‘India to gain the most by closing the gender gap’

There is a need to build a model for scale through customer insights, technology and partnership to address the market with women in the centre of the value chain, writes Ajaita Shah, Founder and CEO, Frontier Markets

There exists a crisis of energy access globally. Three billion people around the Globe, and in India 270 million, lack access to reliable, and sufficient energy. While clean energy solutions have helped productivity and safety, there’s only a 5-7 percent penetration in India.

Women are the great-untapped economic resource, representing up to $12 trillion dollars in potential GDP. They are the change makers ready to bring consumer-centric solutions at scale.

Over the last decade, I have personally worked across 5,000 villages in India, witnessing first-hand how rural households suffer from darkness, fear, and instability. Gender equality could have significant impact on rural electrification and livelihood creation in India. Women are disproportionately affected by the negative effects of limited access to energy and have limited-income generating opportunities.

As things currently stand, women generate just 17 percent of India’s GDP. But, according to a recent research, empowering women to participate in India’s economy on an equal basis to men would add a staggering $2.9 trillion to the nation’s economy by 2025. In fact, according to the same research, India, more than any other country in the world, has the most to gain by closing the gender gap. Research shows that women invest 90 percent of their earnings back into their families – that’s money spent on food, healthcare, schooling. There are several women in India who have done big and have excelled as entrepreneurs and have inspired and been role models. What the country needs is more of such women entrepreneur who can drive the economy ahead.

Women are often responsible for many household activities including cooking and household and community energy provision. Without access to modern energy services, women and children can spend most of their day collecting fuel, preventing them from pursuing employment, education, and other opportunities to improve their livelihoods.

There is a need to build a model for scale through customer insights, technology and partnership to address this market with women in the centre of the value-chain. In order to achieve this, it is crucial to bring together the right kinds of capital, and offer financial innovation and partnerships to help support these women.

There is a need to create a circle of influencers but this time, driving solutions – thinking about what the women entrepreneur needs to continue serving her households – is it grant funding for education campaigns or training, or testing a new solution like a solar sewing machine? Is it low-interest loans to invest in more products to stock in her home to serve her households faster, or the social enterprise, who is supporting her ecosystem – is it creating a new impact bond that provides subsidized financial returns for high impact through massive scale, or a new way to promote ownership of the community through grant investing by creating community shareholding structures. All innovative thinking, beyond traditional finance, with all kinds of financial supporters coming together, to build these solutions faster to help us, help our communities more efficiently and sustainably.

We have developed and validated an integrated model where rural households are co-creating products that impact them the most. Our products like TV, which is also solar compatible, plugs the current need gap of what the rural consumer wants versus what the market has to offer. A 20 inch LED full high definition TV with inbuilt free-to-air channels (100 plus TV & FM Radio Channels) with off grid & on grid operation. Easily accessible servicing and less power consumption compared to others televisions, it is the ultimate source information gathering, relaxation, entertainment & education for rural consumers. Likewise, our torch, Solar Rakshak, is designed by and for rural women and has been a major source of income and empowerment for rural consumers. With a one km range, it has received an overwhelming response amongst the farmer community in India. All our products have been designed after building understanding of explicit and latent consumer needs and then delivering products and services to address these needs.

We are building strong women leaders, a voice for consumers. I always feel inspired when I remember what Savitribai (our women entrepreneur from a village in Jhunjhunu) told me. “Thanks to you, I am the change. I see light and a hopeful future for my child.” It’s time to prove that investing in women is smart business and the key to poverty alleviation and scale.

(Read the full energynext article here )

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