For women in rural Senegal, launching a small business powered by solar energy could create a more secure future. But it’s only possible with training, loans and other support. Fondazione ACRA leads a project giving women the skills and tools to become successful entrepreneurs – including access to clean, affordable energy.
Businesses created by Fondazione ACRA’s women EmPOWER project range from cafes and grocery shops to poultry farms. The initiative is raising incomes, and giving women the confidence to succeed
Based in the Casamance region, the project’s early stages included giving 1,000 women training on topics such as literacy, business planning and accounting. Trainees were also introduced to a range of solar technologies that could power their new business, like freezers and food processing machinery.
Seperately, the project has trained 178 local women in installing and repairing the solar equipment. This gave them the chance to find work as solar technicians, and ensures the technologies driving a wave of new businesses can be powered up and maintained.
The introduction of high-quality solar products, and people who can look after them, is an important benefit of the project. Before Women EmPOWER, low-quality products had dented local people’s confidence in solar technology.
Finance supports small businesses
As well as sound plans and technical support, local women needed finance to get their businesses off the ground. So the project included a strong partnership with a local bank, Banque Agricole. The bank offered credit at roughly half the rate normally available to small businesses, with reduced fees and charges.
Women taking part in the project rarely had a credit history or experience dealing with banks. But support from Fondazione ACRA has helped them overcome barriers. Now the women are building credit profiles that will make it easier to take out affordable loans in the future.
This has unlocked more than 100,000 Euros of funding for the women’s enterprises. While in other situations the perception of the women as ‘high-risk’ borrowers would have been a barrier to them getting finance, the bank reports that loans are being repaid at the usual rate for small businesses.
Diatou Sane – a pioneer with plans for the future
The first woman to open a bank account through the project was Diatou Sane. She has invested in a solar-powered freezer that helps her to sell fish in her village. She says: “When people come here and see that we have ice they immediately ask how we have power. When we say that it comes from a solar kit, some don’t believe us.”
Now she also sells cold juices and home-made ice cream. The income she gets has become even more important since her husband fell ill and Diatou became her family’s main breadwinner. She hopes she can take out another loan soon to buy a vehicle that will help her expand her business.
Another woman hoping to grow her enterprise is Maïmouna Biaye. The project supported her to buy solar lighting for her snack bar, which meant she could extend her opening hours. She plans to take out another loan to buy a fan and fridge. “Before the training I don’t think I would have even dared to enter a bank”, she says.
1 November 2023
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