Solar Sister

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Overview

Distributing clean energy to the poor using the power of women’s enterprise

 

Overview

Headquarters: Bristol, RI, U.S
Established: 2009
Impact Areas: Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan
Type: Nonprofit/NGO
Energy Sectors:
Business Model Types:
Staff Size: 5 staff, 177 Entrepreneurs in the Solar Sister Entrepreneur Network, and 5 – 10 volunteers
Annual Budget: $274,000
Major Funders: Exxon Mobil, Social Venture Partners Rhode Island, Individual Donations
Awards: 2010: Clinton Global Initiative featured innovator2010: Ashoka Changemaker2010: Women in the World Summit featured participant

2010: Featured in Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World”

2011: Santa Clara Global Social Benefit Incubator, Social Venture Network Innovation Award

ABOUT

Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. Combining the breakthrough potential of solar technology with an Avon-style direct sales network, Solar Sister brings light, hope, and opportunity to even the most remote communities of rural Africa.

 

Energy Products/Services

Target Market

  • Solar Sister targets the 590 million people who live without access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Women comprise 70% of the rural poor living without access to electricity and they hold the purse strings for the daily purchase of off-grid energy which is a $1 trillion annual market.

 

Org Name here

Revenue Streams

  • Sale of energy products
  • Grants and Donations

Value Proposition

  • Solar Sister distributes solar lamps and other clean energy products using an Avon- style direct-sale distribution network of women entrepreneurs.
  • Solar Sister brings affordable, clean energy technology right to the doorstep of the women who are the primary users and consumers of household energy.
  • Solar Sister creates value by providing economic opportunity to women and access to affordable renewable energy to their communities.
  • Unlike product manufacturers who are focused on product technology and manufacturing, Solar Sister is focused on the challenge of the ‘last mile’ distribution and customer service.

Problem Addressed

  • 590 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity.
  • Rural poor women live without access to reliable sources of income

Where They Are Now

Impact to Date

  • 130 entrepreneurs in network
  • Operations in 3 countries
  • 6,040 people provided with clean solar light

Milestones

  • 2010: First Entrepreneur
  • 2010: $200k Startup grant from ExxonMobil Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative Fund
  • 2011: invited to chair UN Foundation “Sustainable energy For All” supply chain and entrepreneurship working group

Growth Plan

  • 2015: 2,500 entrepreneurs in 5 countries providing clean energy to benefit over 2.5 million people
  • 2015: Achieve financial sustainability from earned income generated by sales of clean energy products

How They Deliver

Product Sourcing & Design

  • Solar Sister sources its products from several different manufacturers, working with their local distributors if they have them, such as Barefoot Power Uganda or Ultratech (d.light).
  • They like to offer a variety of products as it is hard to predict which will sell better in different areas.
  • It is possible to equate perceptions of d.Light and Barefoot Power lanterns to Coke and Pepsi in the United States.  Some communities prefer one product, and some another, for seemingly irrational reasons, and often customers from a community will prefer one product because everyone else in that community has chosen it.
  • Solar Sister has found that customers highly value products providing both light and mobile phone charging, but that it is difficult to charge more for brighter lights, as often customers don’t find more brightness necessary.
  • One product Solar Sister believes would be popular but which they have not yet been able to source is a purchasable solar battery recharger.

Distribution

  • Solar Sister distributes its products through 177 entrepreneurs, primarily in Uganda.
  • Solar Sister works with local women’s groups in communities.
  • Solar Sister focuses on women entrepreneurs because women are the primary managers of household energy use and purchase.
  • Solar Sister offers potential entrepreneurs a low-risk trial period to determine if they want to join the Solar Sister network.
  • When entrepreneurs become full members of the network, Solar Sister provides them with a business in a bag, a startup kit of sales and marketing training, technical education, inventory access and ongoing support.
  • Solar Sister sees itself as pioneering distribution R+D, which it sees as a crucial and underinvested element of the BOP energy product supply chain.

Revenue & Affordability

  • Solar Sister doesn’t provide financing for products, though some entrepreneurs take installment payments from their customers.
  • Solar Sister doesn’t encourage entrepreneurs selling on credit because customers often come to expect it and it can slow down an entrepreneur’s turnover since they have to pay for all their products before they receive more.
  • There is a conventional wisdom that customers prefer to pay in small weekly amounts rather than lump sums, (as this more closely mimics the way they pay for kerosene), but Solar Sister has found that at certain times of the year, such as harvest season, customers receive large sums of cash and want to be able to invest it, at which times they prefer to buy upfront

Financing

  • Solar Sister is funded by a combination of grants and donations and earned income from product sales.
  • Over time, as the network scales, the contribution of earned income will increase.
  • The goal is to achieve financial sustainability within 5 years.

Social Impact

  • Solar Sister measures its social impact based on the number of lights sold and the number of solar sisters employed.  Beyond that, it doesn’t keep quantitative measures of their social impact.
  • However, Solar Sister does have many strong anecdotal records of impact, and is currently working with theInternational Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to extrapolate further impact metrics from its sales and employment numbers.

Scaling

  • Solar Sister is expanding through the introduction of new products, as well as geographically within East Africa and to West Africa.
  • Factors in scaling include internal capacity, finding strong partners in scaling regions, and finding funding.
  • Solar Sister is only interested in scaling opportunities where it can make a commitment and has the funding to support it.  It doesn’t want to begin in a place and then have to pull out if funding doesn’t continue.

 

More Resources

Online Resources

Contact Information

P.O. Box 1002
Bristol, RI 02809, USA


(
 +1 224 406 4483
* info@solarsister.org