90 % cellphone penetration. Now we have a program the place entrepreneurs can improve to first-level smartphones. We then load these smartphones with the Photo voltaic Sister enterprise app, and train them learn how to use it. There’s an entire digitization program that we’re enthusiastic about, and Cisco helps us execute it.

What sort of affect are you having thus far?

Katherine: Now we have three objectives that we take a look at and measure. One is gender fairness: how are we offering girls with financial alternative. Thus far, we’ve got offered over 6,800 entrepreneurs with the chance to construct clear power companies. Eighty-six % of these companies are women-centered companies. We do have some males, however we give attention to supporting girls. We need to ensure that girls can carry clear power companies to their communities and thrive and get the assist they want to do this.

The second is local weather justice. The people who find themselves struggling probably the most from local weather change reside in rural, low-resource areas the place they already really feel the results of local weather change. And but, they aren’t those in energy to do a lot about it. Local weather justice means supporting individuals on the entrance strains of local weather change. They’ll now flip from fossil gasoline to wash power, which is empowering.

The third one is power entry and ensuring that everybody, in every single place, has it. Photo voltaic Sister instantly impacts that as a result of we give attention to serving these last-mile, neglected, and underserved communities. And that has a profound impact on the family stage, on the group stage, to entry energy.

Photo voltaic Sister clear power entrepreneur, Rachel Joke Olakanye

Are you able to share a hit story with us associated to one in all your clear power entrepreneurs? 

Katherine: Rachel Joke Olakanye has run a profitable tailoring enterprise for over 20 years in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has her personal store and mentors women who’re apprenticing to comply with in her footsteps.

In 2016 she heard about Photo voltaic Sister from a pal and thought it will be an ideal addition to her tailoring enterprise. Her neighborhood has some electrical energy, however it’s erratic, so she thought the photo voltaic lamps would succeed. As her photo voltaic enterprise grew, Rachel and her Photo voltaic Sister Enterprise Growth Affiliate, Omotola Ajao, shaped a bond and a friendship.

Rachel has paid for her daughter’s charges at a instructing faculty in Lagos with the extra earnings from her photo voltaic enterprise. She can be making long-needed repairs on her home.

Photo voltaic Sister gives 12 months of enterprise coaching to every entrepreneur. As Rachel’s enterprise grew, she was capable of name on Omotola for recommendation and assist. Rachel, in flip, teaches women her commerce and passes on her enterprise data. Funding in girls is an funding in our shared futures for a brighter world.

What are your plans for the long run?

Solar Sister social photo of clean energy entrepreneurs
L to R: Photo voltaic Sister Enterprise Growth Affiliate, Omotola Ajao, and Photo voltaic Sister clear power entrepreneur, Rachel Joke Olakanye

Katherine: We plan to maintain doing what we do and extra of it. We need to scale up in order that we’ve got extra entrepreneurs to learn extra individuals. We simply handed a milestone of three million individuals who have entry to power due to Photo voltaic Sister. We’re very happy with that, but it surely’s not almost sufficient, so we’re taking a look at methods to take that milestone and multiply it by ten in order that we will attain 30 million individuals with entry to power. As a substitute of simply 6,000 girls entrepreneurs, we wish 30,000 girls entrepreneurs.

Now we have seen the success of what occurs if you give a girl financial alternative, and he or she takes it, and he or she invests in her household and her life, and it adjustments the lady’s view of herself. It adjustments her standing within the household, it adjustments her standing locally, and has this unimaginable optimistic affect in any respect ranges. There are presently 600 million individuals in sub–Saharan Africa with out entry to power. It continues to be an issue we have to deal with as a result of when you don’t have entry to power, you can’t enhance your high quality of life.


Picture credit: Photo voltaic Sister, Fid Thompson




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