Solar Sister is an African social enterprise that trains and supports women in building businesses centered around delivering clean energy to homes in rural African “last-mile” communities. Headquartered in the U.S., Solar Sister has operations in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Kenya. Solar Sister empowers women by providing them with the opportunity to achieve economic self-sufficiency. The Solar Sister team recruits, trains, and supports women entrepreneurs and supplies them with durable, affordable solar-powered products (solar lamps, mobile phone chargers, and fuel efficient cook stoves), which they then sell directly to people in their communities without power. Entrepreneurs make an initial investment in inventory, the proceeds from which are further invested by Solar Sister to expand program reach and local capacity. Product purchases and donations make up the majority of Solar Sister’s revenues, with the remainder supplemented by grants.
Theory of Change
Empowering women through economic opportunities in the clean energy field helps develop gender equity, alleviate poverty, and improve health safety in their communities, all the while contributing to climate justice.
Solar Sister utilizes a local, grassroots business model that is structured and scalable with a culture of continuous improvement. Solar Sister staff provide training and business support services to entrepreneurs. The 12-month training curriculum covers business skills like networking, marketing, record-keeping, leadership, and goal-setting. Entrepreneurs also learn about clean energy and the variety of products that Solar Sister offers. At the core of Solar Sister’s model is an Avon-style “business in a bag” that is tailored to provide women entrepreneurs with the items they need to build and scale their businesses. The kit provided to Solar Sister entrepreneurs includes branded clothing, posters, and stickers, a receipt book, an accounting purse, and product brochures. After the formal training period, Solar Sister staff continue to mentor entrepreneurs, providing on-demand support and assistance with product distribution.
To date, Solar Sister has empowered nearly 9,500 entrepreneurs in building clean energy businesses. 4.3 million people have been reached by Solar Sister clean energy products, with over 2.3 million in Tanzania and over 1.1 million in Nigeria. 1.1 million tons of CO2 emissions have been mitigated thanks to Solar Sister products, and over $300 million USD of economic benefits have been generated in off-grid communities. The average Solar Sister customer saves $204 USD on kerosene per solar light, and 14,000 customers have started their own businesses thanks to their access to solar products. In 2017, the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University conducted an action research study considering the social and material impact of Solar Sister’s model on customers; the study found that Solar Sister’s model not only improves women’s household income but also has positive impacts on health, education, and women’s status and control over resources. Ninety-two percent of Solar Sister entrepreneurs report increased control over household decisions, 96% feel more respected in the household, 82% report that someone views them as a role model, and 41% report using profits to support another existing business.