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Blog Post 9 November 2021

Enhancing access to renewable energy for women

On Tuesday 9 November, as a key part of the UK’s commitment to an inclusive COP26, delegates will address not only the ways in which women, girls and marginalised people are disproportionately impacted by climate change, but also the importance of their leadership and participation in driving solutions.

Through working collaboratively, governments, civil society and businesses can advance gender equality in climate action and finance, helping us to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Levelling the playing field

Access to affordable and clean energy and gender equality are two of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals that go hand in hand. There has been good progress towards the first of these, with the number of people without access to electricity falling from 1.2 billion in 2010 to 759 million in 2019. However, despite this progress, women are less likely to benefit from improved energy access.

Empowering women to work in the off-grid appliance sectors can help improve gender equality in energy access. According to ENERGIA, female innovators are more likely to access hard-to-reach and female-led households. Specifically targeting these households will improve both energy access and gender equality. 

We take a closer look at two projects that won funding from the Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund, managed by Energy Saving Trust and funded by UK aid and the IKEA Foundation, which will help level the playing field while addressing the climate emergency, and enhance access to renewable energy for women, girls and other vulnerable groups.

Ensuring access to affordable health technology

Social enterprise Neopenda’s mission is to bring innovative health technology products to underserved populations in an impactful and sustainable way. The company’s project will pilot an affordable and wireless vital signs technology in low-resource health facilities in East Africa. The neoGuard technology will monitor essential body functions of critically ill newborns, such as temperature and pulse rate. This will help increase the survival rate of newborn babies.

Neopenda aims to make this technology affordable, wireless and energy efficient, making it accessible for rural health facilities.

In an interview with Efficiency for Access, Neopenda CEO and co-founder, Sona Shah, spoke about her experience as a woman working in the energy access sector. She said: “There have been challenges and opportunities associated with being a female CEO. I have received condescending, and sometimes wildly inappropriate advice related to fundraising, particularly from investors.

“Fortunately, this is not a regular occurrence. I am deeply inspired every day by our incredibly diverse team, the users we serve and fellow female CEOs who are making progress in a largely male-dominated field.

“I expect the challenges will persist, but I am confident we will one day get to gender equality. The question will become more about the challenges we face in making a difference in the world.”

Helping smallholder farmers in Malawi

Malawi-based, locally owned business Wala also received funding from the Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund. Wala’s project will pilot a holistic support solution that will distribute high-quality solar irrigation equipment to smallholder farmers in Malawi. It will also help the farmers access soft loans from local cooperatives for farm inputs and the solar irrigation equipment.

Wala will provide training to ensure farmers are confident in using and maintaining the irrigation system. The organisation will also teach good agricultural practice and new business skills, helping farmers increase their crop yields and increase their income.

Speaking to Efficiency for Access, founder and CEO of Wala, Priscilla Sani-Chimwele, offered her advice to other women considering a career in the energy access. She said: “There is nothing that a woman cannot do. Although energy can appear very technical, you do not need to be an expert to work in the sector. My background is project design, management and strategy and I collaborate with technical experts.

“That being said, it’s important to equip yourself with the right tools and educate yourself. There are plenty of free courses online, which will equip you with the skills you need to succeed. It also helps you identify where the gaps are and what you can add to the sector.

“You will be surprised how many people are willing to work with you, partnerships are very important. Now, whenever there is a need we collaborate and put our resources together.”

Head to our Climate talk at COP26 hub to keep up to date with the latest news and announcements from the climate conference.

Header image credit: Shell Foundation

Last updated: 9 November 2021