Charlotte Taylor

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Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Charlotte

  • What if the ‘last mile’ was our first priority?

    March 13th, 2019

    Empowering women in the energy access sector is a no brainer. Including the perspectives and skillsets of over 50% of the population is not just the right thing to do, it benefits businesses materially and financially – as Value4Women and Shell and BURN Manufacturing demonstrate. Given this win-win situation, why are some people still not convinced?

    Pushing for progress

    63rd Commission on the Status of Women logo

    CSW63 is taking place from 11 to 22 March 2019 at the United Nations in New York.

    At the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this week I heard that just 18% of Asian Development Bank investments/programmes have a gender equality component compared to 79% for the WASH sector, which is ‘better suited’ to gender mainstreaming. Given energy’s role in enabling health, education and productive and social development, surely we should all be doing better than 18% by now…

    SDG7 and SDG5 are mutually reinforcing

    Our work with energy-poor communities shows that gender equality and universal energy access are mutually reinforcing. When women participate meaningfully in energy access markets, they enjoy wider empowerment outcomes (i.e. improved intra-household power dynamics), and energy access is increased – including in ‘last mile’ communities living beyond the reach of the grid and outside the conscience of most decision-makers.

    But we also know it’s tough for women to thrive as energy consumers and entrepreneurs. As our Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2017 explores, women’s lack of access to appropriate finance, particularly when it comes to scaling their energy enterprises, is a huge challenge. In each and every session I have attended this year at CSW, the ‘access to finance issue’ has come up – across sectors and geographies – and I can’t help but feel like gender inequality will remain out of reach if we don’t crack this. Other challenges to women’s participation in energy access markets include reduced mobility due to family responsibilities; little knowledge of core business skills; and low self-belief.

    North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project

    In the North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project local Women’s Development Associations help provide finance for energy-poor households to cook more cleanly and safely.

    What are we doing to enable women energy entrepreneurs?

    We’ve teamed up with women across different energy access value chains in Kenya and Sudan, to build their capacities in business, computer and financial management skills, while also providing professional and personal mentorship to help build their confidence as valuable stakeholders. Crucially, we’ve done this in partnership with the private and public sectors to develop their understanding and activities around women entrepreneurs’ needs and contributions; and advocated for local and national stakeholders to proactively mainstream gender throughout energy policy, planning and delivery.

    It’s not rocket science!

    This is about creating systems and processes that proactively include people who are traditionally overlooked, at all stages of the project cycle: from design to evaluation. It’s at the heart of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2018, which explores how to deliver energy access at scale while also leaving no one behind. In fact, it’s a thread running throughout our work at Practical Action – in our Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R) programme and the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), which provides support to last-mile distributors in the energy access (and other) sector. Taking an inclusive lens to energy access is not rocket science – but it IS the difference between catalyzing progress and stifling development.

     

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  • Universal energy access: what’s gender got to do with it?

    April 20th, 2017
    Written in partnership with Mariama Kamara, Founder and Director, Smiling Through Light

    The energy sector is traditionally male-dominated with men’s access to better education, skills training, and finance enabling them to develop businesses and access markets that women have often been excluded from as a result of gendered social norms and women’s unpaid care work. In the energy world, the role of women has often been limited to that of consumers; particularly in relation to the household sphere and cooking practices. The benefits of clean cooking fuels and technologies on women and girls is championed on global platforms; and women are being increasingly recognised as important to energy access planning processes. What benefits arise, though, when we embrace and empower women as agents of change who are actively striving for, and driving us towards, Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7)?

    CSW61: Women as Agents of Change

    Last month, at the UN’s 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), Practical Action hosted a parallel session exploring just that: Women as Agents of Change in Sustainable Energy Access Value Chains. The session, which heard from  Practical Action’s Sudan and East Africa offices, Smiling through Light, Energy Research Institute Sudan, and Solar Sister, demonstrated that investing in women’s potential as entrepreneurs, technicians, policy-makers and thought-leaders is vital for achieving gender-transformative outcomes and more effective energy access approaches.

    Image of the panellists and organising team of Practical Action's event at the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, on women as change agents in sustainable energy access value chains.

    CSW panel members from left to right: Mariama Kamara (Smiling Through Light), Dr Sawsan Sanhory (Energy Research Institute Sudan), Neha Misra (Solar Sister), Muna Eltahir (Practical Action Sudan), Charlotte Taylor (Practical Action), Samah Omer (Practical Action Sudan), Lydia Muchiri (Practical Action East Africa).

    Gender Equality + Sustainable Energy Access = Opportunity for All

    Across the panellists’ different experiences, from the grassroots initiative of Smiling Through Light to the global campaign of Solar Sister, a clear message could be heard: at the intersection of gender equality and sustainable energy access lies vast potential – for women’s economic empowerment, certainly, and also for sustainable development and improved wellbeing for their communities and beyond.

    A briquettes entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project

    A briquettes entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project

    The keynote speech, delivered by Lydia Muchiri, Senior Gender and Energy Advisor for Practical Action East Africa, explored the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya project (WEEK). Delivered in partnership with Energia, this project empowers women as providers of energy across three value chains – improved cookstoves, solar products, and biomass briquettes – in the roles of producers, suppliers and ‘brand activators’. WEEK project activities support women to build their social capital, develop fundamental business skills, and improve their confidence as entrepreneurs; these women now drive behaviour change, convincing others to adopt clean energy options. Five WEEK project entrepreneurs appeared at the recent SEforAll Forum to share their experiences, demonstrating a growing appetite to hear rural women’s grassroots knowledge on global stages.

    Smiling Through Light: be the change that you want to see

    Smiling Through Light’s Founder and Director Mariama Kamara highlighted the centrality of women’s knowledge, empowerment and collective action to building environmentally sustainable pathways to sustainable energy access; emphasising in particular the diverse roles women play across the energy value chain from production and transportation, to distribution and end use. At the age of nine Mariama left Sierra Leone during the civil war; after later learning that energy use in Sierra Leone was still mostly limited to kerosene for lighting, with no access to clean energy services, she started Smiling Through Light in 2014. By doing so, Mariama became the change she wanted to see. Smiling Through Light now advocates for women, as primary consumers and users of clean energy products, to be integrated into the process of designing appropriate solutions and engaged throughout the value chain to improve their livelihoods.

    The path to SDG7

    There remain many clear opportunities to advance women’s positions across the energy access value chain, including:

    Policy – Advocate for policy that goes beyond perceiving women as victims of energy poverty or mere consumers, but as potential drivers of the sector. Embrace and lobby for the critical role of smaller, distributed energy solutions in addressing rural energy poverty, and women’s unique contribution to this sector.

    Finance – Recognise that women’s access to finance is often constrained by social, political and economic constraints; i.e. collateral requirements based on land or asset ownership. Dedicate specific financing, credit facilities, grants and concessional loans to women’s sustainable energy activities.

    Skills – Address the significant skills and local workforce development gaps in energy access in a way that empowers more skilled women to participate across the value chain, and educates others on the value of their contributions.

    Evidence – Continue to build evidence to help inform policy on why women in clean energy value chains are uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact; bringing local women entrepreneurs and decision-makers’ voices and experiences to the fore.

    An entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project makes money and heat from waste, selling to customers at market

    An entrepreneur from the WEEK project makes money and heat from waste, selling to customers at market

    As energy access advocates and champions of gender equality we must continue to find opportunities, like at CSW61, to demonstrate the positive impacts that women’s economic empowerment in energy access initiatives has for themselves and their families, as well as their extended communities and international development practice more broadly. We need to continue challenging damaging gendered social norms which disempower women as change-makers; and simultaneously strengthen policy coordination, knowledge sharing, financial inclusion, programmatic partnerships and research to advance women’s participation in sustainable energy development for all.

     

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  • Money Matters: what role for finance in achieving universal energy access?

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    April 7th, 2017

    This week saw key players from the energy world gather in Brooklyn, New York, at the SEforAll Forum to talk all things SDG7: that is, access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. Overarching the vibrant panel discussions, a clear call has emerged: greater and more dynamic action is needed, and fast, if we are to achieve universal energy access on this tight timeline.

    Energy access is vital to achieving nearly every sustainable development goal and progress on energy access acts as a barometer for development progress more broadly. Monday’s launch of the latest Global Tracking Framework, which looks at the state-of-play on energy efficiency, access and renewable energy, gives us food for thought…

    The Global Tracking Framework update

    The report, led by the World Bank Group and the International Energy Agency, confirms that global electricity poverty has declined only minimally from 1.1 billion (GTF 2015) to 1.06 billion (GTF 2017); while the number of people using traditional, solid fuels to cook has actually risen slightly to 3.04 billion, “indicating that efforts are lagging population growth”. For progress to move at the speed and scale required, the report asserts that we need to at least double our investment in modern renewables. But, is increased investment alone the answer?

    Financing national energy access: a bottom up approach

    Man and woman stand outside the Kalawa Financial Services Association in Kenya

    The PPEO 2017 explores this question, using case study evidence gathered from 12 energy-poor communities across Bangladesh, Kenya and Togo. This brand new research, showcased by Practical Action for the first time at the SEforAll Forum this week, demonstrates that while the volume of finance does indeed need to be scaled up, we must delve deeper into understanding the types of finance and directions of financial flows that are key to planning for universal energy access at the national and global levels. Our analysis is unique in that it builds on poor people’s own preferences, and takes a holistic view across households, productive uses and community services.

    Decentralised energy as the way forward

    Villagers in Kitonyoni, Kenya, gather to discuss decentralised energy technologies. Credit: Sustainable Energy Research Group and Energy for Development.

    This is particularly pertinent to the vast majority of those living in energy poverty today; poor rural populations who would best be served by the sorts of distributed energy (mini-grids and stand-alone systems) that receive a disproportionately small amount of the energy access financing pot – in comparison to the grid and in relation to their potential service provision. While World Bank funded power sector projects have an average timeline of nine years from conception to service delivery, research by Power for All demonstrates the vast benefits of decentralised systems; with mini-grids taking on average just four months to get up and running, while for solar-home-systems this is less than one month. According to our own modelling in the PPEO 2017, the distributed energy sector should account for a significant portion of future electricity access financing nationally; up to 80% in Bangladesh and 100% in Togo. At present just 25% of planned investments in Bangladesh, and 5% in Togo, will go towards distributed energy.

     

    The PPEO 2017 also finds that:

    • Increasing national energy access financing for clean cooking to similar levels as for electricity will be key to empower energy-poor communities to use the very clean fuels (gas and electricity) they show a keen interest in.
    • Particularly in pre-commercial markets such as Togo, there is a real opportunity for the public sector to improve the policy and regulatory environment to better embrace distributed solutions, and encourage financial institutions to support consumer and enterprise loans more flexibly, so as to enable rapid market activation.
    • Concessional finance will play a vital role; and consideration of how best to deploy this will be important to help companies move up the ladder to scale and profitability, in order to bring energy access to more people.
    • To make further progress in already mature markets such as Kenya and Bangladesh, addressing barriers to accessing finance that are related to specific policies could help reduce the cost of distributed electricity and clean cooking solutions (including tax exemptions and streamlining of licensing requirements).
    • Inclusive energy access financing can actively promote gender equality. To enable women to participate meaningfully as consumers and entrepreneurs gendered norms around accessing small loans should be addressed, as should the impact of women’s caring responsibilities on their mobility and ability to participate in various markets and training.

    Beyond Brooklyn: what next for SDG7?

    Solar-powered irrigation provides smallholder farmers the water they need to cultivate crops in Gwanda, Zimbabwe

    The PPEO 2017 and Global Tracking Framework agree that utilising the right tools and approaches takes us a step closer to bringing energy access to people more quickly, sustainably and affordably. By listening to the voices and preferences of energy poor communities, as the PPEO series has done, and by framing national planning processes and global financing mechanisms around the sorts of bottom-up approaches which put these priorities front and centre, SDG7 can be achieved. It has been immensely encouraging to see the voices of the rural energy-poor being elevated across the SEforAll forum this week; which has been undeniably multi-stakeholder, with actors from national governments and global institutions, civil society and the private sector rubbing shoulders and engaging in lively debate on the best way forward. One thing is for sure – to achieve the goal we are all aiming for, the elusive SDG7, this cross-sectoral dialogue must be continued well beyond Brooklyn, because no actor working alone will reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

     

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