Thousands of women entrepreneurs are selling solar powered tech to homes in rural India
With just the flick of a switch most of us can enjoy instant light and heat without a second thought.
Yet for many people across the world, the inability to access or pay for energy is a pressing issue that makes life far more challenging. The International Energy Agency (IEA) defines energy poverty as a “lack of access to modern energy services.”
The IEA defines such services as “household access to electricity and to clean cooking facilities”, the latter referring to fuels and stoves that do not generate damaging air pollution within homes.
In 2017, almost 2.7 billion people around the world lacked access to clean cooking facilities, while 992 million did not have access to electricity, according to the IEA.
In India, Frontier Markets, which was founded in 2011, wants to broaden rural communities’ access to clean sources of energy using what it describes as an entrepreneurial model.
“One thing we need to understand about rural customers of rural households is their life is extremely challenging,” Ajaita Shah, the founder and CEO of Frontier Markets, told CNBC’s Sustainable Energy.
“They don’t have access to infrastructure, they don’t have access to electricity they don’t have access to water, they have health crises,” Shah added.
The company trains women to sell solar power solutions to rural communities. The women, dubbed Solar Sahelis, have generated $2 million in income through the sale of products like clean cookstoves, renewable energy appliances and solar home systems.
They report to a program manager, trained by Frontier Markets, who is based at a local non-governmental organization’s office and oversees between 20 to 30 Sahelis.
“We found an opportunity to really bring women into the value chain in a way that did not exist before,” Shah said. “We also learned that 70 percent of our users were women,” she added.
“So when you’re understanding the burden of electricity and you’re starting to think about who is the best to connect with that it became women.”
One Solar Saheli is responsible for one village, which covers roughly 100 homes.
“When I approach a new customer, I explain the benefits of all our products to them,” Sahuni Begum, a Solar Saheli, told CNBC.
“Sometimes people understand immediately, they know about Frontier Markets and the work we do,” she added. “But if it’s a new customer who doesn’t know about us, I demonstrate all the products to them.”