Meet the women changing the clean cooking landscape in Kenya

Energy 4 Impact’s Women Integration into Renewable Energy (WIRE) Value Chains programme  seeks to integrate 400 women in rural Kenya and Tanzania into the renewable energy supply chain. This is done by providing them with business and technology training, as well as by providing them to access financing and market opportunities.

Energy 4 Impact skills training and commercial partnerships bring down barriers to expansion for local solar business.

Lilian Wangeci is an ambitious energy entrepreneur with a passion for solar. She has recently tripled her sales of solar products and diversified her operations. But the path to success has not been plain sailing.

The idea for Lilian’s business came out of a challenge she was grappling with: how could her family and neighbours light their homes without kerosene lamps, which are costly and also have health impacts? Lilian thought that solar could be the solution. Supplying solar lanterns could save her and her neighbours money; she could generate income by selling to her family and neighbours; and hopefully turn her venture into a full-time business, making enough money to expand into selling solar home systems.

James Mwago handing over a solar system to Lilian Wambui one of the distributors that benefits from Energy 4 Impacts training and support in central Kenya. Photo credit E4I

Lilian assessed that in such conditions, the demand for solar lamps would be high. In 2012, she quit her job at a community-based organisation and began selling solar lanterns in her village in Ngurubani. However, she faced two significant barriers.

“I struggled to raise enough money to purchase good quality solar products from reputable dealers such as d.light,” she explains. “And when I did raise the money, my customers would often struggle to pay for these products upfront.”

“Also, many buyers would choose poor quality counterfeit products – often four or five times cheaper than mine,” she says. “Then when the cheaper lanterns stopped working after a short time, a distrust of solar products spread, affecting interest in my lanterns too,” she says. “I needed to be able to show them that investing in good quality, verified lighting was better in the long run.”

“High upfront costs, a proliferation of poor quality products and a suspicion of new solar technologies are common barriers facing energy entrepreneurs,” says Godfrey Sanga, WIRE Programme Manager at Energy 4 Impact.

“Under our two-year Women Integration into Renewable Energy (WIRE) initiative (funded by the US Department of State), we introduced Lilian and a number of other local entrepreneurs to reliable suppliers such as Sunking, who engaged them as sales officers. We also helped them with their business and marketing skills to raise their professionalism and build trust between the entrepreneurs and the suppliers,” he explained. As Sunking sales officers, the women can now obtain products without having to make any upfront payment. The Sunking PAYG system accepts repayments from customers over an agreed period of time – typically six months. The products can be monitored and controlled remotely in order to manage the risk of non-repayments.

“Now I have access to a stock of good quality solar lanterns and solar home systems without needing to raise any upfront payment and my customers are happy because they can pay in instalments,” Lilian says.

Energy 4 Impact also provided business and financial skills, empowerment, and leadership training and tools to support the women sales agents and entrepreneurs. To raise awareness of the benefits of solar energy and help build consumer interest for Lilian and the other sales officers, Energy 4 Impact and the supply companies hold events and roadshows in local villages. “The Energy 4 Impact sales and marketing training has given me the confidence to approach potential buyers and talk about the cost-effectiveness of quality solar products, and to explain the payment terms and the installation process,” Lilian says. “It has also boosted my credibility with my suppliers.”

Lilian is quickly turning  her dreams into reality, thanks to the support from Energy 4 Impact. Her sales have more than tripled in the last four months and she has diversified into rearing chicks in a shed illuminated by solar energy and retailing improved charcoal cookstoves. The day is not far when she realizes her dream of opening  a shop selling solar products and expand her business to  selling solar water pumps and water heating systems to schools, health facilities and hotels.