#ENERGYACCESS The Energy of Women to Develop Africa

Published on Monday, 19 October 2015

"Energy access is not just a poverty issue. All around the world, especially across Africa, it's a woman's issue", said Derrick Hosea, founder of OneLamp, a Ugandan social enterprise that aims to expand access to affordable clean energy by selling and delivering solar lamps to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid, paid for via text messages.

A recent article by The Guardian, published under the editorial partnership with Enel, said that, in developing nations, women have an unequal use of electricity, compared to men. The UN has launched specific sustainable development programmes to be implemented by 2030, but their goals can be achieved only by overcoming the discriminatory barriers between men and women: "Far too many women continue to be discriminated against, subjected to violence and denied equal opportunities in education and employment. If these disparities are not overcome the world cannot achieve sustainable development". This was a particularly strong part of Secretary Ban Ki-moon's speech in New York.

Some 1.1 billion people live without electricity according to World Bank estimates. The children in these families use toxic and costly kerosene lamps to study. A solution for this problem consists in using solar energy lamps that children take to school from home. This is why Enel Green Power and Enel Foundation have created the Powering Education project, which was launched in Kenya in late 2013 and has made available 300 lamps. The head of Powering Education Mauro Ometto said that "in the first stage the lamps have been more or less equally distributed (for free) among boys and girls". And what's most important, the evaluation indexes did not show any gender imbalance as regards school learning. 

12 schools and 350 students in southern Kenya have participated up to now in this project, allowing to find that students who can use a lamp tend to study more at home, with a 17 percent average increase of the time spent studying. Additionally, families whose children were given a solar lamp have reduced expenses, cutting weekly electricity bills by 10-15 percent and devoting a consistent amount of their increased savings to other domestic needs, such as the improvement of hygienic services.

The Powering Education project is one of the first attempts to establish a bond between two key issues regarding sustainable growth in emerging countries: the electrification of rural areas using renewable energy and the promotion of the education level. By associating rigorous impact assessments to the diffusion of solar lamps, the project investigates whether the availability of clean energy sources produces an impact on school performance and family budgets. Launched in September 2013, together with the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum Rome and Nairobi Hubs and in partnership with the Coca-Cola Company, Enel Foundation and the NGO GIVEWATTS, the project has completed its first phase, with results that give evidence for the first time, following a rigorous study, how lighting from renewable sources supports young people's school performance and also produces benefits for their families.

More than 1,100 solar lamps in 70 rural villages have been distributed up to now, granting sustainable and secure access to electricity to over 5,500 people. The second stage of the project will involve some 60 new schools and 2,300 students in the Kisii county, in Western Kenya. This will enable a deeper knowledge of the effects on employment of parents and students, thus gaining further information on the impact of solar energy on families.