Solar Sister| Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan

Focus area(s): Mitigation; Adaptation
Location: Communities across Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, example Mityana in Central Uganda
Activity established: October 2009

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Solar Sister is an innovative social enterprise with the mission to achieve sustainable, scalable impact at the nexus of women's empowerment, energy poverty and climate change. It empowers women with economic opportunity and clean energy. It combines the breakthrough potential of portable solar technology with a women driven direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to a range of communities without reliable electricity access. Through a micro-consignment model, Solar Sister entrepreneurs get a 'business in a bag', a start-up kit of inventory, training and marketing support to bring clean energy directly to their customer's doorsteps.

Solar Sister started by training ten women entrepreneurs in Uganda in 2009. To date, the activity has created micro-businesses for 171 Solar Sister entrepreneurs in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, bringing the benefits of solar power to more than 31,000 Africans. Solar Sister's goal is to make women an integral part of the clean energy value chain in Africa. Every dollar invested in a Solar Sister entrepreneur generates over USD 48 in economic benefits in the first year alone, through earned income for the entrepreneur and the cash savings of her customers. For example, a solar lantern costing USD 18 brings USD 163 cumulative savings over a five-year period by displacing kerosene usage. Another USD 45 solar lantern plus mobile phone charger brings USD 225 in cumulative savings in displaced kerosene usage and mobile charging fees over the same period. At one-tenth the cost of solar home systems, customers benefit from increased savings, extended working hours, better indoor air quality and extended study time for children.

Solar Sister is the only organization in the world formed with the exclusive mission to build an Africa-wide network of women clean energy entrepreneurs. As the primary consumers of household energy, women are critical for successful adaptation of clean energy solutions. Solar Sister was founded on the belief that investing in women is a prerequisite for large-scale adoption of clean energy technologies at a grassroots level. It is this gender inclusive system approach, combined with a women led enterprise-based model to bring sustainable livelihood opportunities to address energy poverty, that makes the Solar Sister model unique.

"It is an honor to participate in the Momentum for Change movement on behalf of the Solar Sister entrepreneurs who are bringing light, hope and opportunity to their communities. We are committed to adding women's voices to ongoing efforts to address energy poverty and climate change challenges through Solar Sister's unique gender-inclusive, market-based and grassroots solution."
Solar Sister: Katherine Lucey, Founder and CEO


Mitigation / Adaptation

Each solar lantern in its 10-year lifetime will replace the use of about 600 litres of kerosene, thereby mitigating about 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). The sale of solar products by Solar Sister entrepreneurs so far will help mitigate 9,564 tonnes of CO2 emissions. At the proposed scaling up, Solar Sister entrepreneurs are projected to mitigate more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions over ten years, while replacing the usage of 660 million liters of kerosene. The solar lanterns also remove the black soot generated by kerosene, which has been shown by scientific evidence to contribute to global climate change. At the same time, solar mobile phone charging solutions replace the use of cheap and non-recyclable batteries. Solar-powered products also result in improved local air quality and have a positive impact of public health.

Clean energy brings economic and public health benefits, while improving the local environment, mitigating climate change and propelling Africa to a green future.

Social and environmental benefits

Solar Sister entrepreneurs serve as role models to other women. They build successful businesses, are proud of the income they bring to their families and are able to pay their children's school fees. They no longer depend on harmful and expensive kerosene for lighting needs. Not only are these Solar Sister entrepreneurs building sustainable livelihoods for themselves, they are also mentoring other women in the community, expanding the Solar Sister network to benefit more women with business opportunities and more customers with world class clean energy products, building a momentum of change at grassroots level to address energy poverty and climate change.


Potential for scaling-up and replication

Solar Sister has the bold vision of ushering a women-driven clean energy revolution in Africa through a highly scalable, marketable and sustainable business model. With 590-million off-grid population, Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world's biggest markets for portable solar power solutions. Potential demand for modern lighting products is greater than 50 million units. Solar solutions for charging mobile phones present a big market opportunity as Africa continues to top the global mobile phone market growth. By 2015, there will be more than 200 million more African mobile phone owners than grid users and a total of 400 million off-grid phone owners across Africa. This translates into a huge clean energy market for Solar Sister products and services.

Solar Sister have laid the foundation for scaling our impact through strong public-private linkages with technology, implementation and enterprise development partners. At the grassroots level, Solar Sister partner with organizations with proven track record and linkages with local women's groups to benefit from their existing infrastructure and deep roots in the community.

In Tanzania and Kenya, Solar Sister have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) to integrate Solar Sister's green business opportunity with AWF's conservation efforts. In Kenya, Solar Sister have joined hands with the Green Belt Movement (GBM), the organization of the late Dr. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and first environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Our partnership will complement GBM's broader efforts to unlock women's potential as "green agents of change". In Nigeria, Solar Sister are partnering with SOSAI renewable energy company and with Azsa Microfinance Bank Ltd. Solar Sister leverage investment for maximum impact and believe that the strength and viability of our work lies in capturing, analyzing, and learning from the program's ongoing impact.

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