Solar Energy Is Lighting Up Women’s Businesses in Africa
Elizabeth Julius worked sunrise to sunset to make ends meet as a seamstress. Supporting her husband and two kids in a village in Tanzania, Julius was forced to put down her needle and thread each day once darkness fell.
That all changed three years ago when she was introduced to Energy 4 Impact, a London-based organization that works in Africa to ensure energy access and foster entrepreneurship for impoverished women.
With guidance from Energy 4 Impact, Julius took out a $500 bank loan and purchased a lamplight. But that was only the beginning.
“Solar energy has entirely changed my life,” Julius, 29, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “I use it at work and at home, yet it doesn’t cost me anything.”
Now able to continue working past daylight hours and increase her income, Julius went one step further and took out a loan to expand her tailoring business. Today, she operates a barbershop, mobile phone charging facility, and general store—all powered with solar energy.
She feels “more productive than ever,” she said. On average, she makes 50,000 shillings ($25) a day.
Energy 4 Impact, in conjunction with the U.S. State Department, hopes to help 400 women like Julius become solar entrepreneurs by 2020 with training and finance. They also aim to provide 360,000 people in Kenya and Tanzania with access to solar-powered cooking and lighting instruments.
According to Energy 4 Impact, women and girls are most afflicted by “energy poverty,” spending hours every day collecting firewood, cooking over smoky stoves, and doing household chores—all in poor or no lighting.
In Tanzania, only 21 percent of the population has access to the electric grid, and nearly 70 percent of the Kenyan population and 95 percent in Tanzania depend on firewood, charcoal, and dung for cooking, according to Energy 4 Impact. Each year, almost 18,9000 deaths in Tanzania are attributed to smoke inhalation and fires.
Since 2013, Energy 4 Impact has helped 1,400 businesses in East Africa.
But getting quality equipment for these entrepreneurs is still a challenge, said Godfrey Sanga, a program manager for Energy 4 Impact.
“Poor quality and substandard or fake products is one of the main factors that is discouraging people from using the clean energy technologies, due to frequent failures and general poor performance,” Sanga said.
To ensure high standards, Energy 4 Impact works with a range of initiatives and business models that include providing financial and technical assistance for off-the-grid start-ups and ongoing research into the most impactful funding structures.
And education is key. Energy 4 Impact hopes to increase energy poverty awareness across Tanzania and hold ongoing forums with women and youth groups.
“By showcasing successful businesses and demonstrating the benefits using the clean technologies in increasing productivity, incomes, and saving costs, it is expected that many people will be interested in adapting and using them in their lives for themselves and their families,” Sanga said.
Julius said her business is booming, in large part thanks to these types of education initiatives.
“I have nothing to complain about,” she said. “Virtually everybody in the village is happy with what we are doing, and our services are exclusively solar.”