Solar Sisters Light Up Africa

Solar Sister


Solar Sister is a network of women selling solar lighting to poor communities.  The women make a commission on each sale, with most of them spending the extra income on education for their children.

Using an Avon-style women’s distribution system, Solar Sister trains, recruits and supports female entrepreneurs in East Africa to sell affordable solar lighting and other green products such as solar lamps and mobile phone chargers.  The women use their community networks of family and neighbours to build their own businesses.

Solar Sister founder Katherine Lucey says this model is creating access to safe, affordable and clean energy while helping women to earn a steady income to support their families.  During her 20-year career as an energy executive, Lucey says she’d seen how access to electricity was fundamental for economic growth.  But while working on large-scale energy projects in developing countries, she realized that the pressing needs of many poor individuals were still not being served.

After dark, houses not connected to the electricity grid rely mainly on open-flame kerosene lamps for light.  Such lanterns pose fire hazards, emit toxic fumes and put a strain on family budgets.  According to Lighting Africa, 589 million people in the continent live without access to electricity.

Lucey says ending a culture of dependency on aid is crucial to helping people escape economic hardship and deal with the issue of energy poverty.  “There’s not enough philanthropy in the world to solve this problem,” she says.  “A third of the world population doesn’t have access to electricity – it’s not going to be solved by philanthropy, it’s going to be solved by some kind of market mechanism where people have access to this product … and purchase as they need it.”

Eva Walusimbi, a Solar Sister in Mityana, central Uganda says, “It makes me feel proud to see that I’m bringing an income to my family.  Because if I can support my family, I feel good – other than seeking helplessly and looking for everything to be sponsored.”

(From an article on CNN)

Small Organisations, Small Difference?

I like hearing these types of stories.  I am a firm believer in change occurring one person at a time, and so even if these kinds of efforts only touch a few people, that is a few people who have had their lives improved.

But I do still wonder about the big picture.  There are only 281 Solar Sisters so far – is this organisation really making much difference?  If big companies can make a big difference, should we bother supporting small organisations that make a small difference?

My view is that there are three reasons for being excited about small organisations:

  1. As mentioned above, touching one life makes it worthwhile.
  2. As the number of small organisations making a small difference grows, there will come a time when the cumulative effect will make a huge difference.
  3. The greater the number of small organisations, the greater the chance that one will hit the sweet spot of profit and market demand that will turn it into a big organisation making a big difference.

What do you think about small organisations trying to make a difference?  Should we encourage people to start new initiatives?  Or would it be better if they supported existing ones?


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