Building the Evidence Base for Women’s Empowerment and Entrepreneurship to Improve Energy Interventions’ Effectiveness
Female energy entrepreneurship is one of the clearest methods by which goals for universal energy access and gender parity can advance hand in hand. However, even with modern interventions, women still face many barriers to entry.
How does energy entrepreneurship benefit women and their families? What are the best practices to support women’s entrepreneurship in the energy sector?
This literature review sets out to answer these questions by looking at the existing body of work on expanding energy access through women’s entrepreneurship.
The review found that energy entrepreneurship has a multitude of benefits for women and their communities.
- Higher income: In settings where women often have few opportunities for income-generation, clean energy production and distribution initiatives help them earn money to support their families.
- Increased status in the community and more political power: Increased visibility in the community and enhanced communications and self-confidence often enable women to rise to supervisory or management roles and serve in leadership roles in local community groups and committees.
- Increased decision making power at home: At the family or household level, social norms begin to shift as women are able to contribute to household earnings and, due to increased communication skills and self-confidence, negotiate with their partners and participate in household decision making.
- Increased educational outcomes for children: Children in homes with electricity complete, on average, an extra year of school.
- More adaptable businesses: Investors in businesses that have greater gender diversity have better returns and are able to adapt during times of economic volatility.
Gender-blind initiatives don’t take into account the unique circumstances of women entrepreneurs. The study found several best practices for supporting women entrepreneurs.
- Temper the associated risks: Women with low incomes tend to be risk averse, and for the poorest women, entrepreneurship is just too risky. Technician training prepares them for a job with a steady income, without the capital risk and instability of starting their own business selling clean energy products.
- Create an ongoing support system: Women’s groups provide social, business, and emotional support. They can also promote collective empowerment as women have increased control over community assets and serve as role models for each other.
- Lower the startup cost: Initial access to capital is one of the largest barriers faced by female entrepreneurs attempting to start and expand energy enterprises. Startup capital is critical for female entrepreneurs to purchase initial inventory (such as cookstoves or solar lanterns) or energy provision equipment (such as a solar kiosk).
- Include men in the conversation: There is growing evidence that engaging men in programs targeted towards women can greatly improve the impact of those programs. Since men act as “gatekeepers” to gender equality, they are potential agents of change in challenging established gender norms.
Recommendations from the Report
- Recognize that entrepreneurship may not be the best option for poor women who are not able to take on the associated financial risks. Initiatives that want to target the poorest women should consider business models that reduce risks for individuals and leverage social capital.
- Increase access to financing for energy entrepreneurs, throughout the course of their business development but particularly for initial startup costs.
- Provide targeted coaching and mentoring to women-led businesses that includes access to role models and mechanisms to broaden social networks.
- Involve men in women’s entrepreneurship programming to challenge existing gender norms and legitimizing ideologies.