A recent evaluation study examining the effectiveness of Energy 4 Impact’s Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) project in rural Senegal, reveals increased business acumen and confidence among trained women entrepreneurs, as well as increased awareness of clean energy products and their benefits among the local populations. However, more needs to be done to build last mile energy markets.
The evaluation study, Energy Opportunities for Women in Senegal, was undertaken at the end of the ENERGIA-funded three-year project, which aimed to improve livelihoods, incomes and employment in rural areas in Senegal by supporting 160 women entrepreneurs engaged in both expanding energy access and productive use of energy. In addition to looking at the project’s impact on the mentored micro and small women owned enterprises, it also sought to investigate the impact of the interventions on indirect beneficiaries, such as end users of energy products in rural areas.
The study examined the project’s impact on women entrepreneurs’ business skills, including their understanding of business terminology, quality of record keeping, use of financial services, women’s ability to access credit, participation in business networks, communications skills, decision making and business autonomy. It also investigated the project’s impact on women entrepreneurs’ empowerment through indicators such as their involvement in decisions on household purchases and investments, healthcare decisions, and confidence in social and business situations.
With respect to the end users, the study looked at how the use of energy technologies, improved cookstoves or solar lamps has altered household dynamics. It also examined local communities’ knowledge on energy products offered by the project.
The findings show that the project’s interventions have played a major role in increasing women entrepreneurs’ overall confidence and business acumen. Most of the respondents expressed high levels of confidence in speaking in public, overcoming business problems, setting goals and working towards them, and acquiring new clients. They also expressed a willingness to share knowledge and support other entrepreneurs. Of the women entrepreneurs interviewed, 43% regarded marketing advice and market awareness activities as most beneficial to their businesses. A third of the entrepreneurs listed the support in accessing renewable energy products, pricing and financing, as very important for their enterprises. They also expressed the desire for further support in these areas.
Furthermore, the study also recorded greater decision-making autonomy among women entrepreneurs within the household. A higher percentage of married women entrepreneurs (37%) are involved in making decisions especially on health, investments and household spending, compared to other married women who did not participate in the project (22%).
Over the course of the project, community-level gender training was offered to emphasise the crucial role that women play as both energy users and providers. The majority of those who attended the training sessions (89%) said that they were more aware of women’s energy needs, of the role they can play in the energy sector and of the benefits that their active participation in the sector can bring. This suggests that a shift in household dynamics, combined with gender sensitisation can somehow influence people’s perception of gender roles.
As a result of intensive product awareness campaigns, undertaken by Energy 4 Impact in target areas, the study recorded increased knowledge among the population of the benefits of products offered by women entrepreneurs. Respondents in areas where the project is active had a more rounded understanding of the benefits of solar lamps, citing environmental, cost advantage, and reliability, in addition to ‘absence of grid power’, as reasons for solar lamps’ acquisition. Similarly, customers were more aware of the key benefits of improved cookstoves, citing cooking time, fuel efficiency, health benefits/decreased level of pollution, as their main motivation for purchasing the product. Increased willingness to purchase a solar lamp (11%) and a cookstove (95%) was also recorded.
In addition, half of non-users of the solar lamps or improved cookstoves in areas where the project is active were found to know where these products can be purchased, compared to less than 5% of respondents in areas not targeted by the campaigns.
says Abdoul Dosso, Energy 4 Impact’s Project Manager.
During the study a number of stakeholders (entrepreneurs, customers, suppliers, micro-finance institutions) were asked to make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of future project’s strategies. Suggestions were made regarding possible solutions to improve the availability and affordability of energy products, including increasing the range of products and pricing on offer; establishing suitable financing mechanisms (pay-as-you-go for example); advocating for tax relief for imported clean energy products or incentives for locally produced ones .
says Nicola Benigni, Energy 4 Impact’s M&E Data Analyst.
Other recommendations include, engaging more suppliers of the energy technologies to increase competition. This will also give women entrepreneurs more choice about which products they sell and from whom to purchase them. Other suggestions include strengthening women's capacity to become manufacturers of efficient cookstoves while reducing their reliance on imported products; supporting entrepreneurs to develop new routes to the market, for example through the promotion of solar lamps in schools; expanding the focus of future interventions to other poor regions of Senegal; and finally continuing to provide gender sensitisation and women’s empowerment support as a way of achieving greater social and economic impact.