ENERGIA participates in successful SEforALL Forum, recognizing women entrepreneurs from Africa and Asia

In early April, ENERGIA joined over 1,000 other leaders in government, business and civil society who gathered at the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) Forum in New York City to push for greater urgency and action in achieving universal access to clean, affordable energy.

Sustainable Development Goals

This year’s forum, occurring 18 months after the adoption of the SDGs, served a critical purpose in gauging progress on SDG 7 – SEforALL’s target to reach universal access to energy by 2030.

With recent reports indicating that at the current rate 780 million people are estimated to remain without access to electricity and 2.3 billion without clean cooking facilities by 2030, there was a sense of urgency in the “Further, Faster – Together” tagline which also resonated throughout the panel discussions over the three days.

Sustainable Energy Solutions

Panelists offered many plausible solutions to the call to action. Popular themes included new financing models, scaling and leveraging impact, securing dynamic partnerships, communicating clearly to funders and governments, and the importance of targeting the “most behind first” when implementing climate action and sustainable energy programs.

ENERGIA and partners played a particularly important role in communicating the fact that energy access goals are inextricably linked to gender equality goals.

(To read more about the way women in the last mile can gain access to electricity while earning an income, click here.)

On Tuesday afternoon, ENERGIA’s Programme Coordinator Soma Dutta participated in a UNDP-led discussion on the crossover between energy, climate and development goals and how important energy sector transformation will be in order to reach climate change targets. Soma spoke about the various roadblocks that prevent energy access programs from reaching ten times the amount of people they currently reach. She highlighted one particular trend: of investors who prioritize funding large renewable energy programs over small-scale iterations. Soma underlined that neglecting these smaller programs is slowing down universal access to energy, while also disproportionately affecting women.

Soma then moderated an ENERGIA-led session that discussed how women-centric businesses can contribute significantly to scaling up energy access. Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves’ Radha Muthia spoke about the issue of poor quality clean-energy products infiltrating the market, which standards bodies should eradicate through monitoring and the implementation of a seal of approval. She also spoke about the need for governments to support better quality products through subsidies and preferential interest rates. The panel then heard from the female business owners in the audience, who unanimously agreed that a lack of distribution to the last mile was one of the main roadblocks for their businesses. W-Power’s Linda Davis stressed the importance of working together to access larger pools of funding and solve these transportation issues through new financing models.

On Wednesday, the third and last day, the Forum focused on ‘Seizing the energy access dividend’. ENERGIA and partners were involved in several panels and sessions during this day, stressing the importance of gender inclusion. On the main stage, Mary Robinson led a panel on ‘Leaving No One Behind’. She opened the conversation by stressing the need to devise innovative strategies to provide the poor with sustainable energy services. ENERGIA’s International Coordinator Sheila Oparaocha spoke about the possibility of implementing sustainable energy programs through gender empowerment, transformative policies and partnerships. She also spoke about an integrated approach to growing a business. She pointed out that financing should be paired with mentorship, coaching and leadership training. Building leadership qualities and business skills can be a catalyst for a women entrepreneur in securing a loan.

Women Entrepreneurship Award

An undoubted highlight of the three-day forum was the participation of ENERGIA’s Women Entrepreneurship Award winners. These five extraordinary women, travelling from Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Senegal and Tanzania for the event, were each awarded 1,000 Euros from ENERGIA to invest in their sustainable energy business for having successfully run a profit over the last year and having become real change agents and leaders in their communities. (Read more about the Women Entrepreneurship Award winners here.)

The entrepreneurs were involved in a number of panels, Facebook Live videos and press conferences at the forum. They brought a refreshingly practical perspective to the high-level discussions and underlined the need to recognize and support women energy entrepreneurs. They also reminded the participants of the importance of adding a gender lens to sustainable energy and access discussions.

In 18 months I have distributed 7,000 stoves. With recognition, in the next four years, we can reach nearly 35,000 people. For us, women entrepreneurs working in the last mile, training, access to finance and to markets are crucial.

Niru Shrestha, ENERGIA Women Entrepreneurship Award winner in Nepal

The third and final day ended on an invigorating note, with the announcement of SEforALL’s People-Centered-Accelerator to advance gender quality, social inclusion and women’s empowerment in sustainable energy. As part of the panel speaking about women’s empowerment — with ten out of 11 panel participants women — Mary Robinson emphasised the importance of the People-Centered-Accelerator, believing it should influence every other SEforALL accelerator. Sheila Oparaocha spoke about the need to change the narrative on gender; to show others how central it is to achieving sustainable energy goals.

Finally, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, H.E Peter Thompson was invited to the stage.  He called on all participants to prioritize faster and more inclusive action on affordable and clean energy, naming it one of the greatest challenges of our time.

ENERGIA, alongside its partners, will continue to push for projects, programs and policies that explicitly address gender issues and contribute to successfully achieving universal energy access in the year 2030 and beyond.