Practical Action working to light Africa

A blog authored by Elizabeth Njoki and Robert Magori

Access to modern energy services is a basic prerequisite for socio-economic development. Its effects extend far beyond the energy sector, such as poverty eradication, access to clean water, improved public health, education and women empowerment. The World Bank’s State of Electricity Access Report 2017 shows that countries with the highest levels of poverty tend to have lower access to modern energy services – a problem that is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lacks access to electricity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. In Kenya, electricity access stands at 40% of which the majority of those served reside in cities and urban areas while less than 20% of these households in the rural areas are connected to the national power grid. In response to this challenge, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank/IFC program, aims at helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to non-fossil fuel-based, low-cost, high quality, safe, and reliable lighting products. Practical Action was contracted by Lighting Africa II Kenya programme to facilitate deeper penetration of solar lighting products in to the most remote areas through training and mentoring women last mile entrepreneurs with the goal of meeting the lighting needs of rural, urban, and sub-urban consumers who lack electricity access; predominantly low-income households and businesses.

 

Children doing their homework using a solar lamp in a household in Western Kenya.
Photo by Sven Torfinn

Women remain disadvantaged politically, socially and economically due to traditional stereotypes on the roles of women and girls. They are underrepresented in decision making positions and they have less access to basic needs such as education, energy, safe and clean water, health etc. Typically women’s economic activities are; heat intensive with food processing being a common source of income, and because women’s lack of energy access, their capability is hampered negatively affecting those around them and prevents from living desired life. Initial assessment of solar products value chain indicated that women are underrepresented and yet are great influencers especially at bottom of the pyramid. Building on Practical Action’s extensive experience in enhancing women’s participation in energy markets, the assignment embarked to strengthen the role that women play in the supply chain for off-grid lighting products in rural Kenya, helping them in the development of sustainable business models and empowering them to effectively participate in local energy markets, and therefore increasing the availability of quality clean energy products to consumers in rural Kenya. In this assignment, Practical Action recruited and trained 403 women entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship development.

The support to women entrepreneurs was non-intrusive but concerted; it was sustained through practical working tools for day-to-day business management such as toolkits and remote training using podcasts. The use of podcasts to train micro entrepreneurs is an innovative approach to stimulate pro-active learning and allows flexible access to learning material by entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Practical Action allocated full time mentors to the women entrepreneurs to ease access and expeditious resolutions of major business challenges experienced by the women entrepreneurs through executing mentoring plan involving targeted one-on-one mentoring sessions based on LMEs identified needs. The mentors followed up LMEs on time bound action points and provided technical advice and motivation in areas of difficulty. Ultimately mentors facilitated the development of business acumen and self-confidence of the entrepreneurs in management of the business over the engagement period. During the course of the assignment 240 active women entrepreneurs were retained and collectively sold 27,875 solar lighting units worth an estimated value of US$1.4 million. In addition, overall entrepreneurs’ business performance has been positive with an average growth rate of 30% per entrepreneur.

One such entrepreneur is Catherine Mumbi who hails from Sofia area in Kakumeni ward, Machakos County where kerosene lamps are the main source of lighting in most households. When she started the solar business, Catherine used to sell only 2 units per month but currently sells an average of 10 units per month. She gives credit to Practical Action for impacting her with business skills and product knowledge. Ms. Selina; another active entrepreneur thanks Practical Action for helping her manage stage fright. She narrates that before the training and subsequent mentorship she couldn’t communicate properly with customers because she was afraid, but currently she can approach anyone and get to sell a lamp or come out of it with a prospective customer. She is grateful for the mentorship as she terms it as a source of knowledge, encouragement and motivation to the business. Since the training and commencement of mentorship, Selina has acquired more networks which include other entrepreneurs and customers. In conclusion, solar lighting industry continues to grow and reach rural households without access to modern energy services.

The programme has demonstrated that more women entrepreneurs can be integrated in the solar lighting value chain and more efforts should be geared towards such engendered initiatives as a measure of not only addressing energy poverty but also improving women’s economic positioning. Practical Action is highly conscious of the contribution of this work overall objectives of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for, and by extension the global sustainable development goals.

One response to “Practical Action working to light Africa”

  1. Lavinia Hardy Says:

    I have just been on a visit to Ethiopia, and if offering support to this needy country, I would like to donate specifically towards helping the scattered and deprived people. They have a lot of sunshine, and I would like to know if technology in scattered communities could provide them with solar energy to draw much needed water.
    Thank you.
    Lavinia

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