Vil­lage women trans­form into clean en­ergy en­trepreneurs

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Hun­dreds of ru­ral women in Nepal are turn­ing from housewives to en­trepreneurs to bring clean, en­ergy smart prod­ucts such as so­lar pan­els, lanterns and bat­ter­ies to power-starved vil­lages in an ini­tia­tive aim­ing to help women out of poverty. The so­cial en­ter­prise Em­power Gen­er­a­tion http: //www.em­pow­er­gen­er­a­tion.org/ pro­vides tech­ni­cal train­ing and sup­port to women in the im­pov­er­ished Hi­malayan na­tion to set up clean en­ergy busi­nesses and pro­vide loans to poorer cus­tomers.

Since it be­gan op­er­a­tions in 2012, Em­power Gen­er­a­tion has cre­ated over 20 women-led busi­nesses, em­ploy­ing 300 fe­male distri­bu­tion agents who go from vil­lage-to-vil­lage, sell­ing, main­tain­ing and col­lect­ing re­pay­ments for prod­ucts. In that time they have sold al­most 60,000 prod­ucts such as so­lar-pow­ered mo­bile phone charg­ers, flash­lights, and recharge­able bat­ter­ies, pro­vid­ing around 300,000 Nepalis with ac­cess to cleaner, safer light and power.

“There are many slo­gans to em­power women. But in re­al­ity lit­tle has been done,” Em­power Gen­er­a­tion’s co-founder Sita Ad­hikari told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in an in­ter­view.

“If we want to re­ally em­power women, we must train them in busi­ness skills so they can gen­er­ate in­come and be­come eco­nom­i­cally self-de­pen­dent.” Wedged be­tween In­dia and China, Nepal - famed as the birth­place of Bud­dha and home to Mount Ever­est - is one of the world’s poor­est coun­tries. One in four peo­ple live on less than $1.90 a day - the World Bank’s mea­sure of ex­treme poverty.

Smash the pa­tri­archy

Deep-rooted pa­tri­archy means women and girls are of­ten marginal­ized and vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ploita­tion such as hu­man traf­fick­ing and sex­ual slav­ery.

Fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in the for­mal work­force is low and few op­por­tu­ni­ties are avail­able. In ad­di­tion, more than half of the coun­try’s 28 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion do not have re­li­able ac­cess to elec­tric­ity and daily power cuts last­ing up to 18 hours are com­mon.

The poor­est spend around 20 per­cent of their in­come on kerosene and can­dles which im­pacts women and chil­dren the most by ex­pos­ing them to fumes from fu­els with mil­lions of women and chil­dren dy­ing each year from res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems. Ad­hikari, 43, a so­cial ac­tivist and mother of two, said she and her part­ner, US na­tional Anya Ch­ern­eff, wanted to boost the fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence of Nepali women by ad­dress­ing the is­sue of en­ergy poverty. The en­trepreneurs are trained in busi­ness skills such as main­tain­ing ac­counts and in­ven­tory con­trol while Em­power Gen­er­a­tion pro­vides marketing ma­te­ri­als.

They then re­cruit and train fe­male distri­bu­tion agents in their com­mu­ni­ties to go out and sell the prod­ucts and earn a com­mis­sion on each sale. They are also pi­lot­ing sell­ing “pay-as-you-go” so­lar home sys­tems us­ing mo­bile money.

Em­power Gen­er­a­tion’s busi­ness model has re­ceived much praise and last month won the In­ter­na­tional Ash­den Award for Clean En­ergy for Women and Girls for its in­no­va­tive ap­proach to prop­a­gate sus­tain­able en­ergy among Nepal’s ru­ral poor. Ad­hikari said the com­pany wanted to ex­pand the num­ber of fe­male en­ergy en­trepreneurs from all of Nepal’s 75 dis­tricts from the cur­rent 11 where it works. “We want to scale up to 100 en­trepreneurs and 1,000 sales agents by 2020,” she said. “This way more ru­ral com­mu­nity will ben­e­fit and more women will be em­pow­ered,” she said. — Reuters

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