Eradicating Energy Poverty


with Katherine Lucey of Solar Sister


Dec 31, 2018

An estimated 700 million Africans use fuels like wood and charcoal due to lack of electricity.

Katherine Lucey, founder and CEO of Solar Sister, discusses her organization’s women-led movement that provides clean energy to Africans in need.

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: 1.3 billion people -- that is 25% of the world´s population -- live without electricity, the majority of which are women and girls living in developing communities who often use dangerous fuels for cooking and lighting their homes. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers". I´m Sheila Hyland. Energy issues are especially pervasive in rural Africa, where 75% of the population has no power. With me to discuss efforts to eradicate energy poverty by empowering African women with clean energy is Katherine Lucey, founder and CEO of Solar Sister. Katherine, thank you so much for being with us today.

Lucey: Thank you. It´s a pleasure to be here.

Hyland: Your organization starts with an incredible story. You were an investment banker on Wall Street, and then you started this organization that brings clean energy to rural Africa. Connect the dots for us. How did you go from investment banking to helping to eradicate energy poverty?

Lucey: Well, it´s not that big of a step. So, I was working with energy at the infrastructure level, where we were building power plants that help whole countries advance into modern era by having access to energy. When I left banking and I took some time to really focus on things that I was passionate about -- women´s empowerment and the environment -- I ended up in rural Uganda, working at the household level, putting solar on schools and clinics and households. And what I saw there is that, at the household level, the same thing is true. Even a family can´t move into a modern era if they don´t have simple electricity, simply for light and for cooking.

Hyland: I think, certainly here in the United States, we take for granted having power. We don´t necessarily realize the scope of the problem and what people are dealing with, just in their daily lives. Can you paint a picture for us?

Lucey: Yeah. So, if you can imagine waking up every day, and instead of flipping on a light switch, it´s dark as you wake up. There´s no light. You have to prepare your children for school. You have to cook the breakfast, get things ready. As the day goes on, and you´re working throughout the day and you´re making the meals for the family, you´re cooking over an open-stone fire and having to collect firewood or charcoal to burn. And then, in the evening, as the chores are done and the family´s home and you´ve prepared dinner and now it´s time to clean up, it´s right on the equator, so at 6:00 p.m., it gets dark. It gets really dark. And so that puts an end to the day. And so that means if you haven´t accomplished everything that you wanted to accomplish -- maybe your children are ready to do their homework now, but now it´s dark -- and so they light a kerosene lamp or a candle. And by that light, they try to do their homework.

Hyland: So, how is Solar Sister getting solar energy to these folks in rural Africa? How is this process working, and how are you helping them?

Lucey: Yeah, so, solar is an incredible technology that you can produce anywhere, and especially right on the equator, right where you have sunlight abundantly during the day. Using a solar panel, you collect the sun and transmit it into energy, light, or power for families. And it can be sized, even as small as a product size. And so that was really the big change around 2006, 2008, where solar became product-sized, and that allowed the ability to go into very rural areas, where they could affordably and appropriately buy the solar for their home, just for simple light.

Hyland: And I know you have helped 3,000 people so far, which equates into actually basically helping a million people -- right? -- with those --

Lucey: Yeah, what Solar Sister does is we recruit, train, and support women locally to build businesses, that they are selling these solar lamps and solar phone chargers and solar home systems and clean cook stoves into their communities. So they´re using their networks of family, friends, neighbors, community, and selling into the community. So it creates a business for women, and that gives them income to help their family. And it is this grassroots distribution network of this incredible, transformational solar product into these communities.

Hyland: And, Katherine, tell us an example of a good-news story about how Solar Sister has changed someone´s life.

Lucey: Yeah. So, it´s at two levels. And Raheli, for example, is one of our Solar Sister entrepreneurs. She´s a traditional Maasai woman. She lives in a very rural area, and if you can imagine, it´s a hut -- a circular hut -- with a thatched roof. And she takes care of -- she´s got six children, she´s got four grandchildren. And she became a Solar Sister entrepreneur. And through the money that she has earned as an entrepreneur, by selling these products to her community, she´s earned enough money that she´s bought herself four cows. And in that community, a cow is wealth. And so she is so incredibly proud and excited about the fact that not only is she earning an income but she´s building wealth in her community, and she´s bringing something to people in her community that they really need. So the Solar Sister entrepreneurs -- I think of as being the original social entrepreneurs because they´re doing something entrepreneurial, business that earns income, but they´re also doing something that has incredible social impact by bringing this light into their community.

Hyland: Such a simple solution, and as you mentioned, making such an incredible impact on so many lives. Katherine Lucey with Solar Sister, thank you so much for being with us.

Lucey: Thank you.

Hyland: And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Sheila Hyland.

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