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Solar Sister wants to light up rural Africa

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(Read caption) Startup group Solar Sister is a 'business in a bag' working in several African countries to bring affordable lighting to families.

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One-year-old start up Solar Sister is using cosmetics company AVON's model to distribute solar energy in Uganda, Sudan, and Rwanda. To learn more about the “business in a bag” model that's giving rural African women an income and a renewable light source, Dowser spoke to Katherine Lucey, Solar Sister's founder.

What was the problem you saw and how could you fill that need in a unique way?

Lucey: Problem: Gender-based technology gap in rural Africa. When I was doing work for a nonprofit that was installing solar energy in schools, clinics, and rural homes, the maintenance of the project, the adaptation of the solar wasn’t very good because we’d return a year later and find that 50 percent of the systems were not functioning. It was a very high fail rate.

In rural Uganda, where 95 percent of the homes don’t have electricity, solar technology is a distributable energy source; so, it’s a very good solution to clean rural energy or actually, rural energy period. It just happens to be clean as well.

Also, the technology that we were using – the solar panel, the PVC, etc., was very "techie" and we were in homes where there was no technology. So, the women didn’t have a comfort zone with the technology that we were bringing into their home.

We realized that the women are responsible for the solar panel – it’s a household utility. So, there’s a gender gap there for technology. And that’s not specific to Uganda. It’s an issue here at home as well when you look at the gender ratio in science and math. It leans towards men.


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