Years ago, while working with a small foundation in Uganda, former investment banker Katherine Lucey witnessed the life-changing power of light and solar power. The organization provided solar installations for homes, schools and clinics and produced remarkable benefits in these communities that lacked access to electricity.
With a few extra hours of light at home, children could read and study, helping them to succeed in school. Entrepreneurs with light could extend business hours and better support their families. Nurses were able to treat patients instead of spending hours fetching clean water when a solar-powered water pump was installed.
In addition to providing light, solar lanterns replaced candles, wood fires and kerosene lanterns, which reduced smoke, toxic fumes, the risk of burns – and environmental impact.
“Light, hope, and opportunity for everyone, everywhere.”
Inspired by her experiences, in Uganda, Lucey founded Solar Sister in 2010. The social enterprise focuses on bringing clean energy technology and opportunity to even the most remote areas of rural Africa. Starting in Uganda with only 10 trainees, the program has now expanded to more than 1200 women in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria. These entrepreneurs buy solar-powered panels, lanterns and cell phone chargers at cost from Solar Sister to sell to friends, family and members of their communities using a direct sales approach. The business owners then keep profits to support themselves and their families.
“Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. Solar Sister creates sustainable businesses, powered by smart investment in women entrepreneurs. When you invest in a woman, you invest in the future.”
Solar Sister uses an intentionally woman-centered approach, leveraging women as agents of change. With its unique social enterprise model, Solar Sister capitalizes on the untapped potential of women to be clean energy entrepreneurs due to their roles as household energy managers and their extensive community networks. Empowering women as entrepreneurs allows them to help support their families. Customers also benefit by saving on energy costs, lifting their families out of poverty.
“We want to create a solution to energy poverty that is long-lasting, sustainable, and driven by our customers and entrepreneurs.”
Using a social enterprise model, Solar Sister invests the money donated to purchase equipment and to train and mentor its entrepreneurs. The business owners are taught skills such as bookkeeping, setting goals and developing business plans. Solar Sister believes that business is the best means of creating change for entrepreneurs and their communities.