About the Authors: Rachel Kastenberg serves as a Senior Advisor for the Secretary of State's Global Partnerships Initiative, and Justin Sosne serves as a Senior Advisor in the Secretary of State's Office of Global Women's Issues.
Most of us in the United States don't think twice when we turn on a light to work late into the night or cook dinner without inhaling dangerous smoke. Yet, these everyday tasks are still out of reach for the estimated 1.3 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity, and the estimated 2.7 billion people without access to clean cooking facilities -- 95 percent of whom are in either sub-Saharan Africa or Asia.
During Women's History Month, it's important to note that women are central to unlocking solutions to the climate change and energy challenges we face. In off-grid communities across the world, women are the primary users of small-scale clean technologies like solar lamps and clean cookstoves. They are at the forefront of increasing technology adoption rates. Women and women's groups, particularly in remote, rural areas, represent largely untapped distribution networks that can help fill the “last mile” gap in the supply chain (connecting a product or service to its end customer). For these reasons, women are in a strong position to sell and distribute small-scale clean technologies.
Directly integrating women into the energy access value chain is not only critical to increasing energy access, but also to economic growth. Investing in women produces a ripple effect that continues into future generations. Research from private firms, the United Nations, World Bank and other sources shows that women use their incomes to create a multiplier effect in local communities because they disproportionately spend more of their earned income on improving the well-being of their families and children. Research also shows that women-owned small and growing businesses are, and will continue to be, a critical driver of economic growth.
To support women entrepreneurs and increased energy access for all, the Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change and Office of Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State have teamed up with USAID, the MacArthur Foundation, the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, CARE International, Solar Sister, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) to form an exciting new public-private partnership called wPOWER (Partnership on Women's Entrepreneurship in Renewables).
This effort currently aims to empower more than 7,000 women clean energy entrepreneurs across India, Nigeria and East Africa to launch small businesses around small-scale energy technologies, including solar lamps and clean cookstoves. wPOWER objectives include:
- Building Clean Technology Markets: Build and strengthen markets for small-scale clean technologies through linking women to economic opportunities and capacity building on energy access.
- Unlocking Women's Potential to Combat Climate Change and Increase Energy Access: Support innovative distribution models that directly integrate women into the energy access value chain, particularly through entrepreneurship opportunities related to “last mile” distribution for technologies such as solar lanterns and clean cookstoves.
- Building Public Awareness: Increase public awareness on the critical role of women in promoting clean energy and combating climate change.
- Building the Evidence Base: Improve data collection on the economic and environmental benefits of integrating women into the energy access value chain.
Through our collective efforts, we will empower marginalized women and communities to increase energy access, while also building local markets, growing economies, and improving livelihoods. Investing in women clean energy entrepreneurs now will pay dividends for years to come.