What to keep in mind while designing a women-focused entrepreneurship intervention: Lessons from Energy 4 Impact WIRE Initiative

By Ruchi Soni and Davina Ngei

 

What is WIRE?

Energy 4 Impact, a non-profit organization that works with local businesses to expand access to energy in Africa, launched the Women Integration into Renewable Energy (WIRE) Value Chains initiative in 2016. WIRE’s objective is to support and strengthen the role of women energy entrepreneurs in rural Kenya and Tanzania. The program provides the entrepreneurs with threefold services of:

  • Training on business and technology issues.
  • Mentorship support and opportunities.
  • Access to financing options and market opportunities.

The WIRE initiative envisions providing 396,000 people in Kenya and Tanzania with access to clean cooking and solar lighting products, and creating 400 jobs. The recently concluded recruitment of women entrepreneurs under the initiative has presented a plethora of lessons. These lessons will now largely influence the implementation of this two-year US State Department funded project.

 

How did the recruitment of entrepreneurs take place?

The recruitment process was conducted with a two-pronged strategy:

  • Mobilisation: The exercise began in November 2016, for over a period of four months to recruit a pool of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who were already working across the energy supply chain were approached including those involved in the production, manufacturing, distribution, promotion, import, supply or retail of improved cookstoves, briquettes, biogas and solar products (including lanterns and solar home systems). New entrepreneurs, who had not previously benefited from interventions by any of the partners, were shortlisted. Subsequently, the recruited entrepreneurs were introduced to the community leaders, community groups, and local government institutions.

A pool of Energy 4 Impact mentors, who are based in the region where the program is implemented, led the process. They are stationed close to the enterprises in order for them to understand the local market conditions and respond to entrepreneurs needs quickly. Mentors were shortlisted based on their knowledge of the local context, as well as technology expertise. These mentors mapped local areas by identifying market centers and the dominant renewable energy activity in each area. Overall, 466 women enterprises were selected.

WIRE supported solar entrepreneur – Jane Kioko at her shop in Tala, Kenya.
  • Partnership with like-minded partners: Energy 4 Impact engaged with the wPOWER Hub, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) and Solar Sister to boost coordination between existing initiatives, pool resources for greater impact, and avoid any overlap.

 

The areas are classified in 7 clusters listed in the table below:

Country Name of Cluster Counties/Regions included in the program
 

 

Kenya

Central Kiambu, Muranga, Nyeri, Nakuru, Machakos, Meru, Embu and Nairobi
Coast Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta
Kisumu Kisumu, Siaya, Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, Busia, Eldoret, Nandi
Kisii Kisii, Homa Bay, Migori, Bomet, Narok, Kericho,
Tanzania Mwanza Mwanza (Nyamagana, Ilemela, Misungwi, Kisesa districts)
Bunda Mara (Bunda District), Simiyu (Bariadi, Lamadi districts),
Geita Geita (Geita, Sengerema, Katoro, Buselesele districts)

 

What were the lessons learned?

The primary lessons learned from this selection and training of the entrepreneurs falls into three broad categories: 1) Past assessment of capacity and capability of entrepreneurs and their enterprise, 2) Capacity Building, and 3) Flexibility in program design and innovation.

1. Past experience of the enterprise matters: The time duration an enterprise has been in business directly impacts their capacity for growth and determines the type of support they may require. In Tanzania, 53% of the recruited enterprises had been in business for less than 5 years. Younger business benefitted from meeting with more experienced entrepreneurs who impart skills and knowledge, inspire them and boost their confidence. Energy 4 Impact decided to increase the role of experienced and successful entrepreneurs in the project to provide more support to younger enterprises.

2. Capacity building lays the foundation for any initiative: There are few enterprises engaged in briquette manufacturing and in the sale of solar products. This indicated a lack of knowledge and skills in the technology, and limited market opportunities, than previously anticipated. This led to the realization that the interventions specifically designed to support entrepreneurs to overcome these barriers to expansion into these technologies, would be helpful. It would also help the entrepreneurs acquire relevant certifications for the growth and success of their business operations.

3. Flexibility in program design is vital: 65% of shortlisted entrepreneurs did not have any education or had primary level education. This suggested that that their record-keeping skills would be lower than expected. Mentoring activities have been adjusted to take into consideration entrepreneur’s skills and subsequently provide more support on record keeping. In addition, extra time will be devoted to this topic in workshops. The project also benefited from challenging the assumptions made during the design phase, and revisiting them.

4. Incorporation of an element of gender sensitization makes a difference: A majority of businesses are individually owned. However, many business operations involve family members, often a husband and wife who share responsibilities. In response to this, the project ensured that sufficient time was spent with entrepreneurs on gender sensitization, to challenge stereotypes and promote equality of access to resources and decision-making to both the genders.

“The energy products value chain involves both men and women, and for successful delivery of the products to the markets it is extremely important that both are involved.”

Godfrey Sanga, Program Manager, Energy 4 Impact.

 

5. Financing models matter: Although only 100 out of 466 entrepreneurs had a bank account, only 162 of them were able to access credit facilities. This highlights the role that non-bank financial institutions (such as Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations) play in rural communities. Going forward, project activities will increasingly focus on providing entrepreneurs with access to these sources of credit, rather than banks that generally have prohibitive lending conditions and a lengthy application process.

6. Building partnerships with relevant stakeholders avoids multiplicity of work, and builds on their progress: Energy 4 Impact implementation team benefited from information that was available to the other partners on the potential project sites, entrepreneurs, etc. In addition, this avoided recruitment of enterprises that were already engaged by the other partners. This led to a more efficient approach with support to a greater number of supported enterprises allowing for no overlap.

Similar future projects can draw from these lessons, incorporate flexibility and adaptation in the program design, and allow sufficient time to develop and test viable models.  This, in turn allow for an increased impact on the project beneficiaries, while improving the design of future projects.

 

Authors

Ruchi Soni is the Program Manager at wPOWER, where she directs donor management and program development. She also leads the messaging and communication for wPOWER Hub’s impact. She brings in nearly a decade of experience of working in the energy access space from the World Bank. 

Davina Ngei is the content strategist at wPOWER, where she analyzes content needs and gaps, creates articles, reports on the clean energy sector, and documents wPOWER events. She previously worked as a professional copywriter and content writer.

The authors gratefully acknowledge comments from Godfrey Sanga, Program Manager, Energy 4 Impact.



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