Changing the Paradigm for Energy Finance and Technology for Women — UN HLFP

Timely access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy services unlocks new opportunities that improve livelihoods, enables businesses to grow, helps generate jobs and creates new markets. It can empower women, impact health, extend educational opportunities, and free up time for more productive activities. With smart development, it can help build the resilience of economies to future change. In short, access to sustainable energy is essential for achieving many of the other SDGs.

Frontier Markets’s Founder & CEO, Ajaita Shah, spoke about the best practices, challenges and solutions in regards to unlocking access to sustainable energy finance and technology. Some excerpts from her speech:

“Frontier Markets has built a model to increase access to clean energy solutions to rural households in India at scale by putting women at the center of the value chain. Our 1,000 women entrepreneurs or Solar Sahelis use their own experiences and challenges due to the lack of reliable electricity to relate to households, and bring solutions to the forefront through marketing, sales, after-sales service and finance.

Training these women and giving them an opportunity to earn income has been the biggest success factor – women understand the need for energy because they deal with realities in every way more than anyone else.

In India, 270 MN people do not have access to 24/7 power, and women are at the center of that challenge. Solar Sahelis have helped over 400,000 households access electricity and earned over $2 MN of income reinvesting that into their families and communities impacting 2.1 MN people. It’s the deepest impact we can strive to achieve.

However, there’s an evolution that requires further intervention. Households are asking for more than lighting, they want power and appliances, they want quick service, they want access to finance to make it happen, and in order scale, we need to invest further in our women. Give them access to digital and technical training, give them access to working capital, and build their skills to manage other entrepreneurs to drive sustainable impact across the value chain. To succeed, we need to change our mindset and understand the investment better. Banks have capital and intent but aren’t structured to provide low interest loans to women without collaterals or credit history.

Investment vehicles have capital but aren’t ready to take the risk for investing.

in women that might face larger challenges or longer time to help household adopt to electricity sustainably. Our experience proves she’s the right investment. We have conducted several pilots with key partnerships with philanthropic organizations, non-profits, and corporate partners testing the outcomes of blended capital, access to mobile phone and Internet, and investing in training- it works!

Our entrepreneurs are now leaders managing new Sahelis, collecting data through mobile phones which includes needs assessments, village information, and monitoring activities on the ground; we provided basic working capital to these women who increased their outreach and conversion by 33%.

We have recently announced an exciting initiative called the Women Prosper Initiative in partnership with Barefoot College, to tackle this in a more systemic way. A disruption of the status quo where ‘for and ‘not for’ profit compete and splinter resources driving two different approaches, neither one, holistically formed to ensure a long term SOLUTION to the lack of energy access and the inclusion and development of women.  Women Prosper deconstructed the solution and brought all the partners together to co design around the barriers stopping women from fully participating in their own economic prosperity. It is grounded in a sound investment in every women that will pay back 20X in the first 5 years…. not only through the sale of renewable energy products but in the building of customer networks, data and linkages that will place HER and US in a position to reach millions with life changing solutions.

Through partnerships with government, non-profits, corporate, investors, and development agencies Women Prosper will build a network of 10,000 women impacting 30 MN people by 2022. The solution for success is accessing a full financial spectrum from Philanthropy to Pure Capital investment and all the various products in between. To align our activities to the RIGHT kind of funding and put together a puzzle that makes sense for every participant. To develop Key Performance Indicators that properly align to each type of funding so that every stakeholder knows what is being delivered and what we are learning. The old paradigms are not working.

Too much duplication and too much splintering of resources all unable to scale quickly or efficiently or without comprehensive impact; it is time to set the bar higher To demand the social behaviour change needed to drive increased energy consumption and move whole communities upwards on the energy spectrum, beyond time, for every household to be fully powered by clean energy sustainably……..

We are calling on partners to bring consumer credit for the unbanked, work with us on smart subsidies, use fin-tech, and state of the art data collection for a new model that will deliver to 70% of the rural market in India.

In this partnership, India is our first area of investment to then build models for replication.

Barefoot College has presence in 96 countries, and through the People Centered Accelerator spearheaded by SE4All, we will be able to collaborate with other organizations keen to replicate this model in their countries focused on Asia and Africa.

Join our movement to prove that investing in women is smart business and the key to poverty alleviate at scale, and truly leaning no one behind.

Thank you.”

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