2 responses to “Solar Sister: empowering women with light and opportunity”

  1. alice postlewaith

    I like this. It’s clear that poor people can make savings by having a solar lantern rather than paying for kerosene, but the article doesn’t make it clear how people can find the US$20 to buy the lamp. This seems a lot of money for one single outlay for people trying to live on less than two dollars a day. Or maybe they can pay in installments?

  2. Katherine Lucey

    Dear Alice,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I can share with you our experience at Solar Sister:

    Through our interaction with customers living at the Base of the Pyramid we find that there is acute appreciation for the value proposition of a one time expenditure of $20 versus the weekly expenditure of $2 or more for kerosene. The family saves over $80 in the first year that can be spent on other important expenses, typically going to education, healthcare and better nutrition.

    Solar Sister Entrepreneurs do provide payment plans that are designed to meet the needs of our customers. A rent-to-own scheme is provided to trusted customers to allow them to pay in two or three installments. In some communities, the women have used the collective power of their weekly ‘women’s circles’ to pool their money in a merry-go-round financing plan, buying one lamp each week for a family in the circle. But most often, the lamps are bought outright, even the more expensive lamps that provide light and cell phone charging, as the customers value the product and make their purchase when they have money to spend. Our local entrepreneurs have the advantage of detailed local knowledge and are able to respond to the seasonality and variability of local incomes.

    One of the misconceptions about those living ‘on less than two dollars a day’ is that the income somehow arrives in a regular stream and must be managed on a weekly basis as if they are getting a paycheck each week. In reality, the true challenge is managing a low level of income that is also unpredictable and variable. A family will earn $100 when they harvest their coffee beans, and then nothing for three or four months. Or the father will move to the city for work and send home money every few months…or not at all. It is this added strain of unpredictable and variable income that makes household expenditures extremely vulnerable. The impact is felt most acutely by women and girls who make up 70% of the base of the pyramid households.

    Managing the slow expenditure of money (the $2 per week for kerosene) that has been received all at once is extremely difficult. Especially in a culture where it is expected that you share what you have. As one of our customers told us, “When I have money. I like to invest it. But I don’t trust the banks. They have fees that eat my money. A solar lamp is a good investment. When I invest in a solar lamp, I make money. And my brother can enjoy the light, but he does not reach in my pocket.” In the perverse economics of poverty, the one time expenditure is actually a better fit to income patterns and levels.

    Best regards,
    Katherine Lucey
    Founder/CEO Solar Sister