Solar Sister is the Partner of the Month of March! In this interview, the Country Manager, Olasimbo Sojinrin shares their activities in the clean cookstoves sector.
Give us a brief introduction about your organization
Solar Sister is an innovative social enterprise eradicating energy poverty by combining women power with green power. We combine the breakthrough potential of life transforming clean energy technologies with direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to even the remotest communities in Africa. We thus create a ripple effect of increased households savings, improved health, better education opportunities, thriving small businesses and women who are confidant, strong and are role models in their communities.
What does your organization seek to achieve in Nigeria’s cooking energy market?
Our organisation seeks to be in the frontline driving the complete adoption of clean energy in Nigeria’s cooking energy market. We also want to be globally recognized as a major driver to Nigeria’s cooking energy enterprise value chain by 2025. We hope to achieve this by working through our Solar Sister entrepreneurs to distribute clean and standard cookstoves to households currently using traditional cookstoves.
Can you tell us about your clean cooking activities including your achievements?
Our clean cooking activities starts from recruiting, training and supporting a network of women entrepreneurs committed to the vision of tackling Africa’s energy poverty. In terms of our achievements, we have over 1000 women entrepreneurs who have provided clean cooking solutions to tens of thousands of households using our business model. Our Solar Sister entrepreneurs have all switched to using clean cookstoves, this experience puts them in the best position to market the cookstoves using personal testimonies.
What are your biggest challenges in implementing your clean cooking activities?
Some of the challenges we face cut across the chain of our business model. Access to finance/credit has been a major challenge as entrepreneurs sign up with a minimum start-up capital. With the Solar Sister no credit framework, entrepreneurs have to save up to purchase products. Achieving this feat to a 100% has been challenging especially because of the prolonged economic recession that has increased the financial constraints of potential women entrepreneurs. Just like any other new technology, to have high adoption rate of clean cookstoves in Nigeria, there is need for massive education and awareness campaigns. Unfortunately poor government interest and intervention has not helped the very limited knowledge of people about clean cooking solutions as people are yet to fully appreciate the benefits of clean cooking over the traditional cookstoves. This is one of our biggest challenges.
What are the opportunities identified in the country that can support the growth of your clean cooking activities?
Some of the opportunities that can support the growth of our clean cooking activities is the fact that there is over 25% increase awareness and acceptance of the health dangers of traditional cookstoves by rural dwellers. There is a scale up participation and involvement of the government since 2014 in interventions on access to clean energy and an implementation strategy to integrate women as drivers of community distribution of clean cooking solutions. There is also an increase in locally made clean cookstoves that ensure availability and affordability and a noticeable shift in lifestyle of urban/sub-urban mothers to recognize the need of having an alternative fuel source other that the LPG, which gives opportunity for creating awareness on clean cookstoves.
How are consumers reacting to your clean cooking activities – benefits of your clean cooking activities to the consumers?
Consumers are excited using our clean cookstoves. They are now more informed as we educate them and teach them how to use the cookstoves. The consumers remarks that by simple calculations it is clear that making a switch from traditional cookstoves to clean cookstoves saves more money and improves their health.
Job creation and the empowerment of women seem to be increasingly important. How do your clean cooking activities help drive employment generation and the empowerment of women?
As the primary consumers of household energy, women are critical to the successful adoption of clean cookstoves. We believe that investing in women is thus a prerequisite for large-scale adoption of clean energy technologies at a grassroots level. Our clean cooking activities is anchored on combining the potential of clean cookstoves with a deliberately woman-centered clean energy entrepreneurship that ensures sustainable businesses, powered by smart investment in women entrepreneurs. We know that when a woman is economically empowered she spend the resources on her entire family. We have testimonials of Solar Sister entrepreneurs that have not only grown the family income but have also experienced the ripple effects of the technology. Our entrepreneurs have also been empowered to get better education and health care for the family. Some of such stories are published on our website www.solarsister.org
If you are asked to advise the federal government of Nigeria on policy options, what are the three most important things the government can do to expand the clean cookstoves market?
To expand the clean cookstoves market, the government should develop and drive implementable policies and structures that enables and encourages large scale indigenous cookstove production to meet and compete with other clean cookstoves in the global market. The government should establish renewable/clean energy entrepreneurship centres with private sector alliances that will support high percentage of women involvement in research & development. Finally, the government should refrain from un-sustainable interventions such as giving clean cookstoves to citizens at a zero cost or highly subsidized rates as this will reduce the perceived value of the cookstoves.
If an enabling environment is not created by government, what future risks do you envisage?
If an enabling environment is not created by the government, there will be increased public health issues, more deaths will result from diseases associated with Indoor Air Pollution. More so, there will be a loss of a national economic opportunity as clean cookstoves contribute to our GDP. Finally, there will be high importation of clean cookstoves and this will expose Nigeria to sub-standard cookstoves.
What are your suggestions for moving the cooking energy market forward in Nigeria?
To move the clean cooking energy market forward, there should be more consumer engagement activities such as awareness and education on the adoption of cleaner cooking as this will increase the demand for clean cook stoves. There should be more integration and involvement of women as target drivers to this positive climate factor. We should ensure standardization of clean cookstoves so that only quality stoves will be in Nigerian market. This will minimize the risk of consumers reverting to the use of traditional cookstoves.
Is there any other thing you would like to share?
Solar Sister is an exceptional gender based organization formed with the exclusive mission to build an Africa wide network of women clean energy entrepreneurs. As the primary consumers of household energy, women are critical to the successful adaptation of clean energy technology solutions. We believe that investing in women is thus a prerequisite for large-scale adoption of clean energy technologies at a grassroots level. It is this gender inclusive systems approach combined with an enterprise-based model to bring a sustainable livelihood opportunity to address energy poverty that makes us unique. Solar Sister provides a scalable solution to build a bottom up green economy to spread light, hope and opportunity.