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Energy Poverty Entrepreneurs

Solar Sister Targets Women to Sell Lamps and Improve Livelihoods

— November 2, 2011 — Social Good
Yesterday, the UN shed light on the importance of providing universal access to renewable energy in the Majority World. The annual report, this one dubbed Sustainability and Equity, also emphasized the importance of empowering women in order to solve the world's environmental problems. In many ways, the social enterprise Solar Sister is an intersection of both of these challenges. Founded by Katherine Lucey, Solar Sister targets sub-Saharan Africa -- namely Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan -- where a mere 5% of the rural population have access to electricity.

But what about the sun? In Africa, it's plentiful. And today, because of technological advancements, it's also an affordable option. Kerosene, on the other hand, is a dirty and unhealthy source of energy. Founder and CEO Lucey asked herself some pertinent questions when coming up with Solar Sister's business model: "How to provide access to the solar technology in a way that reaches the people with the most need, the women and girls living in remote rural villages? How to create a program that is scalable and sustainable? How to involve the women, not just as passive consumers of technology, but as active participants in the adaptation of that technology?"

The end result was the creation of a working model that is a cyclical process and symbiosis (there is an image in the featured gallery of how Solar Sister works). Essentially, it all starts with a micro-investment and then the system continues as follows: Solar Sister provides a "business in a bag" which includes training, lamp inventory and marketing; the entrepreneur sells solar lamps to replace kerosene; the customer pays for the lamps; and finally, the entrepreneur can buy more lamps to sell. All of this helps to establish the Solar Sister network across Africa, all the while allowing the entrepreneur to be her own boss and to develop a livelihood that allows her to provide better food, education and healthcare for her family.

"Transformation in gender roles and empowerment have enabled some countries and groups to improve sustainability and equity, advancing human development," the aforementioned UN Sustainability and Equity report reads. Solar Sister is akin to social businesses like Nuru and d.light, but with a focus on gender, making it an innovative and sustainable approach to how energy poverty -- like many inequality indices -- disproportionately affects women.

Contact Information:
Solar Sister Website
P.O. Box 1002
Bristol, Rhode Island 02809
United States
Telephone: +1 224-406-4483
Solar Sister on Facebook
Solar Sister on Twitter