Angelina Maja has many roles in life. She is a herdsman and farmer, single mother of three and a successful entrepreneur in her remote community in northeastern Tanzania.
Maja gets up early every morning to earn a living by selling the milk from her three cows and tending her land before cooking meals for her children. She then runs her own business as a Solar Sister entrepreneur, selling solar-powered products like home lighting systems and lanterns for charging phones in her village.
Solar Sister, a Cisco nonprofit partner, invests in women’s clean energy companies to empower women entrepreneurs and build community resilience and lift people out of the cycle of poverty. Solar Sister takes an innovative approach to achieve their mission of sustainable, scalable impact at the intersection of women’s empowerment, fuel poverty and climate change. The organization trains and supports female entrepreneurs like Maja in building sustainable businesses that bring clean energy directly into the homes of their communities.
After recruiting and training new entrepreneurs in the ‘last mile’ communities of sub-Saharan Africa, Solar Sister provides them with a range of clean energy technologies such as solar powered lanterns, solar cell phone charging lanterns and clean cookstoves.
By selling these products directly to people, mostly women, who lack electricity in their communities, entrepreneurs can generate income. The relationship is mutually beneficial; The women in the program gain financial empowerment while their customers reap the financial, educational, and health benefits of clean energy.
For example, Majama’s income has enabled her to send her children to school and support her family, build her house and buy two acres of farmland on which she raises animals and grows crops.
“We are so grateful to Solar Sister because this opportunity has given us an economic boost,” says Maja, one of Solar Sister’s top-grossing entrepreneurs, in a video about her work.
More than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity and over 700 million depend on harmful fuels such as firewood and charcoal for cooking, which can cause health problems, including respiratory and vision problems. The lack of access to electricity has a multitude of direct and indirect negative consequences for health, educational opportunities and income generation.
Women are disproportionately affected by energy poverty as they often bear the burden of unpaid caregiving. More light after dark allows more time to complete daily tasks, increases productivity after sunset, and clean cookstoves save time collecting wood, money on solid fuels, and smoke generation, all of which greatly improve health outcomes.
Independent research shows that Solar Sister’s model of female entrepreneurship not only results in income-generating opportunities for women, but also benefits a woman’s health, education, status and control over resources.
As a global technology partner of Global Citizen, Cisco supports nonprofits like Solar Sister by investing in early-stage technology solutions that have the potential to be scalable, replicable, and sustainable. The Cisco grant supports Solar Sister in using technology to enhance the digital capabilities of their entrepreneurs and improve the efficiency of Solar Sister’s operations to support their overall growth goals.
Social enterprise and technology company TaroWorks — founded at the Grameen Foundation and also one of Cisco’s community partners — is enabling Solar Sister’s real-time connectivity to last-mile business operations. The entrepreneurs use a mobile customer relationship management (CRM) and field service app to collect sales information and manage inventory movements in rural Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Angelina Maja, a successful entrepreneur with nonprofit Cisco partner Solar Sister, stands in front of her home in northeastern Tanzania.
Maja uses TaroWorks to keep records of her customers and track all of the products she sells to them.
Since opening its first office in Tanzania in 2013, Solar Sister has supported over 6,977 clean energy entrepreneurs and reached more than 3 million people across Africa with solar energy.
Working with Solar Sister has helped Maja to set ambitious but achievable goals. She hopes to one day open her own shop selling clothes and other solar products, and the income she is now earning will help her to do so.
“Solar products have helped change my life,” she says.