Solar Sister Seeks to Light Up Africa

Solar Sister Seeks to Light Up Africa

New organization Solar Sister is empowering women in rural Africa to star their own solar lamp businesses.  Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/22146904@N04/4260762246/in/photostream/">IvanClow (flickr)</a>
New organization Solar Sister is empowering women in rural Africa to star their own solar lamp businesses. Photo: IvanClow (flickr)

A new organization seeks to light up the night in rural Africa by putting a twist on an all-American idea: the Avon lady.

Night in rural Africa is a night much darker than that to which the developed world is accustomed, as many communities lack electricity. In rural Uganda, the number is as high as 95 percent, as Katherine Lucey told Dowser.org. Without electric light, people must rely upon kerosene lamps, which are expensive and belch toxic fumes.

These create a bevy of problems, especially for women. Girls are often expected to help with chores when they return home from school and don’t have time to do homework until after dark. Either they sit inhaling fumes and burning up cash with the family’s kerosene lamp, or in many cases, they simply don’t study at all. Solar lamps solve this problem by extending the work day.

For years, Africans have had a big problem with solar power: it breaks. In an interview with Dowser.org, Solar Sister founder, Katherine Lucey, said that in her previous work with a nonprofit, the solar systems they installed in rural areas had a 50 percent rate of failure after just one year. Traditional solar power can be a hard sell for poor communities — it saves money in the long run, but it's pricey at first, and many solar panels often fall apart over time due to improper maintenance. The new lamps that Solar Sister uses are small, portable, and don’t require technological know-how to use — you simply place the lamp outside during the day, it absorbs the sun’s rays, and when night falls you turn it on.

Solar Sister uses a microconsignment model, meaning that its entrepreneurs don’t pay for their lamps until they actually sell them. If they can’t sell the lamps or decide they don’t want to, they can return them to the organization without loosing any money. It’s a low-risk endeavor that has so far empowered 107 women in Uganda, Ghana, and Sudan. Normally, these women wouldn’t have had enough money to create a business.

The lamps range from $15 to $50 at first, a large investment for most families. But, an average family spends about $2 a week on kerosene, so a family could save up to $85 a year just by buying a lamp, says TriplePundit. Solar Sister estimates that its entrepreneurs can actually double their households’ incomes while decreasing their household expenses by 30 percent. Some of the lamps can even act as cell-phone chargers. Not only can women with these lamps charge their own family’s phones; they often bring in extra money by charging neighbors’ phones. Otherwise, they’re left to travel to nearby cities whenever a phone goes dead.

The women who participate in Solar Sister can seem pretty ecstatic about their new businesses, as you can see in this clip below of Viola, one of the women selling solar lamps in eastern Uganda.

Solar Sister currently operates in Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan, and hopes to shine a light on other parts of Africa soon.

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