COVID-19 and Women’s Energy Entrepreneurship: The stories of five women entrepreneurs adapting to a crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic has created new and unusual obstacles for industries around the world. The clean cooking and sustainable energy sectors are no exception. Women entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge, even as many are bearing additional responsibilities.
To better understand these challenges, the Clean Cooking Alliance, Sustainable Energy for All, ENERGIA, and members of the People-Centered Accelerator hosted a webinar featuring five women entrepreneurs and facilitated by Dr. Amanda Elam of Babson College. Representing business models ranging from solar lighting distribution to biodigester programs, the speakers offered insights into how their roles as industry leaders are shifting as a result of COVID-19, and how they are devising innovative ways to remain operational during these unprecedented times.
Please click on “Read More” below each entrepreneur’s story for additional details.
Watch the full webinar discussion here.
Esther Altorfer (Sistema.bio)
Esther Altorfer oversees Sistema.bio’s East Africa operations, which consist of 140 team members serving over 4,000 clients with biogas technologies. Describing the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as “an emotional rollercoaster,” Esther adapted her leadership to immediately respond to health and safety concerns, and to plan for potential economic shocks to the business.
“What’s been most impressive for me is that we realized our product, the biodigester, is actually built to create resilience…You basically never have to leave your home and you have your own supply of cooking fuel.”
Neha Juneja (Greenway Appliances)
Neha Juneja is one of the co-founders of Greenway Appliances, the largest clean cooking company in India, which recently expanded operations to Zambia. India’s response to COVID-19 has had profound impacts on Greenway, notably on the company’s sales agents and customers. Neha described how Greenway has adapted its business model by shifting jobs to rural areas.
“I’ve spent most of my time talking to our customers…And one of the things we’ve decided to do is spread our supply chain and take it closer to clusters of consumers, so that the same communities who currently help distribute our stoves can now partake in making them as well.”
Charlot Magayi (Mukuru Stoves)
Charlot Magayi is the CEO and founder of Mukuru Stoves, a social enterprise in western Kenya that recycles waste metal to produce clean cookstoves for low-income households. Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic started, Charlot noticed an increased demand for her product. Although market demonstrations had to be discontinued, she partnered with local radio stations to educate consumers on the impact of household air pollution and the benefits of adopting clean cookstoves.
“The biggest effect [COVID-19] has had on our business is it helped us spread awareness on the impact of household air pollution and how clean cooking can help families avoid respiratory tract infections.”
Oluwakemi Ojewoye (ENERGIA/Solar Sister)
Oluwakemi Ojewoye is a solar energy entrepreneur in Nigeria. Since late March, COVID-19 lockdown measures have hindered her ability to reach out to customers. Nevertheless, Oluwakemi has implemented new ways of marketing and selling, which she intends to maintain even after the lockdown measures have been lifted.
“[COVID-19] has heavily affected my business and forced me to re-evaluate how to reach my customers. Solar Sister supported me and taught me how to seek a solution whenever there is a problem. I have successfully maintained my business relationship with most of my customers, and sold my solar lamps using online platforms like WhatsApp, SMS, and Facebook.”
Rosmiaty Lantara is an Indonesian biogas entrepreneur, leading a team of five trained masons. Regulations around COVID-19 have limited her promotional and training activities. However, Rosmiaty is now implementing online activities with potential customers and users, while her field team is running training and monitoring operations in line with social distancing regulations.
“Due to the pandemic and a redirection of governmental funds, we have not been — and will not be — able to build our biogas units as planned. Also, people have not been able to pay for their biogas digesters, as their primary need is food…We have cut some extra costs to maintain the cash flow and we try to stay positive.”