Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact
Imagine: you are a young girl living in a rural village in Africa. You dream of doing well on your exams so that you can continue your studies at a well regarded secondary school. But, by the time you have finished your chores, had dinner, and helped clean up the dishes, it is dark. You try to study by the light of the tadooba, but it the smoke burns your eyes and makes you cough. You remember the time you were too absorbed in your work and accidentally knocked the lamp over, spilling the oil and burning your hand. You rub the scar and turn out the light, leaving the studies for a day when you will have more time...
Imagine: you are a mother with a day too full of caring for children, tending a garden, preparing the meals, walking to market. At the market, you have to choose between buying meat for dinner, or kerosene for the lantern…
Imagine: you are a nurse in a rural clinic, tending to a small child that requires a blood transfusion due to severe anemia, but your lantern has burned out and you can not see to find the child’s tiny vein…
Over 300 million women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have to imagine these scenarios, this is their reality. Energy poverty negatively impacts the education, productivity, health and safety of 1.6 billion people in the developing world, 70% of whom are women and girls. Even with the recent technology advances that makes clean solar electricity affordable to the poor, there has not been widespread distribution and adaptation in rural communities.
Solar technology can transform rural lives. Availability, affordability and access all work together to bring light into rural homes. Solar Sister closes the gap between the producer and the end user by creating a woman-to-woman distribution system. We have launched our pilot phase in the Kapchorwa district of Uganda. We have chosen the three villages and a Girls Secondary school for our pilot program and have established the relationships with the women leaders in the district. Solar Sister Associates have been chosen to pilot the direct-sales distribution program. As the women sell solar lanterns, they earn independent income and become changemakers by bringing access to life-transforming solar light to their families and communities.
The initial Solar Sisters have had immediate and sustained success selling the lanterns within their communities. The value of the distribution system is immediate and rewarding to the women and their families, as they earn income to support children's school fees and other expenses, as well as to their communities as they bring access to light and phone charging capabilities to their neighbors.
Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing
The technology exists to eliminate the unsafe, toxic tadooba and provide clean, affordable, solar light for individual homes. Just in the past few years, significant advances in technology have produced solar lanterns that provide excellent light, are durable, and most importantly, are affordable. Unfortunately, these lanterns are not easily accessible to the women and girls who need them most. There is no marketing channel that reaches them to even inform them of the existence of these lanterns that could replace the smoky, expensive tadoobas. Even if they knew about the lanterns and wanted to buy one, the sole distributor is in the city, a full day’s bus ride from some of the remote villages. Even if a woman were to travel there, she would have to know where to find the electronics distributor that sells the lanterns, in his unmarked shop, up the stairs in a gated compound, past the guard with the stern expression. She would then have to ask for the lantern, as it is not on display among the solar panels and inverters that generate more substantial income for the store owner. She would have to wait patiently while the store owner conducts business with several men who have come into the store to purchase batteries.
A persistent and pervasive technology gender-gap excludes women from participating in learning about and adapting technology based solutions such as solar energy. The technology development has not extended to the “last mile” by creating an effective marketing and distribution system that addresses the women’s needs. Without deliberate investment in women centered distribution systems that make the technology available to the women at their doorstep, with supportive education and awareness programs, the technology will continue to be underutilized and women and girls will be left, literally and figuratively, in the dark.
Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?
Develop Strong Partnerships - Our partnership with the Mother’s Union of Uganda ensures that Solar Sister can build on the long-standing success of the Mother’s Union to improve the lives of village women by supporting local women’s groups. Solar Sister benefits from the Mother’s Union’s vast network and established relationships. Based on the positive feedback from our pilot project and interest from other local partners, Solar Sister is building relationships with on-the-ground partners including: Tostan in Senegal, Kachile in Cote d'Ivoire, the Episcopal Diocese of Ezo, Sudan, among others. These partnerships give Solar Sister the opportunity to leverage our program through the strength of the partners' local relationships.
Listen to the Women - With support from the Mother’s Union leaders, Solar Sister provides community programs to create awareness about the benefits of solar technology and begin a dialogue that allows the women to voice their questions and describe their needs.
Demonstration Project - Based on the feedback from the women, Solar Sister invests in a community solar project to provide a concrete example of the benefits of the solar technology. The community project can be solar lighting in a school, a clinic, a community center, a woman’s enterprise center, whatever the women determine to be the most beneficial project in their community. The solar project is chosen by the women and implemented with their support to provide benefits to the entire community.
Solar Sister Associates Program – Working with the women’s group, Solar Sister will accept applications from women to become Solar Sister Associates. We will provide Associates with targeted education and training and with patient capital to seed their Solar Sister micro-enterprise. The women will then be empowered to sell individual solar lanterns to their network of family, friends and neighbors in a direct-sales program similar to “Avon Ladies”.
Solar Sister University Chapters: We are establishing Solar Sister Chapters at several universities in Uganda. The young women at university will become Solar Sister Associates, selling lanterns to generate income to support their education costs. Also, many of these young women come from rural areas, and can act as 'early adapters' and carry the technology back to their home communities.
Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible
Year 1 - Pilot project: Work with women in three villages to bring solar light to their community in projects they have chosen. Educate, train and employ 10 Solar Sister Associates in each village. Replicate the pilot project in 4 other communities.
Year 2 - Replicate the pilot project to 15 communities.
Year 3 - Replicate the pilot project to 30 communities.
One optimistic note: based on the success of our pilot project, and the tremendously positive reaction we have received from potential partners such as Tostan in Senegal, Kachile in Cote d'Ivoire and the Episcopal Diocese of Ezo, Sudan, I expect these numbers to increase significantly as we work with these well established partners.
After 3 years, Solar Sister Associates program will be active in 50 communities:
- providing solar light for 50 community projects such as schools, clinics or community centers
- employing 500 women as Solar Sister Associates
- reaching 25,000 homes with solar light (each Associate selling approx. 50 lanterns), benefiting whole families with clean solar light
- provide improved light for over 200,000 people, resulting in improved eduction, enhanced health and safety and economic opportunity, both directly through the Solar Sister Associate program and as a result of the ability to engage in income producing activities in the evenings.
If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?
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