Solar Sister: Electric lighting sold by "Avon Ladies"
Heat and lighting are necessary elements for survival beyond bare-bones subsistence; in the developing world, however, these two necessities require a lot of labor for fuel sources that threaten the health of people who use them, as well as the planet. Women spend hours each week collecting wood for cooking, and lights, where available, are almost always powered by kerosene. Various social enterprises have worked to tackle the first issue with clean cookstoves; others are now stepping in to address the need for clean lighting with a variety of solar-powered technologies.
Solar Sister is one of these organizations, and in addition to providing light for people in Africa, the company also focuses on the economic empowerment of women. Modeling itself on companies like Avon and Mary Kay, Solar Sister provides African women with the opportunity to sell solar lights and phone chargers within their social and family networks. A “business in a bag” (which costs about $500, and is funded by social investment) provides a would-be entrepreneur with the opportunity to not only build her own wealth, but also tap potential in her community. All profits get reinvested back into the individual woman’s business.
While relatively new, the model seems to be working: the Solar Sister website proudly proclaims that its concept is at work in three countries, with 143 entrepreneurs, and 17.605 people benefiting from the lights sold by those women. We don’t know how many people have pretended not to be home when the “Solar lady” came calling, though.
This is just one approach to spreading renewable energy use in the developing world that I came across in the past week. A couple of others:
- Fast Company’s Co.Exist takes a look at Access Energy’s model of teaching Kenyans to build their own wind turbines from available materials.
- British company Eight19 believes a product-service model might work best for electrifying Africa, and is offering a “pay-as-you-go” model for solar.
Know of other innovative companies working to bring power to the developing world? Let us know about them.
MORE FROM SUSTAINABLOG:
- Why economic growth slowed globally in 2011.
- Despite a slow economy, though, obscenely large houses are still being built.
Image credit: Screen capture from Solar Sister video.