Placing Women at the Center of the Value Chain: Empowering Rural Women for Income Generation
Frontier Markets has built a proven and scalable model with a network of 1000 women entrepreneurs (Solar Sahelis) that are trained and access technology, marketing, and technical repair, to provide innovative solar solutions to sell to rural households. Solar Sahelis have earned $2 MN of income by capturing customer insights, and selling products like solar home systems, clean cookstoves, and renewable energy appliances to 400,000 agri households in Rajasthan. They have also helped develop innovations like solar TVs with built-in cable for under $200, solar poultry devices, and induction stoves. Solar Sahelis’ consumer insights drive Frontier Markets’s product selection and overall business model. This played a pivotal role helping Frontier Markets become the first energy access company to break-even financially in 2017.
A Solar Saheli is first selected through Frontier Markets' partnerships with local NGOs with well-established self-help groups for women. There is one Salheli for each rural village, covering an average of 100 households. The Saheli reports directly to a Frontier Markets' trained Program Manager based at the NGO office, who oversees approximately 20-30 Sahelis.
LAST MILE IMPACT
Creating a role of power for women - Most Sahelis are in their 30s. They are married very young and have 3-5 teenage aged children. They have never been allowed out of their home or to speak in public. Sahelis have worked with local NGOs as part of self-help groups, so they have been exposed to programs that are meant to instil improved self-esteem. The Saheli network is their first opportunity to generate meaningful income. They exude confidence and pride, and are earning respect of their husbands and communities.
Educating the larger communities - They become very knowledgeable about solar energy products and are educating their villages about solar power products and increasing access to clean energy in rural villages.
Improving their children’s education and lives - They are for the first time in a position of power and are making decisions about how to spend this income, which they largely spend on an improved education for their children. Further, they are stopping their own daughters from marrying very young, as they have enough earnings to have a say in this decision.
Technology – Sahelis are using technology to drive further efficiencies in our model,whether it’s distribution management, data collection, sales tracking, or monitoring the overall program. India is becoming more and more digital, and these women are in the center of this transformation.
Financial inclusion – By drawing capital for our Sahelis, we are leveraging consumer finance, which creates the ability to invest in products for rural households. This drives the overall reach and addresses barriers for Solar Sahelis to have products available in local markets and also create affordability for end consumers.
MEET OUR SOLAR SAHELIS
“My brother-in-laws are giving me respect which I didn’t use to get. I met with the Chief Minister of Rajasthan and when I told this to my mother-in-law, she was very happy that someone from their family got to meet the Chief Minister, which they never thought would be possible. Beforehand, my mother-in-law used to say I didn’t know how to do anything right— how to eat, how to act, how to dress. But now my mother in law is saying her daughter-in-law has become independent and is a class apart from all the other women in the village.”
“My confidence has increased very much, and my respect has increased in society. My family doesn’t stop me anymore and initially they used to stop me. Why? Because everyone in society knows what I am doing, because of this I can talk to anyone. I don’t hesitate in selling because my products are so good that I can tell people a thousand different ways the product can be used. There are so many changes in my life. I no longer fear going anywhere.”
Guddi, Nangla Darwesha
“I now know the nitty gritties of talking to a customer, and understand the importance of clean energy and efficient solutions in our lives, which aides me in promoting and selling products. One day, some guests were at my home and suddenly the lights went out in the entire village. I quickly switched on my Solar powered home lighting system, and lit up my house. When asked whether the power cut was so short, I proudly told the guests that I am a Solar Saheli and the light is from my own solar powered system.”
“I have created a vast difference in the scenario in which I was nurtured and how my children have grown. I wanted to create a difference in their lives, and Frontier markets has shown me that path now. At the age of 9, even my younger son can tell the benefits of solar lights in front of customers. Also looking at my entrepreneurship skills, I have also been approached by other cosmetic companies to sell their products.”