Solar Sister Connect: A Mobile Phone Based Supply Chain Solution For Grassroots Women Entrepreneurs in Africa

Solar Sister Connect: A Mobile Phone Based Supply Chain Solution For Grassroots Women Entrepreneurs in Africa

UgandaBristol , United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Solar Sister is empowering a network of grassroots energy entrepreneurs with a mobile and web-based information management tool that enhances sales performance.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

1.6 billion people on the planet don’t have access to electricity. 70% are women and girls. Solar Sister is addressing this gender face of energy poverty head on by combining the breakthrough potential of affordable solar energy with a deliberately woman-centered direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to rural women, girls and their families alike. Solar Sister’s growing and geographically spread out grassroots network in Uganda needs a smart supply chain management solution to multiply the reach and scale of its impact. We are empowering our entrepreneurs with an integrated mobile technology tool that helps them manage their businesses with real time product information, marketing updates, sales and inventory management and efficient and secure mobile payment system.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Solar Sister Connect (SolConnect) – an innovative mobile phone based supply chain management solution will be a vital business tool to help Solar Sister’s growing women entrepreneur network through specially designed features to enable a) inventory tracking b) mobile payments c) sales status d) customer service queries e) daily business tips. As Solar Sister is growing, there is a need to transition from time consuming manual data tracking to a more streamlined system. SolConnect will help in a seamless flow of information between Solar Sister headquarters in Kampala, Uganda and the for-women, by-women field force comprising of regional coordinators, team leaders and Solar Sister entrepreneurs. SolConnect is a mobile phone based application to store expenses and revenue real time, track inventory and enable payments. Solar Sister headquarters can swiftly respond to new inventory requests and share information about special offers and smart business tips to its team.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The secret to a successful sales and distribution business is the often invisible 'back-end'- the information and data systems that provide impeccable and efficient data collection, distribution management, supply chain communications and impact evaluation. Simply put, each Solar Sister Entrepreneur uses a mobile phone application that acts as a point-of-sale terminal for her retail sales - enabling her to place orders and record sales, make and receive payments via mobile money and communicate with the Solar Sister management team. Solar Sister aggregates the information provided by uploading this data and is able to track sales trends, payment histories, inventory bottlenecks and other logistics. The mobile phone replaces the paper based data collection that at best is cumbersome and inefficient in rural Africa. The information is uploaded to a online dashboard that provides visibility into business performance in remote locations. Solar Sister management can see powerful, project-wide views and can drill down to individual sellers and households. The mobile technology allows two way communication flow, so we can also communicate with the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and provide them with market feedback, sales tips, special product promotions and other information in a flexible and timely format.
Sustainability

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Sister is the only organization in the world exclusively committed to building a network of women solar entrepreneurs through a market based scalable program. Solar Sister works with the world’s leading innovators designing cutting edge solar products for the base of the pyramid markets. There is a lack of both the “last mile” supply chain channels and business intelligence tools to take these products to rural customers at scale. This is where Solar Sister comes in. SolConnect platform will be the first of its kind supply chain tool for a woman driven clean energy distribution business in Africa and set an industry precedent in marrying women power, clean power and information technology to build an inclusive green economy.
Team

Founding Story

Solar Sister’s Founder Katherine Lucey started at the other end of the world from the women in rural Africa. She worked on Wall Street, financing billion dollar power plants to provide energy for economic growth. Despite investment in infrastructure projects, the problem of energy poverty persisted. Katherine turned to finding a grassroots solution to energy poverty. A founding story of Solar Sister is that of a rural woman Rebecca in Mpigi, Uganda. When asked where solar light should go in her home, Rebecca overrode her husband to put the light in her chicken room. Chickens ate more with better light. Healthier chickens laid more eggs. She sold eggs to make money for seeds, to grow vegetables to sell and buy goats and pigs. Rebecca built a productive farm, and eventually a school. Rebecca is a wonderful example of combining a little light with a woman's ingenuity. Katherine founded Solar Sister to bring light, hope and opportunity to many more women and girls like Rebecca in Africa.
About You
Organization:
Solar Sister, Inc.
About You
First Name

Katherine

Last Name

Lucey

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Solar Sister, Inc.

Organization Country

, RI, Bristol

Country where this project is creating social impact
Age of Innovator

Over 34

Gender of Innovator

Female

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Has the organization received awards or honors? Please tell us about them

Solar Sister has received recognition for its innovation and leadership. Katherine Lucey, Founder and CEO of Solar Sister, is an Ashoka Fellow for East Africa, a Global Social Benefit Incubator Fellow 2011, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and Social Venture Network's 2011 Innovation Award Winner. Solar Sister Eva Walasumbi from Mityana, Central Uganda was featured in Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Shake the World. Solar Sister is a 2011 winner of the prestigious international SEED Award founded by UNEP, UNDP and IUCN for exceptional sustainable energy enterprises. Solar Sister was also selected as a winner of Impact Business Award 2011. IMPACT stands for Innovative Models Promoting Adaptation and Climate Technologies. The IMPACT Business Award is implemented on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and organized by Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

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Innovation
How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your innovation addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Equity.

Social Impact
What solution(s) does your initiative address to better the lives of girls and women by leveraging technology? (select all applicable)

Access to technology, Access to education/training, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Solar Sister launched its high impact program in early 2010 by training 10 women in rural Uganda. Today, we have a growing network of 171 Solar Sister entrepreneurs in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan bringing the benefits of clean energy to over 31,880 Africans. We have built a strong and vibrant team led by Katherine Lucey who was recently selected to be an Ashoka Fellow. Solar Sister delivers expertise in business, clean energy technology and a uniquely women-led effort to advance innovative women’s empowerment solutions. This is complimented with strong partnerships across our value chain that includes product suppliers, grassroots women’s networks, carbon finance, monitoring & evaluation linkages and institutional support from some of the leading actors for addressing the gender face of energy poverty.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Solar Sister intends to scale its high impact program to build an expanded network of 3,000 Solar Sister Entrepreneurs over a three-year period. This expanded program will bring the benefits of solar lighting and mobile phone charging technologies to the benefit of 2.7 million Africans. In addition to greatly expanded access, this will bring cumulative household economic benefit of $48.6 million by displacing 198 million liters of kerosene use and mitigating 610,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. SolConnect will be a critical business tool to optimally grow our business in our existing and new markets. In addition to portable solar solutions, we plan to add solar phone charging businesses, solar hair salons and improved cookstoves to our portfolio.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Solar Sister is a network of women entrepreneurs. Often, communities are used to NGO give-aways and we have to ensure a shift from this mindset to ensure that Solar Sister is perceived as a true “business opportunity”. As a social business, effective data capture and inventory management are vital for Solar Sister’s growth. A combination of alternative options like salesforce.com and the SolConnect platform will directly address this aspect of our business. As we recruit, train and mentor a wider network of Solar Sister entrepreneurs, another key requirement is to build incentive structures to reward and encourage high performers who can benefit from increased earnings while inspiring and recruiting other motivated women in the program.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact
Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Roll out SolConnect to pilot group of Entrepreneurs.

Task 2

Monitor sales and performance results of pilot group to compare with control group (those not using SolConnect)

Task 3

Analyze results of pilot. Look for failures and successes.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone
Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Based on results of pilot project, tweak SolConnect to incorporate lessons learned.

Task 2

Roll out SolConnect widlely throughout Solar Sister Entreprneuer Netowork.

Task 3

Continue to monitor and evaluate results, improve program based on lessons learned.

Sustainability
Tell us about your partnerships

Solar Sister has built a diverse partner ecosystem designed to provide best energy solutions to our customers while unlocking African women’s potential as clean energy evangelists. Our partners include grassroots partners, inventors, technology providers, impact investors and everyday changemakers committed to addressing the extreme global energy poverty. We are developing the SolConnect supply chain platform tool in partnership with Grameen Foundation’s AppLabs team in Uganda, which is also committed to using innovative technologies to empower the poor with life-changing information.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list
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