CleanTechnica has covered Solar Sister in the past, though an organization like this goes through many phases, as the CEO shared with me. Read on for the latest on this super non-profit.
After hearing a presentation on Solar Sister at a Women in Climate Tech webinar earlier this year, I had to know more. I reached out to CEO Katherine Lucey to find out about how things are going within the organization, given they recently surpassed a decade in operation.
A Brief Intro To Solar Sister
Solar Sister entrepreneurs (women in rural communities around the world) buy their solar-powered lights and clean cook stoves from Solar Sister. They then sell and deliver them to their families, friends, and neighbors. Solar Sister provides essential services and training that enable these women entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses in their own communities. Solar Sister’s goal is to support women and to bring energy (specifically clean energy – yay!) to rural areas that really need it, making a massive impact on both the environment and the people they work with.
A Chat With The CEO
Lucey says Solar Sister has transitioned to a third phase as it rounds the corner on the decade mark. It isn’t the shiny, new startup it was in the early days. The second phase was mostly about putting their heads down, learning the ins and outs of their projects, getting to know what works and what doesn’t, and homing in on what they do well to make a difference in the lives of their entrepreneurs. Ten years in, this next phase is all about growth and new partnerships. Along with doing what it does best (meeting female entrepreneurs where they are, building business skills, and providing ongoing training), Solar Sister is taking a big breath and reaching deep to see how it can expand.
The organization knows “pivots are popular,” according to Lucey, but that’s not necessary for Solar Sister at this point. Its model is simple: it focuses on energy access as its overarching and guiding principle, and it is fulfilling a genuine need that exists (clean cook stoves and solar-powered lights in rural communities). The demand is there, and it is passionate about empowering women to use this demand as an entrepreneurial opportunity.
Next Up for Solar Sister
The key phrase moving forward is “expanding impact.” Its goal is to reach 10,000 women with entrepreneurship opportunities. The company is at approximately five thousand women now, and is also in the process of extending its reach to even more countries across the globe. These are ambitious goals, but seeing how even a pandemic couldn’t keep Solar Sister down, they are encouraged and optimistic. Additionally, Solar Sister is looking to create new partnerships, and share best practices with other organizations to expand its impact even further.
What’s behind this motivation and optimism? Lucey says she’s consistently inspired by their women entrepreneurs and the incredible work they are doing. For example, Helena joined Solar Sister mid-pandemic and benefited greatly from the coaching services the organization offers. Helena was already selling at markets in her community, but Solar Sister helped her take things to the next level. She has been able to find great synergy between selling her existing items, along with solar lamps. Helena is now an even greater resource to her community and has learned better business planning by partnering with Solar Sister.
What Does Solar Sister Need to Succeed Moving Forward?
There is a continuous need for digital devices for Solar Sister’s women entrepreneurs (smart phones, tablets, and internet connection). In most areas that Solar Sister works, women have proportionally less access to digital tools compared with their male counterparts. For this reason, one of the partnerships Solar Sister is looking to make is with an organization working to close the digital divide. Of course, Solar Sister does some of this work to a degree, though they are hoping to connect with an organization that focuses specifically on bridging this digital divide in country.
Lucey notes they are also looking to partner with groups that align with their “north star,” which is women’s economic empowerment. Solar Sister sees women as agents of change, and want to find other organizations who are interested in tapping into this incredible power, particularly those coming from the tech and business side of things. They want to focus on making changes from a development and business-based approach to create sustainable, long-lived solutions.
After ten years of hard work, empowering and coaching women entrepreneurs, and sharing clean energy solutions with rural communities, Solar Sister is gaining momentum and ready for this new phase. If you’d like to learn more about this organization, please visit: Solar Sister.