The running trend through most of my blogs is how technology can improve the lives of people in Africa by offering solutions to problems. There are many innovative solutions for individual problems, such as charging their electrical appliances on a cooking stove, or offering mobile payment solutions. The importance of such innovation is not just in the problem being solved, but in the trickle down effect it has on the community.
One organisation I found has been able to make a profound difference in the lives of individuals and communities. Solar Sister, “the Avon of clean energy”, empowers women economically by enabling them to create “women centred” sales networks and sell solar powered goods in their communities. Solar Sister show statistics on their website that the “income of self-employed rural women with access to energy is over twice that of their counterparts without access to energy”, with over 59% higher wages. That is quite a staggering amount and Solar Sister are attempting to offer both energy and employment in the same breath. The organisation seeks to significantly reduce fuel poverty and the financial independence of women.
One story, shown in this Guardian article, tells the story of Harriet Nabukwasi, who by selling solar lamps, phone chargers and energy efficient stoves (I will do a separate blog about stoves in Africa) has been able to not only start the process of registering her land officially, to stop it being illegally purchased, but also to pay the school fees of her children. Regular income is so important for everyone, and the ability to save even more so. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, often people don’t have the money for school fees or even medical care and a programs like this that empowers people, in this case women, to provide for their families are so important. Other uses for the solar products have been, safer cooking, safer studying after dark for children (no more candle accidents), a sowing business and even protecting cows from hyenas!
68% of people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity. This means all energy requirements, such as for light or cooking, need to be met using kerosine or wood. This causes air pollution in houses and around the community, which is responsible to 1.6 million deaths a year, according to Solar Sister. Fuel poverty places an amazing burden on the women of a community. They are the ones sitting over the coal pot, collecting the wood and fetching the water. Clean electricity can alleviate much of this burden and give them more time for personal development and education, further enabling gender equality. One example I have seen in villages are woman toiling for hours every week with a pestle and mortar, grinding chilly peppers and tomatoes and onions. With a clean electricity and a blender, this alone would give people so much more time.
Solar Sister have over 2000 woman, and some men, working for them in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria. It is a not for profit organisation that is in fact making losses. Anything it earns in profit, goes back into the organisation, so they rely on donations in order to get the products to their entrepreneurs. Having said that, the organisation offers another benefit. The women have to buy the products from Solar sister, and need a 200,000 shilling initial investment. By doing this it helps them understand the value and how to run a sustainable profitable business by calculating all their costs. It also encourages savings and forward planning, as many have found that sales are seasonal, coinciding with times of agricultural income. I found that many in rural areas did not save or plan for the future, with this scheme planning is very important; communities and families will benefit from this.
I think this is a scheme that is definitely worth sharing and getting involved with. Have a look at all their wonderful stories here!