In the country of Uganda, with 35 million people, 95% of the rural population still lives without electricity. They are living in energy poverty– along with 1.6 billion other poor people, or ¼ of the world’s population. Electricity is fundamental to development, for without it women and men can’t see to work, children can’t see to study, midwives can’t see to deliver babies, and economic growth is virtually impossible. Kerosene and candles offer a dim alternative: smoky, dangerous fuel that eats up to 30% of a family’s income and offers precious little light–particularly for women and girls, who are primarily responsible for cooking, heating and lighting the home.
These statistics really bothered Katherine Lucey, a former New York investment banker with an expertise in the energy sector, who’d turned her attention to finding solutions for the energy poverty that plagues the developing world. She’d been working with solar non-profits in Africa, providing large all-home systems funded by philanthropic gifts, when she noticed that men and boys were fascinated by the technology, but not the girls and women who would traditionally be responsible for keeping it maintained and working in the home.
At the same time, a host of small, affordable solar lanterns with intuitive technology designed into them came on to the market – and Lucey realized she was looking at a market-based solution that could actually provide the impetus for total solar penetration in a deeply rural market. A system that runs on Solar Sisters.
Using a micro-consignment model, a Solar Sister sells solar lanterns to other village women, earning a cash income directly from her home in the time she determines, and reinvesting the profits in her family and community. Each Solar Sister is provided with lamps, a sales kit complete with sales, marketing and product training materials, and supported by her regional team leader. It’s the Avon direct sales model, transplanted to Africa, with solar lights replacing sheer peach lip gloss. And what it provides is not a Pink Cadillac but an empowered woman entrepreneur who becomes a change-agent in her community – bringing light, hope and opportunity to others!
The sales proposition is simple: at the cost of $20 a solar lamp, you get a lighting source that is 8 times brighter, cleaner and safer than kerosene and will last for 10 years – and the cash expense will be paid back by the cost savings of buying kerosene in 2 ½ months. Which means every year, a family will have brighter light and save about $100/year on fuel. That’s enough to send a girl to school, have a baby in a safe clinic, or plant a new crop of food.
Since Solar Sister kicked off operations in April of this year, its entrepreneurial potential has been recognized by Ashoka, Women Tools & Technology, and most importantly, the Mothers Union – Uganda’s premier women’s organization. And in a mere 8 months, it has 25 Solar Sisters in the field, each with her own illuminating story to tell.
My $100 today goes to buy 4 solar lamps from Solar Sisters, for young children to light their walk to school in the morning — and I’m thrilled to support this social enterprise that’s committed to combating global poverty, promoting renewable energy and enabling powerful women to see the beauty of their own light! To join me, click here.
(And to our beautiful, courageous Sister, Elizabeth Edwards, rest in peace.)
Right on Sister Betty! What a great idea to use the Avon model, and as you said, replace sheer peach lip gloss with solar lights.
I’m also glad to see that you mentioned Elizabeth Edwards. Although I’ve never *met* her I really respect her, and her quiet dignity through everything that was thrown at her the last decade, and would like to add my “rest in peace” to Sister Elizabeth.
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As I was rummaging through the thoughts in my brain to find the words I wish to write, I read this on your blog “When you pray, move your feet. – African proverb’. When you do that, not only do you move, you help others in doing the same.
God bless you (or replace God with the concept you believe in!)
I am working with women in Northern Uganda and would like some information on the Solar Sisters. Can you give me a contact number here or e-mail address?
Thanks for your informative blogs and your generous heart.
Lamplighte Ministries Ltd.
This is a great idea and I’m happy it’s working. But I wonder if there has been any backlash from the people who sell kerosene. It seems the potential for violence would be significant. Any idea?
Hey BB — Unfortunately, solar is an emerging and very small technology, proportionally speaking, so it’s not any kind of threat to kerosene sellers… yet. Hopefully the sun will prevail and knock the stuffing out of kerosene soon, though!
Another absolutely fantastic story and project! We are currently living in Uganda/DRC and were literally just speaking of this issue yesterday as we drove through the countryside looking at the tiny villages with no light, power or energy and the hundreds of bags of charcoal being sold on the roads! The creativity, motivation, and inspiration in places and people around the globe continues to awe me!