Image: BRAC

WE SOLVE: A Unique Partnership Creates Jobs for Women and Breaks the Barriers to Clean Energy

By Katherine Lucey, Solar Sister, Prajna Khanna, Signify Foundation and Nick Virr​, BRAC

The Arusha region is home to Tanzania’s nomadic Maasai and other communities who farm and herd in the plains around Mount Meru. Communities here face life without light as soon as the sun sets, meaning that kids can’t play in the streets or study and families are often dependent on expensive and toxic fuel-powered resources to do their daily chores. It is also here that women are seeking a livelihood so they can take care of their families.

The Arusha region is home to Tanzania’s nomadic Maasai and other communities who farm and herd in the plains around Mount Meru. Communities here face life without light as soon as the sun sets, meaning that kids can’t play in the streets or study and families are often dependent on expensive and toxic fuel-powered resources to do their daily chores.

It is also here that women are seeking a livelihood so they can take care of their families.

To address this challenge, Women Entrepreneurship through the Solar Value chain for Economic development, or WE SOLVE in short, was launched. WE SOLVE is committed to tackling the twin problems of (1) the lack of employment and economic opportunities for women in rural Tanzania, and (2) the lack of access to clean energy, especially for rural Tanzanians.

With the commitment and help of the program teams and communities, we — Katherine Lucey, Founder and CEO of Solar Sister, Nick Virr of BRAC, and Prajna Khanna, Head of CSR at Signify — are privileged to be guiding this unique partnership approach to help overcome these challenges.

A unique partnership

Together we’re part of a unique global partnership between Solar Sister – a non-profit that trains and supports women to deliver clean energy to rural African communities, BRAC – the world’s largest development organization, and Signify (formerly known as Philips Lighting) – a global company offering high quality, reliable and safe lighting products.

Each partner plays a siginificant role, while supporting the other. In Tanzania alone, Solar Sister has trained over 1,900 Solar Sister Entrepreneurs (SSE) to sell clean energy products to their own and neighbouring communities. Signify is, among other providers, ensuring that Solar Sister entrepreneurs have high-quality, energy-efficient, reliable and safe lighting to sell.

“I’m very happy to see how joining our forces, covering every segment of the value chain, has now resulted in the start of such an impactful project, enabling so many more women in Tanzania to become solar entrepreneurs,” says Katherine Lucey. “Our model helps the women to create a sustainable livelihood, while helping their families, friends and communities with clean, safe lighting.”

Prajna Khanna agrees that a joined-up approach, between a diverse combination of partners is key to sustainable development.

“I have worked on so many projects throughout my career, but this truly is a one of a kind public-private collaboration, in which we provide so much more than solar-powered lighting,” says Prajna. “What we provide is a whole new market ecosystem…one might say that together we’re pioneering the future of development cooperation! This is an excellent example of where the business case and development case are clearly aligned with each other and SDGs.”

Removing the barriers

But despite the development of quality, durable solar technology, and a well-trained women-driven distribution network, the affordability challenge remains. Many rural communities in Tanzania are underserved by banks and don’t have enough cash-in-hand to purchase quality products. This is where BRAC has an essential role to play, providing microloans, and enabling people without access to traditional financing to purchase solar energy products such as lights and phone chargers.

“Our Microfinance branches work closely with local communities delivering needed financial services, often in areas that are poorly or under serviced,” says Nick Virr of BRAC. “With 146 branches in 109 districts in Tanzania helping over 166,000 clients, we already have a robust network in place to assist with the mission to light up all of rural Tanzania.”

Together, we kicked off the project in February 2019 in Arusha and surrounding communities. Thanks to the networks of BRAC Microfinance and Solar Sister entrepreneurs across Tanzania, the project intends to expand into other districts of Tanzania and ultimately other countries across East Africa.

Using this unique model, we expect to reach 260,000 households, providing over 1 million Tanzanians with clean, renewable energy, improving lives and harnessing the great powers of the sun, the latest solar technology, and the local women of Tanzania.

Katherine Lucey, Founder and CEO, Solar Sister

Prajna Khanna, Head Corporate Social Responsibility and Director, Signify Foundation

Nick Virr​, Programme Director, BRAC

Editor’s Note:

WE SOLVE is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark as part of the Danish Market Development Partnerships programme (DMDP). The programme promotes commercially oriented partnerships, which contribute to market development and promote economic growth and employment in developing countries

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