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.)