Solar Sister: A women-led movement for clean energy in Africa

Climate Justice

Solar Sister: A women-led movement for clean energy in Africa

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A women-led solar enterprise is fighting energy poverty in rural areas of Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania.

Solar Sister is a social enterprise working at the intersection of women’s empowerment, energy poverty and climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa. The organization recruits, trains and supports women entrepreneurs in poor communities, to sell affordable solar-powered products and fuel-efficient cook stoves. 

“Women are the backbone of their communities,” says Katherine Lucey, founder and CEO of Solar Sister. “They are overwhelmingly the managers of day-to-day energy choices at the household level, and they are essential drivers of change. An investment in local women entrepreneurs bringing clean energy to their communities is an investment in the future for all of us.” 

Founded in 2011 by social entrepreneur and former investment banker Katherine Lucey, Solar Sister recruits and supports women entrepreneurs in poor communities, training them to sell affordable solar-powered products and fuel-efficient cook stoves. Built up by women to raise women up, it works on the belief that putting local women at the center of Africa’s clean-energy sector offers a way to both eliminate energy poverty and develop sustainable livelihoods. Funded by 110 individual donors, the organization is now deeply entrenched in rural, off-grid areas of Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania. 

Financial stability and agency

The organization provides its micro entrepreneurs with comprehensive resources and support required for them to build their businesses. This includes a year long training course in business, marketing and leadership; a portfolio of quality assured clean energy products; support with media, partnerships and product fairs; and ongoing mentorship.

The women recruited by the organization come from varied backgrounds. While the majority are farmers, others are small business owners and professionals working in the health and education sectors. Using their natural networks, these “Solar Sisters” sell affordable solar products to their peers and mentor other women to become fellow micro-business owners. With this growing network comes greater financial independence for women, which subsequently results in an enhanced sense of agency. 

There is a rich body of research that links the impact of financial independence on the wellbeing of women. In “Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment,” UN Women states that women’s economic empowerment is central to realizing their rights and gender equality. Among these rights is the increased voice, agency and meaningful participation in economic decision-making.

Market-driven approach

At a time when the African continent has seen a decline in electricity access for the first time in seven years due to COVID-19, Solar Sister’s decentralised and gender-inclusive business model is especially relevant. By enabling a transition from fuels like charcoal, firewood and kerosene for basic lighting and cooking needs, Solar Sister is playing an important role in mitigating climate change and its unequal impact on women and children. 

Solar Sister follows a market-driven approach, combining donor investment and revenues from product sales with the objective of maximizing its footprint at the least possible cost.  

Since its inception in 2011, Solar Sister has supported over 5,000 entrepreneurs, distributed over 400,000 clean energy products, and provided nearly 2 million people with access to clean energy. In 2018, the company helped cut 127,677 metric tons of CO2 emissions. By 2022, Solar Sister expects to have 10,000 entrepreneurs reaching seven million people across five countries.

Written by

Rhea Mukerjee

Rhea Mukerjee is a consultant working in the areas of environment, clean energy access, and sustainability. Her recent roles include Executive Director at Sustain Labs Paris, communications Advisor at OECD, and researcher at E3G. She is driven towards making SDG 7 a reality and is passionate about the energy access and gender nexus. Prior to this, Rhea spent eight years managing public relations, corporate communication and social media for the private sector in India. She holds a Master’s in Public Affairs degree from Sciences Po, Paris where she specialized in environment and energy policy.