Solar Sister - Light. Hope. Opportunity.

Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
The Power of Small: Entrepreneurs Strengthening Local Economies competition.

Project

This innovation also has a Project Page where you can read more about its latest progress.
Go to Project: Solar Sister - Light. Hope. Opportunity..

Solar Sister empowers women with economic opportunity and access to technology. Using an Avon-style business model for clean energy products, we combine the breakthrough potential of affordable solar energy with a deliberately woman-centered direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to communities in rural Africa.

About You

Organization: Solar Sister, Inc. Visit websitemore ↓↑ hide↑ hide

About You

First Name

Katherine

Last Name

Lucey

About Your Organization

Organization Name

Solar Sister, Inc.

Organization Website

Organization Country

United States, RI, Bristol, Bristol County

Country where this project is creating social impact

Uganda

Age of Innovator

Over 34

Gender of Innovator

Female

Is your organization a

Hybrid

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Innovation

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Name Your Entry

Solar Sister - Light. Hope. Opportunity.

Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

The Need: What problem are you trying to solve?

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. We are empowering our entrepreneurs with an integrated mobile technology tool that gives us the information we need to help them manage their businesses with real time product information, marketing updates, sales and inventory management and efficient and secure mobile payment system.

The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!

Solar Sister believes in the power of small! We are empowering a network of individual women solar entrepreneurs to reach underserved rural customers with clean energy technology. Women are the primary consumers of household energy, bearing responsibility for gathering wood or purchasing kerosene in energy poor communities, but they are rarely included in the technology supply chain. Solar Sister provides them with a 'business in a bag' - all the inputs they need to start and manage their solar business, including business training, mentoring, access to quality products, access to working capital, and business management tools. By using an an innovative mobile phone based supply chain management solution, Solar Sister can help our growing women entrepreneur network manage their businesses through specially designed features to enable a) inventory tracking b) mobile payments c) sales status d) customer service queries e) daily business tips.

The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities

Solar Sister recruits, trains and supports women entrepreneurs. The women earn income and provide life changing technology to their communities. They key is building a strong network of support for these small businesses.

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.

The Marketplace: Who are your peers and competitors? Identify others also working to address the needs you are and what differentiates you from them. What challenges could these players pose to your success or growth?

Solar Sister is the only organization in the world exclusively committed to building a network of women solar entrepreneurs through a market based scalable distribution 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. Solar Sister is the first of its kind supply chain support system 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.

Social Impact

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What solution(s) does your initiative address to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive in underserved communities? (select all applicable)

Access to financing, Access to talent, Access to supply chains, Access to technology, Access to economic opportunity, Policy change/advocacy.

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. So we are investing in strong business management software, solutions, services to improve our business process. 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

Research, choose and implement a business management system that allows us to improve our business process, pilot use

Task 2

Monitor sales and performance results of entrepreneurs, evaluate pilot of business management system

Task 3

Analyze performance results of entrepreneurs, troubleshoot and capture best practices to continually improve sales processes

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, incorporate lessons learned.

Task 2

Roll out business maangement system widlely throughout Solar Sister Entreprneuer Network.

Task 3

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

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world.

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.

Sustainability

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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

Solar Sister is focused on building a business management system that will enable us to scale our simple business model across sub-Saharan Africa. Our primary need is developing/designing/implementing this system to suit our particular situation, and then after testing and using it, we will be able to share our experience and help others with similar process needs.

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105 weeks ago Solar Sister - Light. Hope. Opportunity. has been chosen as a finalist in The Power of Small: Entrepreneurs Strengthening Local Economies.
112 weeks ago Katherine Lucey updated this Competition Entry.
112 weeks ago Katherine Lucey submitted this idea.