Katherine Lucey found an enlightened solution to a pressing global problem. Solar Sister combines two of Earth’s most abundant resources, solar energy and (wo)man power, to eradicate energy poverty and increase employment with direct solar energy sales.
“What has surprised me is that I have been joined by others to make something much bigger that I originally imagined it could be. I have been lifted up and carried along. SG's "Key to this is the ability to build a sustainable market. 'Giving things away' is not sustainable over the long run, and can destroy the market.” ”
For Katherine Lucey, the solution to the pressing global challenge of energy poverty was all around her. Though 95% of sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to electricity, the region is saturated with strong African sun and people eager to work. By combining the two successfully, Solar Sister is bringing clean energy to hard-to-reach communities, and economic empowerment to her sisters: impoverished women.
Lack of access to electricity is both a cause and an effect of unremitting poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Women spend long hours collecting wood for cooking and heat, and money buying kerosene lanterns and candles for light. These energy sources are inefficient, dangerous, and unhealthy. Kerosene lamps cause fires and can eat up a third of a family’s income; inhaling their fumes is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
Solar Sister draws uses solar technology to build economically viable markets, lifting both families and communities out of poverty.
Solar Sister empowers Women to become bosses of their own sustainable businesses, putting renewable energy into their communities, and money in their pockets. Newly minted entrepreneurs get a "business in a bag," a start-up kit of inventory, training and marketing support. Using an Avon-style distribution system, these women sell solar lamps, cookstoves, and cell phone chargers to their natural networks: family, friends and neighbors.
Money made is reinvested in new inventory, enabling each Sister to operate an ongoing business and earn a sustainable income. Good intentions are surprisingly one of Solar Sister’s biggest challenges. “It can be a problem for our entrepreneurs when a non-profit organization or well meaning individuals give away solar lamps in their community,” says Lucey. “Giving things away is not sustainable over the long run, and can destroy the market.” Solar Sister instead provides communities with tools to sustain their own economic and energy futures.