Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Despite significant efforts to rid Africa of its energy poverty, it still remains the world’s most energy poor continent with 74% of households still lacking access to electricity. This lack of electricity perpetuates a wide range of social challenges- increasing demand for, and use of, wood fuel has led to considerable respiratory health problems and environmental degradation.
It is vitally important that governments prioritize the reduction of energy poverty. Governments have implemented various strategies to do this- in Uganda, for example, the government privatized electricity generation to allow investors that are capable of financing expensive power-generation projects to supply the national grid for a fee. Although this approach is effective in leveraging private sector resources to solve an important social need, it is still driven by the need to maximize profits and leads to high tariffs that low-income households cannot afford. A parallel approach by the government has been to invest a significant amount of public funds and international aid money in the construction of additional hydro generation facilities, which increases the amount of power being supplied to the grid. However, the distribution of energy has also been privatized, making this otherwise sound approach ineffective at reaching the poor. With no policies to regulate the billing and distribution practices of private companies, Uganda still has one of the highest power tariffs in the world. This not only marginalizes the poor, but also middle-class income earners.
Civil society and private sector interventions have taken a different approach by introducing and advancing renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind power. This increases access and affordability to low-income communities, while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Even though the affordability, environmental and health benefits and the off-grid nature of solar and other energy conservation products are attractive, the rate of adoption of such technologies has been low and the distribution channels used have been ineffective. A strong explanation for this is that marketing and education around energy conservation and renewable energy products has historically been focused on men. Women- who do the cooking on burning wood, take charge of lighting up the house using kerosene lamps and who would appreciate the health and economic benefits of such technologies more- are left out. Technology is currently seen and accepted as the man’s domain; and women in rural areas are hardly encouraged or expected to get involved. This mindset leaves them in perpetual ignorance. Katherine sees an obvious need to involve women in advancing the use of renewable energy technologies, simply because they are the most affected by the energy choices that take place in their homes.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Starting with solar lighting in Uganda, Katherine is tackling energy poverty in Africa by mobilizing women as key agents in accelerating the adoption of renewable energy and energy conservation solutions. Katherine is using a micro-consignment model to distribute these products, and in the process has launched a cadre of female micro-entrepreneurs, improved health, reduced household expenses, and made rural women comfortable with technology and the importance of reducing carbon emissions.
Katherine’s key insight is that it is women that influence or make decisions regarding the type of energy solutions to be used for lighting, cooking and heating, at the household level in rural areas. Additionally, she observed that women are the tasked with the responsibility of maintaining the solutions after they have been installed (for example, dusting solar panels). Thus, it made sense to her to recast this as a gender issue, and focus on empowering women to take the lead role in tackling energy poverty in rural areas. Katherine is targeting women as the exclusive distributors and consumers in this market, thereby shifting market dynamics and putting women at the center of a previously male-dominated space. By leveraging their decision-making and social-networking power, Katherine is unlocking the untapped potential for women to drive change in the rural energy space.