Katherine Lucey

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With an estimated 74% of the Ugandan population living without access to electricity, a former finance businesswoman from Georgia, USA, has set out to empower the women of these rural communities by creating access to safer, cleaner and much more affordable energy – simultaneously helping them to earn a steady income and support their families.

With an estimated 600 million people living in Africa today without a reliable source of electricity, here at IndustrySA, we have featured numerous innovative energy efficient solutions that have helped to solve and reduce the effects of this increasingly prominent issue.

In an effort to bring hope to rural communities so severely affected by these electricity shortages, Katherine Lucey, Founder and CEO of Solar Sister, has been empowering hundreds of women living in these locations with economic opportunity and stability, not to mention an effective and much needed source of energy.

Born and raised in Georgia, USA, Katherine Lucey has a strong head for business, finance and problem solving – but perhaps most importantly, a true sense of empathy.

Starting out and enjoying a hugely successful career in finance, almost two decades later, Lucey became involved in Solar Light for Africa, helping with the installation of solar energy in village homes, schools and clinics across Uganda. Following this humble change of career, Lucey set up Solar Sister in 2009.

In June this year, Lucey was honoured at the World Economic Forum held in Cape Town, with the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, naming her Social Entrepreneur of the Year. Recognised for leading Solar Sister’s success in its attempts to improve health education, safety and economic prospects amongst the rural communities.

Since 2010, Solar Sister has trained more than 1,500 Solar Sisters in Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria, subsequently impacting on more than 250,000 lives.

SOLAR SISTERS

The way in which Lucey has pitched and implemented this idea focuses on women and the power they hold in every community. For this reason, they are now at the centre of Lucey’s strategy in addressing and advancing the increasing need for renewable energy solutions across rural areas, primarily focusing on Uganda. Helping to provide women with a true purpose, they are given complete control over the solar products – promoting, selling and ongoing maintenance services – it ensures they are invested in the success of Solar Sister and receive a commission in return.

Using a micro-consignment model, the women – chosen by their representative communities – are provided with an opportunity to become micro-entrepreneurs, further enhancing the success of the company and of Lucey’s vision. Empowering these women, encouraging them to become the distributors and consumers within the market and giving them a purpose to help and make a significant difference will, long-term, tackle the issues surrounding energy poverty in rural areas.

PORTABLE SOLAR TECHNOLOGY

Speaking to CNN, Lucey explains: “Women are the ones who walk miles to cut the wood; women are the ones who go to markets to buy kerosene – so if we wanted to make the change that someone would say ‘well, I’ll quit the kerosene, I’m going to buy a solar lamp and use cleaner technology,’ then it had to be the person who was in charge of making that decision and that’s the women.”

Due to the privatisation of electricity generation in Uganda, maximised profit margins have led to exponentially high tariffs – placing Uganda as one of the highest power tariffs in the world. With 74% of households now living without access to electricity in the country, these high tariffs have left low to middle income classes without this fundamentally important amenity.

Speaking to CNN, Lucey explained: “You really can’t raise up above subsistence living if you don’t have light, electricity and energy. And when you do have it, it’s just tremendous what people are able to accomplish and the impact it has on people’s lives: children can study more and go to school, women can start businesses and are able to provide for their families.”

“There’s not enough philanthropy in the world to solve this problem. A third of the world population doesn’t have access to electricity — it’s not going to be solved by philanthropy, it’s going to be solved by some kind of market mechanism where people have access to this product … and purchase as they need it.”

Lucey’s ultimate goal is to make women an integral part of the clean energy value chain across Africa – each Solar Sister receives a start-up kit of the portable solar technology which they can take and deliver to customers.

At a tenth of the cost of solar home systems, customers will benefit hugely from Lucey’s strategy, helping them to enjoy longer working hours, better savings, more comfortable working conditions and extended study time for their children.

Currently serving on the UN Foundation initiative the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and co-chair of the Supply Chain and Entrepreneurship Committee of the Sustainable Energy for All Practitioner Network, in 2011 Lucey was also awarded an Innovation Award and a Global Social Benefit Incubator Fellow at Santa Clara University Center for Science and Technology.

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