women in energy

The Women In Energy webinar series kicked off yesterday [21 September] with a discussion on the social enterprise opportunities available in the African energy transition.

Moderated by Chief Anita Nana Okuribido, Nigerian-based chair of the Women in Sustainable Power Africa network, the webinar discussion looked at how social enterprise initiatives in the energy sector offer training to women in rural Africa.

Not only do these opportunities provide an electricity source for their households, but these often create business opportunities for these women. However, these social enterprise opportunities are not without challenges, as pointed out by the panelists.

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Zipporah Gakaya, project development officer for Cezam and Associates in Kenya, which partners with the US African Development Foundation, said empowering communities has long been a passion of hers. Through the USADF partnership she has seen how women with little capacity to provide for their families, receive seed capital and have since grown from start-ups to established businesses. “They can now contribute to their families and societies,” said Gakaya.

Country Manager for Solar Sister in Nigeria, Olasimbo Sojinrin said her passion for women economic empowerment was born out of courtesy from her pan Africanist, strongly feminist mother: “The passion comes from making a difference and doing something that is meaningful and impactful. We can feel the ripples, even across other sectors. The role of women cannot be over-emphasised.”

Managing Director of Deevabits Green Energy in Kenya, David Wanjau, said his company worked with many women in rural areas who are high school leavers. The company empowers their new sales and distribution agents with business and technical skills to go out and create new installations. “We are creating hundreds of jobs in these rural communities and we intend to create thousands over the next few years,” said Wanjau.

Changing the gender dynamic in the energy sector increases the uptake of clean energy

Not only do the newly economically empowered women earn money for their households, they are also increasing the usage of clean energy and productive hours in the evening for businesses and homes in rural areas.

Gakaya said she has seen firsthand the effect on communities and individuals: “One of the rewards is seeing a woman able to provide for her family. She is able to contribute with her husband and feels like an equal contributor to the household. This has made women feel like their voice is strengthened.”

Okuribido pointed out the effect of food security could not be over-estimated, as new sources of energy in agricultural pursuits not only provided business opportunities to grow more crops for sale, but food for the family as well.

“Women have for eons faced the brunt of all the challenges associated with energy poverty, such as time management, having to use hours on gathering wood. The traditional role of women in society is to manage a lot of the time around how energy is consumed. Entrepreneurship opportunities allow us to flip that – allow them to be the points where people can access clean energy. We know the ripple effects in terms of savings in the households, improvement in children’s education, health,” said Sojinrin.

Challenges facing women trying to enter the energy business

Wanjau said there are still many challenges facing women when they join social enterprises in the renewable energy sector. “One of them is the knowledge gap. We have a lot of women who do not have access to the knowledge … how to structure a social enterprise, how to finance it, how to find the right skills.”

According to Wanjau, another key challenge is socio-cultural norms, which have a huge limitation on what women can do. “This is true for our field agents, 80% of whom are women. The majority of our best agents are women but they have to work double when compared to the men. They have to take care of the children, make sure they go to school, take care of their homes, their husbands. There are scenarios of men who want to receive the commissions from their wives, they don’t want the women to have control of the money.

“The other component is a lack of access to capital. You need a lot of working capital to start a social enterprise,” said Wanjau. He said this problem is somewhat mitigated by allowing women to pay a deposit and use installment payments, but this remains a challenge.

Gakaya said one key piece of advice they often give potential businesswomen is to look at where they can add value: “Women must do their research – what are the gaps in the sector that haven’t been addressed. Don’t bring in the same product or service and then find the competition is high. Think of the community you are targeting. Look at the gaps that need to be addressed and leverage those.”

Hosted in partnership with ESI Africa: African Women in Energy Webinar Series