Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
(The author is a Professor of Management and Economics, formerly at IIBM (RBI) Guwahati. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
Dr. Boidurjo Rick Mukhopadhyay
(The author, international award-winning development and management economist, formerly a Gold Medalist in Economics at Gauhati University)
In most of the developing economies, women constitute 70-80% of the total agricultural labour force and they account for over 80% of food production. In the micro and small-scale enterprises MSE sector worldwide, women make up one-quarter to one-third of the total business population and in manufacturing they constitute one-third of the global labour force. However, women and girls also constitute three-fifths from a staggering 75% of the world's poor who live in rural areas. Despite enterprises that are women led or managed making substantial contribution to expanding enterprises consequentially boosting economic development and job creation, there's still limited visibility of contribution of women.
Entrepreneurship of women ensures the vital component of social development, while gender equality and economic growth go side by side. A range of motivational factors of women entrepreneurship includes primal factors such as establishing an identify, building confidence to more functional and strategic factors like establishing a creative idea, developing a risk-taking ability, striving for an equal status in society while also aiming for greater freedom and mobility even more in a rural setting. Research argues that women's participation does not mean simply increasing women members or integrating them into existing development models, rather it is a part of the process of empowerment and a way to make development policies and programmes.
The initiatives in South Asia to disseminate solar energy technology applications in poor rural households and also develop rural energy-based entrepreneurship have proven positively consequential in contributing to community development and rural development. The penetration of Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs, hereafter) - in the form of Solar Home Systems (SHS, hereafter), Solar lanterns, Solar headlamps, Solar Crop Dryers amongst several other types - in rural households and the use of these technologies to create micro-enterprises have been widely cited as successful cases of solar renewables transforming communities and wider society.
In rural India, the importance of women, being the primary users of household energy for cooking and heating, in the context of energy have been widely recognised by prominent and effective renewable energy-based institutions like The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), AIW C (All India Women's Association), SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association), TIDE (Technology Informatics Design Endeavour), & SELCO (Solar Electric light company of India) and many others. One of the core objectives of these institutions has been to involve more women and transform them into energy entrepreneurs. For example, households who receive the solar home lighting systems (SHS) use the technology to start micro-enterprises from home by making and selling different home-made handicraft goods e.g., jute and silk products.
Multiple cases can be found across rural societies of south Asia where microfinance organisations would offer small credit to women entrepreneurs to start renewable-based enterprises in their community (e.g., Gramin Bank and BRAC in Bangladesh offering similar credit facilities). Empirical studies exhibit that these women are found to be marketing Photo-Voltaic (PV, hereafter) systems, co-farming with their household heads using solar irrigation pumps and solar crop dryers, and also operating/running solar mobile charging systems.
Besides their entrepreneurial initiatives with solar energy technologies, the women entrepreneurs in rural societies are not only actively engaging in complex business decision making processes but also making, servicing, marketing, installing and selling solar energy technologies. It is, therefore, important to understand the background enabling conditions of these entrepreneurs that creates this scenario – this is where the current research still remains elusive by a large measure.
All India Women's Conference (AIWC) in India started providing women with solar lanterns and solar charging stations in urban and peri-urban regions of the country. These women - in urban and rural areas - would charge their lanterns during the daytime, and then later in the evening, they would rent out the solar lanterns to street vendors (selling vegetables, flowers, fruits, and other perishable commodities) and also to households that do not have electricity or face long hours of a power cut. The AIWC has also successfully implemented initiatives in solar-powered water purifier systems where women would sell purified potable water to the locality at very nominal rates.
In many communities across India, these solar energy-based micro-enterprises also hire other people from the local community. This has encouraged and in fact, triggered local entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial mindset (especially women, who count for 36% of the same), rural women are assembling solar accessories in village-based technology centres, solar engineers are increasingly employed in designing SHS, working in battery factories, and other accessory related businesses.
A Solar Energy Entrepreneur is "someone who would do one or a combination of the following - buy, rent, borrow, sell, maintain, service, manufacture or install - any or a mix of solar energy technologies for setting up one or more income-generating energy-based enterprise/s." Examples of these technologies would include solar home lighting systems, solar lanterns, solar crop dryers, solar kilns, solar wax melters, solar cookers, solar lamps and headlamps, solar irrigation pumps, solar mobile phone chargers, solar vans, and short-haul transport mobility vans amongst many others. The applications and multi-faceted use of these technologies are visible in both rural and urban areas.
A few and recent studies show that the benefits of women led solar micro enterprises have strong impacts both at personal, community and intellectual levels. Research suggests that women-led and managed solar-based micro enterprises generate several ripple effects on the society and not just at the household level. While the impact of women-led businesses at the household level is touched on by a few studies, those studies have not addressed the same when it comes down specifically to solar businesses. The research on community benefits generated by women managed solar businesses is scarce although there are studies on gender differences looking at how businesses are run and managed.
Importantly, women-led solar businesses generally tend to involve other members (mostly women) from the community, distancing from a self-run and singularly managed business. Apart from having well-developed business acumen, most other women have a good sense of 'what to do with the income' and that includes sending off their kids, both boys AND girls, to school and also reinvesting the money into the business and generating other income-generating vocational activities that would continue the cycle and involve other women from the community. Another aspect that largely gets overlooked is that the chances of women leaving the village or the area of operation are smaller compared to those of men. This point becomes even more important because women entrepreneurs/solar users ensure that both A) income and the B) work involvement stay and sustains itself over time.
The use of solar lanterns is reaching out to faraway corners of Indian villages. This is not just helping to A) generate income, B) involve and employ local people (women) but also to C) creation of vocational opportunities, and D) developing an entrepreneurial mindset. These are essential aspects because the regions where these individuals live have still got a particular skill (particularly if exclusive), but without light they cannot make the final product. Examples range from idol making to stitching Sal leaves. Lastly, the range of different stakeholders working together to support these entrepreneurs is interesting and needs closer evaluation, specifically on how a particular renewable energy technology provider works with local level NGOs and VOs in order to bring in the desired result. This is also where the concept of public private people partnership (PPPP) is emerging in the RE industry in India.