Women-led Enterprise: A Model to Transform Rural Energy Access

Women-led Enterprise: A Model to Transform Rural Energy Access

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Christine Eibs Singer was honored as an Ashoka ChangemakeHER, Changemakers's inaugural celebration of the world's most influentual and inspiring women. Find her fellow honorees' voices here.

by Christine Eibs Singer, CEO and co-founder of E+Co. Singer has overseen the organization's growth from a start-up to an international leader in the developing country energy finance space. She is instrumental in maintaining E+Co’s mission to empower local small and growing enterprises that supply clean and affordable energy in developing countries, producing social, environmental, and financial returns.

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“I am an entrepreneur at heart, I knew that one day I would launch a solar PV business.” -Yvonne Faye

Women and children are most affected by the lack of access to basic energy resources in developing countries. They experience a heightened risk of developing respiratory diseases from firewood stoves with “black soot” emissions, suffer burns from kerosene, and have less time for economic or education opportunities as they labor hours a day in the pursuit of firewood and water.  However, with their firsthand knowledge of the negative repercussions of a lack of energy resources, they may be the best answer to effective implementation of energy solutions for “Base of the Pyramid” communities, and the most likely to focus on a solution that is affordable, available, and appropriate.

E+Co, an international non-profit that provides capacity building and capital to clean energy enterprises, has 16 years of experience tackling these issues. E+Co investee Tecnosol, a Nicaraguan rural energy service company, brought solar energy to the village of Estelí in 2008, changing the lives of its women residents:

“At one point, the prices started to rise so fast that we could not afford the kerosene we needed, leaving us in the dark,” reported one woman.  Another added, “we used to spend $35 a month on kerosene. That is a very big amount of money for us.”

“Candles melted too fast,” said another.

In addition to the cost, the logistics of transporting gallons of kerosene on foot made life very difficult for the women, who are responsible for household tasks. Previously, lack of reliable public transportation forced women to walk six hours (round trip) with their children to purchase kerosene.

While women often are the primary beneficiaries of access to clean energy, there is an additional benefit of increased gender equity and female empowerment as the number of women entrepreneurs increases. As co-founder and CEO of E+Co, I recognize the role women entrepreneurs can play. 

Only 5 percent of E+Co’s investee companies are women-owned. We would like to see more, and we are developing an interactive learning platform that will make energy business building more accessible to women.

One of the women who took advantage of E+Co’s support is Yvonne Faye, technical director for EnergieR in Dakar, Senegal—a solar PV business with a successful track record of installing solar systems for remote telecommunications stations. 

With a master’s degree in computer science, electronics and electrical engineering, Yvonne developed expertise in the solar PV systems sector that she used to co-launch EnergieR. Despite her technical knowledge, her business skills needed improvement. After participating in an E+Co-led workshop, she chose to pursue E+Co’s business development training, later qualifying for a loan. 

“I am an entrepreneur at heart,” Yvonne said. “I knew that one day I would launch a solar PV business.  While my technical skills and experience enabled me to get started, my passion for and commitment to affordable solar energy, combined with business training, has led to the continued growth of EnergieR.  I have never felt at a disadvantage, being a woman in this business.”

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E+Co is committed to encouraging, supporting, and funding more women entrepreneurs like Yvonne.