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How lessons from recruiting female energy entrepreneurs into a gender-focused project are influencing its strategies


Vital lessons have been learned from the recently concluded recruitment of female entrepreneurs into Energy 4 Impact’s Women Integration into Renewable Energy (WIRE) Value Chains project, in Kenya and Tanzania.

These will have a large influence on the implementation of the two-year US State Department funded project, which aims to support women in the rural areas of the two countries by providing them with business and technology training and mentorship, and support to access financing and market opportunities.

WIRE forms part of the Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER), an initiative by the US Department of State to empower women entrepreneurs across East Africa, Nigeria and India to deliver access to clean energy. WIRE and wPOWER will support entrepreneurs that produce, manufacture, import, distribute, promote, supply or retail improved cookstoves, briquettes, biogas and solar products, such as lanterns and solar home systems, to develop and strengthen their entrepreneurial skills.

About the recruitment

  • A mobilisation exercise was conducted at the beginning of the project in November 2016, over a period of 4 months to recruit a pool of suitable energy entrepreneurs.
  • Energy 4 Impact engaged with wPOWER Hub and other partners, including The Green Belt Movement (GBM) and Solar Sister to strengthen coordination and create synergies between existing initiatives in the same space to avoid duplication of work and bring together resources for a more significant and efficient impact.
  • In order to maximise the project’s impact a decision was made to recruit new entrepreneurs, who had not benefitted from previous interventions by any of the partners.
  • Energy 4 Impact is well experienced in mobilising micro entrepreneurs in rural parts of East Africa and their local mentors have a deep understanding of the regions they work in. They mapped the local areas by identifying market centres and the renewable energy activity dominant in each area. They reached out to community leaders and groups, and local government institutions for introductions to new entrepreneurs.
  • 506 women enterprises were identified, and after vetting based on how much they could benefit from the project, 466 were selected.

During the design of the project Energy 4 Impact had proposed a number of interventions in support of the entrepreneurs based on assumptions from previous experiences working in the sector. Upon conclusion of the recruitment, these assumptions were revisited and their validity reassessed. What followed was a number of suggestion to improve entrepreneur support during the implementation phase of the project, based on a number of lessons learned.

Five lessons from the recruitment, which have influenced the project’s support strategies

  1. The length of time an enterprise has been in business impacts on their capacity for growth and hence, the type of support they require. In Tanzania, 53% of the recruited enterprises have been in business for less than 5 years. Younger business benefit from meeting with more experienced entrepreneurs to learn from them, be inspired 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. In implementing the project we will make use of experienced entrepreneurs in workshops to inspire newer businesses as well as impart skills and knowledge,” says Godfrey Sanga, Project Manager, Energy 4 Impact.
  2. 65% of entrepreneurs have no education or only at the primary level. This suggests that the entrepreneur’s skills in record keeping would be lower than expected as they have not learnt the requisite skills at school. Mentoring activities have been altered to assess entrepreneur skills and subsequently provide more support to entrepreneurs on bookkeeping as required. In addition extra time will be devoted to the topic in workshops.
  3. There are few enterprises engaged in briquette manufacture or the selling of solar products. This indicates a greater lack of knowledge and skills in the technology, and limited market opportunities than anticipated. This calls for interventions specifically designed to support entrepreneurs to overcome the barriers to expansion into these technologies. “The lack of solar businesses highlighted the need to encourage diversification of services offered through demonstrating new technologies to entrepreneurs. The WIRE project will do more work with these women to increase their knowledge and skills in solar technology and regulations and help them to acquire certifications and permits that are necessary for their businesses’ growth,” explains Godfrey.
  4. The recruitment exercise revealed that the majority of the businesses are individually owned but in many cases involve members of the same family, particularly a husband and wife, who share different roles in the business. It therefore became increasingly important for the project to ensure that sufficient time was spent on gender sensitisation with the entrepreneurs to challenge stereotypes and promote equality f access to resources, decision making, etc.

Given how the small family businesses are owned and operate, we will engage both women and men in the project by ensuring that women are able to make sound decisions for the business together with their partners. 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,

- says Godfrey.

    5. Although only 100 entrepreneurs have a bank account, 162 have accessed credit facilities. This highlighted the important role that non-bank financial institutions such as savings and cooperative societies, play in rural communities. Going forward, project activities will increasingly focus on these sources of credit for entrepreneurs, rather than banks, which generally have prohibitive lending conditions and a lengthy application process.

During implementation we will do further assessment of the financing needs and provide support to entrepreneurs to enable them to access the finances they require. We will support enterprises when appropriate to approach the financial institutions, open a bank account and apply for loans where viable,

 -says Godfrey.

From our experiences recruiting for the WIRE project it is clear how important it is for implementers to have an open mind and challenge the assumptions made during the design phase as new information becomes available. This will enable projects to have the greatest impact on the beneficiaries it supports whilst improving the assumptions for the design of future projects. Energy 4 Impact is a non-profit organisation that supports local businesses that provide energy access to off-grid communities in Africa.