We take electricity for granted in the developed world, but did you know that 1.6 billion people – a full one quarter of the world’s population – don’t have access to reliable electricity? The consequences are far-reaching: The lack of electric lighting impacts children’s ability to do well in school and prevents people from working once the sun has set, and dangerous kerosene lamps fill the air with soot and CO2 emissions. Enter Solar Sister, a nonprofit that is eradicating energy poverty one solar device at a time while empowering women with economic opportunity. The organization distributes solar-powered products like lanterns and cell phone chargers through women’s rural networks in Africa.
Using a micro-consignment model, Solar Sister provides entrepreneurs with a ‘business in a bag’ – including inventory, training and marketing support to bring clean energy directly to their customer’s doorsteps. Every dollar invested in a Solar Sister entrepreneur generates over $48 in economic benefits in the first year alone, through earned income for the entrepreneur and the cash savings of her customers.
For example, a solar lantern costing $18 brings $163 cumulative savings over a five-year period by displacing kerosene usage. Another $45 solar lantern plus mobile phone charger brings $225 in cumulative savings in displaced kerosene usage and mobile charging fees over the same period. The lanterns are one-tenth the cost of solar home systems, and customers benefit from increased savings, extended working hours, better indoor air quality and extended study time for children.
As the primary consumers of household energy, women are critical for the successful adaptation of clean energy solutions. Through Solar Sister’s program, women become their own bosses and create sustainable businesses for themselves. And they use their natural networks of family, friends and neighbors to provide the most effective distribution channel to rural and hard-to-reach customers.
Solar Sister started by training ten women entrepreneurs in Uganda in 2009. It is the only organization in the world formed with the exclusive mission to build an Africa-wide network of female clean energy entrepreneurs. To date, the organization has created micro-businesses for 171 Solar Sister entrepreneurs in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, bringing the benefits of solar power to more than 31,000 Africans.