Florence Babirye lives in the town of Kamuli in Eastern Uganda where she is a self-employed mother of five. Before purchasing Fenix International’s ReadyPay Solar system, Florence worried about her children reading at night, due to the extensive health and safety risks that come with using kerosene for lighting. After investing in the kit, Florence said:It has bright lights that power ‘til morning, plus I’m able to charge phones for myself and my neighbors. I no longer worry about my children reading at night and the general safety that comes with it — health-wise, security.”
ReadyPay Power customers pay as little as $0.19 per day to access power for lighting and phone charging at an entry level, with the option to add more power for larger products such as TVs, radios and cooking stoves. After 24–36 months of payments, customers own the solar home system outright. Based on the credit score customers establish while paying off their power systems, they are able to purchase upgrades to their energy system, energy-efficient appliances, or other life-changing financial products such as loans for school fees. The impact of solar home kits for women like Florence can be transformative.
A woman listens to her Fenix ReadyPay radio in her home. Credit — Fenix International
While the impact of these products can transform the lives of women, women’s investment in these products is transforming the business itself. Fenix recently discovered a striking gender difference with significant business implications — while only 20 percent of its kits are purchased directly by women, Fenix’s female customers bring in more new clients than men through referrals.While men are traditionally the primary decision-makers in many sub-Saharan African off-grid families, Fenix’s data suggests that it is often the women who are pulling the strings and spreading the word about the benefits of solar power. On average, women can be expected to refer four new customers, compared to three for men.
Since first hearing about ReadyPay Solar from an advert on the radio, Florence has so far brought on 55 new customers. “Most of them are women from different community groups that I belong to,” says Florence, “and I’m glad none of them regret this investment.”
One of the women Florence brought on board was Cepilanza Naikoba, whose business was affected due to limited access to energy. Before Cepilanza purchased her solar kit, she felt she had no choice but to close her shop before darkness set in. Now that she has access to a safe and reliable energy source, she feels comfortable to extend her operating hours and, in turn, has witnessed a positive upturn in revenue.
While women represent a big source of demand for rural electrification in sub-Saharan Africa, they also might be slightly better than men at keeping up payments to solar kit providers, based on Fenix’s data.
Women’s roles in their families and communities, as well as their credit risk profile, makes them better ambassadors for the spread of solar power. Their keenness to spread the word also brings its own financial benefits, as all customers receive a small commission for each referral.
From their experience, Fenix believes gender-sensitive companies might do better in the rural electrification market. Energy access programs that are aligned with meaningful income-generating activities and financial management plans can greatly improve quality of life for women. And as Fenix has found, a gender-sensitive approach to energy access programs can be beneficial for everyone involved — as Florence says, “keeping the lights on until morning.”
A Power Africa partner, Fenix International has more than 190,000 ReadyPay Power customers in Uganda and Zambia. Having been recently acquired by global utility ENGIE, Fenix now has even greater scope to bring power and a wider world of financing to millions of customers by 2020.
This article was taken from medium/Power Africa, 29 May 2018