Collaborating for Impact: Women in Energy Business Peer Learning and Networking Event

By Maureen Onyango

The engagement of women across the clean energy value chain is critical for sustainable adoption of clean energy technology among rural communities deprived of reliable and efficient clean cooking and lighting technologies.  For this reason, the Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER), strives to promote, support and empower women in clean energy entrepreneurship through mentorship, sharing best practices and trainings programs. Through such initiatives, women are empowered with knowledge and skills to develop and grow their businesses by learning and practicing good entrepreneurship skills and addressing business challenges effectively.

It is against this background that on 26th June 2018, wPOWER,  in collaboration with Energy4Impact co-hosted the Collaborating for Impact: Women in Energy Business Peer Learning and Networking Event, Nyamasaria, Kisumu County. The event brought together 48 participants, comprising wPOWER mentees and women entrepreneurs drawn from diverse regions in Kenya and Uganda.

Women Entrepreneurs Share Inspirations

The peer-to-peer networking event provided a platform for grassroots women entrepreneurs to engage with stakeholders, through discussions on key issues affecting women entrepreneurs while addressing probable solutions to propel these enterprises to the next level.

The event was graced by; women entrepreneurs from wPOWER community trainings in 2016, wPOWER mentees, and government officials and wPOWER partners working in the clean energy sectors. As they came in, participants recorded specific topics on aspects they felt needed to be emphasized on in this forum.

Partners represented in the meeting were, Energy4Impact, LivelyHoods and Practical Action. When the floor was finally opened, the wPOWER women entrepreneurs used their voices to inspire other clean energy entrepreneurs by narrating their success stories.

Liberia Munduru is a clean energy entrepreneur from Uganda. Her decision to engage in clean energy business was based on her observation of high poverty levels and over reliance on expensive and inefficient energy for cooking such as firewood and charcoal which led to degradation of natural resources. She started distributing cookstoves while training rural women on the benefits of using improved cookstoves.

Nyamasaria widows and orphans women group, also shared their successes and challenges. The group has15 members and manufactures liners and improved cookstoves named Uhai and KCJ. With support from Energy4Impact, the women are now able to produce cookstoves and liners in bulk and distribute the products to other regions in Kenya.

Engaging County Government to Support Clean Energy Enterprises

Although there were numerous success stories, specific challenges in clean energy entrepreneurship were highlighted, Among the challenges expressed was the lack of financial support, product affordability. There was a general call for support from various stakeholders and the government. Women entrepreneurs engaged the county government to increase support on clean energy initiatives.

Maryline Agwa, Chief Officer of Energy and Mining-Homabay County, reiterated the importance of empowering women as clean energy entrepreneurs to mitigate climate change.  The county government is currently running the  Operation nyangile out  to eradicate the use of Kerosene lamps (nyangile) in the county.

Available support and resources available for women entrepreneurs were highlighted.  Maurice Onzere, of Energy4impact, explained that the organization conducts training and mentorship programs, which equip women entrepreneurs with business skills, support micro entrepreneurs to access funds; and engage in market development – business to business linkages to help women entrepreneurs in refining their business models.

The entrepreneurs had the opportunity to engage the top leadership from wPOWER, Linda Davis, Ph.D, elaborated on wPOWER’s continued efforts to promote and support women entrepreneurship in clean energy and the need for all stakeholders to understand and promote the role of women in clean energy.

The Partnerships Manager, Simon Kiragu, who was also the convenor of this event, together with one of the veteran women entrepreneurs in clean energy, Dorothy Otieno encouraged entrepreneurs to create awareness on clean energy even as they sell their products within their communities as this will help change people’s attitudes on use of clean energy cooking and in the process increase adoption of clean energy technologies.

 

Presenting the Evidence- The Site Visit

One of the greatest strengths in wPOWER’s approach to making a business case for the role of women in clean energy is in presenting evidence and promoting sharing of best practices.

Participants visited a production site operated by the Nyamasaria Widows and Orphans Women Group, where women learned how to design and manufacture improved cookstoves. Witnessing the production of cookstoves and liners proving that indeed women can be engaged across the energy value chain.

The women group is currently engaged in production of liners, cookstoves and have benefited from a training by Okoa Kuni on the use a kiln and improve the quality of their liners. Energy 4 Impact and CARE2 have also trained the group on marketing skills to improve the sales through bulk sales.

 

Building Strategic Networks and Market Linkages

When it was all said and done, all participants were given an opportunity to evaluate the sessions against the expectations they had recorded at the beginning of the event.  A major aspect of the evaluation was based on the content and how the lessons learned during the event will be of future benefit to them as entrepreneurs.

As seen above, most of the participants in the conference anticipated to have an opportunity to network and benefit from business linkages at 23%. Participants also expected to gain knowledge on clean energy entrepreneurship, through training to increase business skills at 22%. Other expectations included improved market strategies and how to access new markets, empowerment and mentorship and access quality products.

In conclusion, and in evaluation of what the participants had learned in the workshop, 97% of the participants agreed that the sessions were beneficial and had increased their knowledge on how to handle business challenges and felt encouraged that there were successful clean energy women entrepreneurs. Over 54% stated that they had gotten an opportunity to network for future business linkages. Through sharing of success stories and challenges 18% participants said they had learned new business skills which they could apply in their businesses. At least 26% said they had increased their knowledge of improved cookstoves and other clean energy technologies. In the end women clean energy entrepreneurs from Uganda and Kenya were able to build strategic networks and market linkages hence increasing sustainability of their clean energy enterprises.