Eradicating energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity

Queen demonstrates product features of a solar light

On 15 October, the world celebrates International Day of Rural Women 2020. On this special day, we remember the crucial role that women and girls play in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing.

SNV and our partners Solar Sister are only too aware of the important contribution women can make in terms of access to energy. We are working together with female entrepreneurs to improve energy access for communities in the Kigoma region,Tanzania as part of SNV’s sustainable energy programme.

Kigoma, refugee and host community

As a result of civil unrest in Burundi, since mid-April 2015, there has been a significant influx of refugees to the Kigoma region over a relatively short period of time, into a comparatively limited space. This has created intense environmental impacts driven largely by energy consumption needs of both the host and refugee communities. An estimated one million or more trees have been cut for fuel, lighting and shelters in Kigoma since this population influx. Kibondo is one of the six districts of Kigoma Region, Tanzania. It is bordered to the northwest by Burundi. With a population of 261,331 people, it further hosts 73,065 persons at Nduta Refugee Camp situated in the Southern area of the district.

Solar Sister, a female led solar company

Queen, a Solar Sister Business Development Associate, knows only too well about the household energy situation in her district where only just over 2% of residents have a national grid connection and alternative and affordable lighting options are limited. In a survey conducted by SNV in 2019, many households were using pico-solar products and lanterns, however, none of the recorded products met Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) product quality standards. Solar Sister is one of the only solar companies currently active in the Kibondo market selling TBS certified products and with the support of the SNV project their business has begun to accelerate.

Access to sustainable energy for host communities and refugees

SNV is implementing the project “Access to sustainable energy for host communities and refugees in the region of Kigoma North-western Tanzania”. The project’s main objective is to improve the use of sustainable energy by refugees and surrounding communities in the Kigoma region in Northwest Tanzania.  Improving access to quality cooking and solar energy options to these communities reduces the extremely high pressure on the limited firewood resources and contributes to improving living conditions.

Queen demonstrates product features of a solar light

Queen demonstrates product features of a solar light

The project has three components, namely cooking, solar and forestry. Under the solar component, solar companies can apply to enter a fund which provides post-performance financial incentives upon the verified sale of TBS quality certified solar products. This results-based financing (RBF) model builds off SNV’s work with Energising Development (EnDev) since 2013. Solar Sister, whose mission is “to eradicate energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity”, was approved into the fund in March 2020. Their business model is simple: each Solar Sister Entrepreneur (SSE) buys her lights from Solar Sister, then sells and delivers them to her family, friends, and neighbours. They provide essential services and training that enable women entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses in their communities.

Solar Sister entrepreneurs

Since entering the fund in March Solar Sister has recruited 13 new Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in Kigoma region and has achieved verified sales of 2,620 solar units. This translates to 13,100 beneficiaries with access to solar energy. Fatma Muzo, Solar Sister Tanzania Country Director explained that “The additional financing through the SNV Project has allowed us to increase our initiatives to improve access to solar solutions in the districts of Kibondo and Kasulu. There are now 56 women involved in the supply chain for solar solutions which did not exist previously. This has been very helpful in generating economic opportunity and livelihoods improvement for women in communities living around the refugee camps”.

Expansion amidst a global pandemic

Queen reflected on the change in her business since SNV’s support began, “before SNV came we were struggling to recruit new SSEs because the roads in Kibondo are poor and traveling to remote areas can be expensive. Once we joined with SNV my head office was able to provide support so I could travel to new villages to hold training, recruitment and Sisterhood meetings. I appreciate the chance to showcase our products at their awareness-raising events.” Today Solar Sister Kibondo is growing their reach, even in the face of a global pandemic, Fatma shared that “the incentives supported our efforts to distribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to our SSEs to enable them to continue their businesses safely through the pandemic and continue to hold monthly Sisterhood meetings, which is an important part of our company culture”. Aside from the financial benefits of the incentives earned through the fund Solar Sisters also upgraded their record-keeping to meet the verification requirements of the programme, including moving from collecting sales data at the SSE level only to collecting end-user sales data.

Dedication and motivation

Queen explains that “through the advice and recommendation from the SNV team, we changed the way of recording our customers by ensuring that we record their names and contacts on our receipt books and at the end, we remained with data for our records. I even received a bonus payment for keeping good sales records in the third quarter. This has motivated me to put more effort and dedication in my business to ensure that together with my team we reach more customers and push more sales.”