Kenya: Woman entrepreneur gets ahead with clean energy (Trust)

| January 26, 2015

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Not many Kenyan women are clean energy entrepreneurs. But Lydia Waithera did something unusual that led her to a discovery – she accidentally killed her chickens.

Ms. Waithera is a poultry farmer. She was trying to keep her birds alive through the cold nights with charcoal fires, but the carbon monoxide in the smoke poisoned the birds in their closed coop.

Other farmers advised her to use briquettes made of compressed waste materials from sugar and molasses production. The briquettes keep the chickens warm, and burn for long enough that Ms. Waithera no longer has to restock her stoves in the middle of the night.

As her poultry business grew, so did Ms. Waithera’s need for briquettes. By the time she was using 200 bags a month, she had decided to save money by making her own. She joined a mentorship program run by the Global Village Energy Partnership, or GVEP, an organization that focuses on increasing access to energy in developing countries.

The program helped her learn the entrepreneurial skills she needed to run a company. She says, “I was poor at record-keeping. But through in-depth training, I have acquired the skills I need.”

She invested $1,200 U.S. Four years later, her business is worth $18,000 U.S. The business produces a tonne of briquettes daily and employs four workers.

But the prevailing attitude in Kenya that renewable energy is not a women’s field has been a challenge. Ms. Waithera says: “When I was looking to buy machines, manufacturers assumed I’d been sent by a man and would ask to talk to the ‘owner’ before they would explain how to use the machines.”

Financial institutions are reluctant both to back women entrepreneurs and to recognize green energy ventures as viable investments. Designers and industry technicians are predominantly male, and women are largely employed in sales.

Sammy Kitula works for GVEP, where he helps people access loans to start their businesses. He says: “It is a pity that only a few Kenyan universities are focusing on renewable energy. [With] the appropriate technology and training, more women entrepreneurs could be brought on board.”

Mr. Kitula says several NGOs are guiding women into green businesses through mentorship, networking and help with accessing funds. Kenya’s Ministry of Energy runs an initiative that trains women at its energy centres.

According to Mr. Kitula, these efforts have resulted in more women signing up for training and seeking start-up capital for renewable energy ventures.

Ms. Waithera urges Kenyan women to grab opportunities in clean energy. She believes there is a lot of money to be made.

She says, “There is an insatiable demand. My target is to produce three and a half tonnes of briquettes daily and employ six people.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Poisoned chickens crack clean energy glass ceiling in Kenya, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20150119105428-j2rmq/