Over thirty percent of households in Nepal lack access to electricity. Most families utilize kerosene, candles, and traditional biomass to light their homes, cook food, and study. With an unemployment rate of forty-six percent, Nepal’s economy offers limited opportunities for its citizens. Barriers to economic opportunity for Nepalese women are pronounced. Through the sale of reliable and affordable solar lanterns and energy systems, Empower Generation promotes women’s economic empowerment by eradicating energy poverty through autonomous, women-led clean energy businesses.
To document Empower Generation’s social impact in Nepal, we conducted 36 semi-structured qualitative interviews with women entrepreneurs (henceforth solar CEOs), sales agents, and customers across eight districts. Interviews were conducted with an interview script and the help of a translator. Interview questions fostered discussion among solar CEOs about their personal history, the socio-economic impact of their entrepreneurial experience, and their future aspirations. We specifically focused on measuring women’s empowerment, energy access, and the business performance of enterprises in the Empower Generation distribution network. During eight weeks in the field, we took over two thousand photos and filmed seven women entrepreneurs.
Our findings demonstrate how Empower Generation fosters power and economic agency among women, stimulates independent income generation, and provides effective technical training and support. Solar CEOs report an increase in their sense of power and agency on individual, familial, and community levels.
Empower Generation helps solar CEOs to develop their business acumen through training and support, leading to greater confidence in public speaking and in voicing their opinions in local politics. Income generation through sales also increases women’s agency by diminishing women’s dependence on their husband or family for economic support.
Since 2012, 244,418 individuals have increased access to clean and safe lighting from products sold by Empower Generation enterprises. The possession of a solar lantern also provides clean, safe, reliable energy to off-grid consumers. Due to the inefficient and overloaded electric grid, even customers that have access to the grid can be without power for up to 18 hours daily (scheduled blackouts henceforth referred to as load-shedding hours) and find utility from using a solar lantern. Empower Generation has created nearly USD $2.8 million in energy savings for its customers since 2012. Customers also report that their children are able to study an increased 2.5 hours daily, on average, due to possession of a solar lantern.
We provide four recommendations to help Empower Generation better achieve its impact. We recommend that Empower Generation: (1) increase the diversity of its products; (2) maintain a larger inventory—and teach solar CEOs and sales agents to make basic repairs—to circumvent import issues and delays relating to warranty replacement; (3) administer surveys to communities and customers in order to better understand consumer needs and desires; and (4) conduct research and analysis to determine the viability of instituting a pay-as-you-go system in rural communities for use with larger home solar systems.
Hammad, Ashraf; Nguyen, Clarissa; and Girardeau, Hannah, "Empower Generation: Monitoring and Evaluation Report" (2016). Miller Center Fellowship. 63.