Solar Sister and Women for Women International partner to help low-income women overcome financial barriers in Nigeria’s energy market.
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and its biggest economy, just under half the population lacks access to electricity and a huge majority (75%) depends on harmful solid fuels for cooking (World Bank). To tackle this huge gap, Solar Sister partnered with Women for Women International to expand clean energy access in rural Nigeria and provide women in impoverished communities with access to concrete economic opportunities. With support from the US State Department’s wPOWER initiative, Solar Sister and Women for Women worked together to address the key challenges women face in accessing the clean energy market. Over one year, we recruited over 100 marginalized women as entrepreneurs who, through their new businesses, delivered clean energy access to over 9,000 people in Enugu and Jos States. Read on to learn more about the successes and lessons learned from this partnership.
Solar Sister recruited entrepreneurs through Women for Women International’s network of women-led Village Savings and Loans (VSLA) groups, offering members a concrete, viable business opportunity. Together, we created a customized clean-energy curriculum and business pitch which were jointly rolled out to Women for Women’s networks of VSLA groups.
Because Women for Women International targets particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of women in Nigeria, Solar Sister introduced a new financing component to lower the bar of entry into the entrepreneurship program. If women were able to meet a lower inventory requirement of 15,000 Naira (around 40 USD), Women for Women International covered the cost of the initial business-in-a-bag, typically covered by Solar Sister. Solar Sister then provided entrepreneurs with two bonus solar products to kick start their businesses and build their capital.
Solar Sister and Women for Women International also held monthly trainings and market awareness events called “Discovery Days” in Enugu and Jos to support the budding entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. This also helped the women in the program increase their understanding of local markets and increase demand for products.
It’s a win-win — Solar Sister reaches its goals by bringing more women into its entrepreneurship program, who already access training from a partner, and so scales its distribution chain of clean energy products. Women for Women International reaches its goals by providing its networks of women in Enugu and Jos with access to Solar Sister’s technical program and sustainable income-generating opportunities.
A total of 496 women received the clean energy and business skills curriculum during the program period. As a result, 105 women signed up as Solar Sister entrepreneurs and made an initial purchase of inventory. Entrepreneurs targeted under this program earned an average of $33.28 per month before joining, with 81% of entrepreneurs living on less than $2 a day. Many entrepreneurs were farmers (43%) and many were already running small, informal businesses (40%).
Individual entrepreneurs sold an average of 18 products under the program, earning an estimated monthly income of $4.90 from their clean energy business. They also saved an average of $6.72 per month in reduced lighting costs by adopting solar. Almost all (94%) of the participating women entrepreneurs report that they have decision making power over the income they earn from Solar Sister.
If we combine the estimated energy savings and the income from Solar Sister business, women in the program experienced averaged $11.62 in economic benefits per month. This amount is lower than an average entrepreneur in Solar Sister’s program. But it is important to consider it in a local context where school fees cost approximately $13 a month, according to Solar Sister’s baseline survey.
So for the majority of marginalized women, approximately $11 gives them a financial boost, whether they put it towards school fees or medicine costs or soap. In order to have a more significant impact on low-income women’s finances, more must be done to address the key challenges of access to appropriate financing and increased consumer knowledge.
Mercy Paul, who was recruited through Solar Sister’s partnership with Women for Women International, lives with her husband and three children in Kerang village, a remote community far from the main road. Her oldest daughter is away studying at university and the younger two are students and live at home. She also takes care of two orphan children.
While in Women for Women International’s 12-month social and economic empowerment program, Mercy joined a VSLA group. Due to her participation, interest and commitment, she was chosen to be trained as a VSLA Village Agent. A Village Agent is a VSLA member trained specifically to guide and support existing VSLAs and assist interested community members in organizing and operating their own groups.
At the top
Mercy was the top Solar Sister entrepreneur under this program, selling a total of $1,800 worth of products, and was honored at an awards dinner by Solar Sister in January 2017. For her performance as the leading entrepreneur in the region, Solar Sister awarded Mercy a motorbike to help her travel to other communities and reach new markets.
The partnership resulted in positive impact both in the longevity of entrepreneurs businesses and in overall sales. Solar Sister entrepreneurs from Women for Women International’s network have remained active longer in their businesses than a typical Solar Sister entrepreneur, with 93% remaining active (in contrast to 73% remaining active in the same time frame in Solar Sister’s broader Nigeria network). Also, Business Development Associates* in this program outperformed other staff in achieving higher entrepreneur sales.
*Solar Sister field staff who train and support networks of entrepreneurs.
However, entrepreneurs on an individual basis sold only 40% of a typical Solar Sister entrepreneur. High product sales in the program region are likely due to higher recruitment numbers and a select few high performing entrepreneurs. More women are joining the program as a result of the partnership but are running smaller scale businesses in these regions, which is likely due to limited capital, assets and access to financial services, as well as underdeveloped energy markets.
Last Mile Learning is a monthly blog series by Grants and Impact Manager, Abby Mackey. This series shares our experiences, data and learning from our work with women-run renewable energy businesses in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.