wPOWER: Connecting the Dots, A Resource Guide

wPOWER Resource Guide

”My message to the wPOWER women entrepreneurs is…You are leading the clean energy revolution. Please don’t stop it.”  expressed Colin Dreizen, Director, Clean Energy & Environment Office, USAID India at the recently concluded wPOWER Global Partnership Forum 2015.

The Global Partnership forum saw the official launch of the Resource Guide titled “wPOWER: Connecting the Dots” a knowledge product created by Re-emerging World. The resource guide outlines how wPOWER India adopts a market-based approach to help the entire clean energy value chain provide workable solutions for rural India.

Mainstream interventions have attempted to address rural access to clean energy in the past. Majority of large scale efforts have focused on generating clean energy awareness or on providing access to clean energy solutions. Women’s empowerment efforts have promoted entrepreneurship while wider development efforts have aimed to create a supportive stakeholder ecosystem. Very few initiatives on scale, have however, attempted to address all of these issues at one go. This is where, wPOWER India is unique.

The Resource Guide explains about this uniqueness and how the wPOWER initiative connects all the vital dots

  • Women entrepreneurship,
  • Clean energy awareness, last mile clean energy access
  • An enabling partnership ecosystem.

It aims to equip readers with an understanding of how a diverse ecosystem comprising of various stakeholders including donors, the private sector, government agencies and financial institutions can contribute towards scaling and replicating the wPOWER India model.

Click the below link to access and download the full guide.

2015 wPOWER Resource Guide


wPOWER Global Partnership Forum 2015 centre stages the role of women entrepreneurs in promoting ‘last mile’ clean energy solutions

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-financed and Swayam Shikshan Prayog(SSP)-implemented Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables(wPOWER) has successfully trained over 1000 rural women in entrepreneurship, marketing, sales and servicing of the clean energy products. The women entrepreneurs have reached over 200,000 households in the underserved districts of Maharashtra and Bihar, India.

In order to showcase the emerging role of women entrepreneurs, trained under the wPOWER program,  in providing enhanced awareness and access to clean energy solutions, wPOWER Global Partnership Forum 2015 was recently held at the Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi, India  on April 16th -17th, 2015.

The forum jointly organized by USAID and SSP, brought together key representatives from international institutions, government, private sector and more importantly the grass root clean women entrepreneurs known as Sakhis from Maharashtra and Bihar to share their experiences and insights.

Key highlights: Day 1(April 16th 2015)

Day 1 witnessed dialogue, deliberations, sharing of experiences and perspectives from high level experts ranging from policy makers, corporates to grass root clean energy women entrepreneurs.

Critical role of women in the clean energy value chain

In the opening plenary of the forum, Ms. Varsha Joshi, Joint Secretory, MNRE, GOI gave the keynote address highlighting the critical role that can be played by women in the clean energy value chain and expressed her interest on behalf of the Government of India in supporting and scaling up such innovative initiatives.

Ms. Varsha Joshi, IAS, delivering the key note address


Launch of the wPOWER: Connecting the dots, resource guide

The opening plenary ended with the launch of ‘wPOWER: Connecting the dots’, a knowledge product highlighting the interactive and key elements of the wPOWER India program, documented by Re-emerging World team.

Launch of 'wPOWER:Connecting the dots,a resource guide''


The wPOWER India journey

The opening session started with Apurva Chaturvedi, Clean Energy Specialist, USAID India and Prema Gopalan, Executive Director, SSP sharing their insights on the wPOWER journey that has led to the building of a women clean energy entrepreneurship network, enhancement of the clean energy awareness, last mile access to underserved rural districts and creation of enabling clean energy partnership ecosystem through a unique market based approach.

Apurva Chaturvedi, clean energy specialist, USAID India driving the panel session


Energize the ecosystem for entrepreneurs

Panellists from diverse organizational backgrounds including World Bank, ENERGIA, Re-emerging World, Frontier Markets and CLEAN tried to underline the key barriers and enablers for energizing the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Energizing the ecosystem session


Need vs Want…Bridging the Aspiration Gap

The session brought together a technology developer, a social entrepreneur, a corporate and a Sakhi to share their experiences on distinct last mile challenges in reaching the rural consumers and how they were able to pilot and scale up their mode of operation.

Sakhi sharing her insights


Voices from the field

The day ended with the grass root women entrepreneurs from both India and Africa sharing their entrepreneurship experiences and insights from field which left the audience mesmerized.

Key highlights: Day 2(April 17th 2015)

The second day of the forum started with a key note address from the Honourable Minister of State of External Affairs and Ex-Army Chief V.K. Singh who highlighted that the investment on capacity building of women entrepreneurs is bound to fetch highest social and economic returns at both the micro and macro level.

Honourable Minister of State of External Affairs, Gen.(Retd.)  V.K.Singh addressing the session

Financing the 3E’s – End user, Enterprise and Ecosystem

The session witnessed a healthy dialogue not only between the panellists and the moderator but also between the African and Indian participants and the panellists. While it was agreed that clean energy financing solutions is a necessity, the real innovation was about designing the financing scheme that readily clicks in the ecosystem.

Fianancing the 3E's session

Forging partnerships: technology developers, private sector and women entrepreneurs

The forum provided the right platform where representatives of diverse but important actors including technology developers, private sector and women entrepreneurs discussed how to collaborate and engage with the last mile networks.

Avik Roy, MD, Re-emerging World, moderating the session

Leveraging women’s leadership and networks for sustainable development

The final session brought both national and international representatives of women’s movement to highlight and share their insights on the potential role of women in inclusive and sustainable development.

Closing Plenary

The closing plenary session saw the high level representatives from Government of India, USAID India, UNDP India agreeing unanimously on the importance of such initiatives and the need to replicate and scale them up.

Closing Plenary



Let there be light: How to sustainably provide lighting to the really poor in rural India

It is no secret that aggregate wealth in India rises each year – and so does inequality. The simplest way to start explaining this is the rural-urban wealth disparity. As a Guardian article explains: “Twenty-first-century India often resembles the Dickensian tale of two cities. For some, it is the best of times; for millions of others, living in the shadow of prosperity, survival is a daily struggle.” Indeed, as this Scroll piece confirms, years of evolution in understanding poverty has culminated in nothing. Not only is the income disparity high between urban and rural areas, the disparity in income in both rural and urban areas has been on the rise.




Graph sourced from: Scroll.in.

One can see the high growth in income in the top deciles in both urban and rural areas and relatively, almost imperceptible growth in the bottom deciles, respectively.

Now, if we are to assume that basic subsistence is granted (for areas facing water shortage, this may not be the best approach), one of the most important parameters to development is the availability of electricity. More precisely, with respect to the rural scenario, we mean lighting: my field experience leads me to believe that our low-income rural kin most ardently need lighting and will only admit to wanting a fan for summers in an uncertain, shy tone.

How is lighting related to development? According to a report on the relation between rural electrification and rural development, the slow progress towards electricity availability in rural areas in developing countries is in part due to “failure to raise the incomes of rural households” and “effectively design tariffs and adapt regulatory systems that can make electricity more affordable to poorer communities.”

Lighting and its effects on Prosperity and Development

Lighting in rural areas contributes to an increase in prosperity: there is a mine of research collated which suggests the same. It is not hard to figure out: cities have lights on throughout the night whereas villages, due to poor alternatives of lighting, lead ‘unproductive and unentertaining’ evenings.

Particularly in India, the repercussions in this layer of the BoP (Bottom of Pyramid)are not limited to short term micro-enterprise related gains: children in an Indian household – even those living below the poverty line are encouraged to excel at studies. These families truly believe that education is the way out of poverty. While engaged in these areas, the Re-emerging World team has seen strong suggestive evidence of the following during each field visit: if the un-electrified household can afford just one lantern (and lanterns aren’t reliable (durable) and cheap: they can be only one at a time), on any given evening, it is likely that the student in the household is entitled to it – not the woman in the kitchen, not the household in the common area. Quite obviously, education suffers in households which fail to acquire lanterns.

Ineffective large scale electrification programs

Mainstream electrification efforts fall short due to simple infrastructural problems: ineffective implementation across states implies the power lines pervade only across villages near pucca roads. Even in these villages, defunct poles stand without repair for months together. The result? Six states, including those like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand (states which, incidentally, rank low on other development indicators as well) have rural “un-electrification” rates above 50% (90% in Bihar, 76% in Uttar Pradesh, 64% in Odisha, and 68% in Jharkhand).

Incidentally, these villages boast of a higher level of growth and income than those without electricity altogether. In providing increasing access to electricity only to villages which are more affluent, electrification and its economic benefits never reach a large population of the underdeveloped villages they are intended for. The electricity instead goes to “wealthier villages and wealthy households, farms, and businesses within these villages.”

How aid/social enterprise efforts miss their mark

Through decentralized off grid efforts, solar power for lighting is a solution which can most easily be retrofitted for the problem of rural electricity unavailability. Think of retailing of solar lanterns, no-frills solar home systems for those who can afford them, and even mini-grids in some places.

The lanterns have been affordable through progressive decrements in prices for some time now. Established brands have evolved their offerings to range from INR 750 a mere 1.5 to 2 years ago, to cheaper products priced between INR 450 to INR 550 now. Some other companies have further evolved products priced at INR 300. And yet, these remain inaccessible to the poorest in villages: the daily wage labourers, a large percentage of who are landless Dalits (Scheduled Castes).

In villages where infrastructure exists, these are often the households which could not afford to pay for installation, a one-time investment of up to INR 1200 (observed in a village in Gaya, Bihar). In households without electricity, these are the ones unable to purchase even the cheapest solar lanterns. Indeed, their subsistence level daily wage of INR 150 to INR 200 (as observed in Bihar, Maharashtra) keeps them under a critical level of income, essentially, a barrier between them and quality lighting, and related socio-economic benefits.

The Energy Poverty Penalty

The average cost of kerosene, available to up to 2.5 liters at INR 20 per family per month from the Government’s public distribution system program (PDS), and after that in the ‘open’ market at INR 40-INR 45. Several households spend between INR 250 to INR 300 for a 4-5 member household (observed in rural areas of Bihar and Maharashtra) to up to INR 400-INR 450 for larger households. In contrast, the households with electricity connection pay not more than INR 200 a month.

The households which are unable to purchase solar lanterns (and these lanterns typically function for several years, or are covered under a warranty for 1-5 years), spend up to INR 200 on the purchase of a rechargeable Chinese lamps. These last no longer than 2 months for many, lesser for some. In the long term, that’s a much higher cost for lighting: another form of Poverty Penalty (here’s an interesting article about this omnipresent phenomenon).

The Solution

In the words of Gopal Kumar Yadav, “paying INR 2 to INR 3 a day is really helpful for my family.” He is a 12th grade student who has a busy day: he is a milkman in the mornings, a school student by the day, and also a seasonal wage worker for farm owners across seasons, to supplement his family’s income. He had a cell phone, but has stopped using it: “Charging it quite a hassle for me.”


For a handful of others like him in rural Gaya, lighting is now available through renting of a charged solar lantern at the rate of INR 3/day, or INR 90/month. In this pilot, users deposit the lanterns in the mornings and pick them up in the evenings at around 6pm in the villages at the house of an appointed local entrepreneur, mostly rural housewives and home-based business-owners in rural Gaya, Bihar, India. These entrepreneurs in turn rent a solar kit and up to 20 lamps charged off 40W or 80W panels. In the end, the business is profitable for the entrepreneurs. Some villages have up to 4 of the entrepreneurs. The innovative modular design technology on offer may even make it possible for entrepreneurs to exchange electricity in the future. Imagine a mini grid powered by households: rural India could just be mobilizing on this technique before urban India.

Through this model, the social enterprise Rural Spark has employed one of the most effective approaches to provide lighting to the lowest income groups in any village. Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) has already used this approach of providing lighting at a nominal daily fee of about INR 100 a month to reach 0.73 million people. Clearly, daily renting of high quality solar lights is the only way to reach the most economically backward sections of the already underdeveloped rural areas of India.

However, the challenge of viability for social enterprises still remain: village level entrepreneurs will need affordable, and in that way, innovative loan products. For the social enterprises in question, this will require partnering with a well-connected organization already involved in microfinance.

Once the right Aid/Grant-Investment dynamics of the funding involved for these social enterprises is perfected, this model of low-risk leasing of products through an easily scalable network of affordable micro-grids (managed by local energy suppliers or LESs, as they’re called in the Rural Spark model) will finally be able to hit the mark for Rural Development through Rural Electrification.


Read our market assessment report for Rural Spark’s pilot on their website here.

Building renewable energy capacities crucial for India’s energy independence and economic growth

Energy by its nature and use plays a crucial role in economic production and therefore in economic growth of a country. As a ‘strategic commodity’, any uncertainty in its supplies can have cascading effects on the growth potential particularly for developing economies. India still tagged as a ‘developing nation’, is the fourth largest energy consumer in the world (according to Mckinsey India Study). With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plans of ‘Make in India’ to revive the manufacturing sector and with India projected to become the fastest growing economy by 2016-17 according to World Bank estimates, the energy requirements of the country are bound to increase.

India is already facing a widening demand-supply gap of its energy requirements. According to Energy Statistics 2014 published by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, GOI, India’s net import of coal alarmingly increased by 281% from 2005-06 to 2012-13 whereas imports of crude oil rose by 86% during the same period. Given India’s increased dependency on imports for conventional energy sources, it is a high time for the Government to build its indigenous renewable energy capabilities.

The Present Government has started realizing how crucial energy security is for ensuring favourable balance of trade at a macro level and adequate access to all forms of energy at a micro level. The upcoming 2015 budget is expected to bring in substantial policy focus and budget allocations for the renewable energy sector. Union Power Minister Mr Piyush Goyal has been pushing forward to accord solar energy as a priority sector status in the upcoming budget. The Power Ministry is also leading the efforts to a build a consortium of 50 solar power-rich nations and to make India, the renewable energy capital of the world.

The list of pre-conditions that needs to be fulfilled to enable India to strategically build its own renewable energy capabilities are numerous and interlinked. However, the more important ones are creating a favourable regulatory and policy environment to attract more private players as the state run companies are plagued by excess demand, inefficiency and low productivity.

While the ambitious targets and policy announcements are part of the cycle of the frenetic activity that characterize pre-budget seasons, what follows usually is a long lull in effective and time-bound implementation. If India has to truly emerge as world’s renewable energy capital and be energy ‘independent’ in the near future, this trend has to change.

Engaging with women for driving the BOP clean energy agenda

As the shadow cast by climate change worldwide expands, the signs of its potentially lethal impact loom large, particularly on emerging economies. Predominantly agrarian in nature, most emerging economies have large rural populations which are at the extreme receiving end of this impact. Further, within the rural populace, women as the predominant household end users of energy, are affected the most.

According to Dalberg and Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves, dependence on solid fuels as primary cooking fuel exposes 400 million people in India to indoor air pollution (IAP), of which 90% are women and the rest are mainly children under five. According to WHO, IAP kills 4.3 million people worldwide each year, most of whom are women and children. Re-emerging World’s in-house research shows that women in rural BOP households spend about five hours per week collecting firewood for cooking and at least three hours daily in smoke filled kitchens causing serious respiratory health problems and endangering their lives. World Bank estimates that 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity worldwide of which over 400 million reside in India. The impact is again particularly acute on women. Lack of reliable access to electricity forces women to remain occupied with household chores like cooking and cleaning before sunset, restricting them from engaging in income-generating activities during daytime hours. While cooking in the evening, they have little option but to resort to polluting kerosene lamps.

With energy poverty affecting women the most, it is only by engaging with and promoting women as clean energy entrepreneurs and leaders that behavioral changes can be triggered, local business can be grown and green economies can be created.

Women as energy end users

Rural women play a pivotal role in ensuring well-being of their families. In the rural context, although men often control the purse strings, it is predominantly the women who are the end users of energy. This makes women inherently more appreciative of the need for clean energy access while for men, other household expenditures assume precedence. Any model promoting rural clean energy access must effectively reach women end users as they can be influenced to in turn, make a case in favor of adopting clean energy solutions to the men in their households. However, social and cultural factors restrict the rural woman’s movement beyond her home and interaction with other men. Models engaging women as clean energy leaders is therefore, the ideal option for reaching out to and connecting with rural women end users.

Women as clean energy entrepreneurs

Rural villages are traditionally characterized by male dominated societal structures which underplay the role of women and often try to restrict it within boundaries of their homes. In reality however, she plays a multidimensional and often, a greater role in family and community welfare by acting as an agent of change both within their households and in her community. Some of these women exhibit strong motivation to economically support their families and aspire for economic self-reliance. Over time, such aspirations have found expression by way of these women organising themselves in the form of self-help groups, taking up entrepreneurial ventures or actively supporting their husbands in running their businesses. Encouraging and empowering spirited rural women to take up clean energy ventures will open up an additional income stream for them and their households. Building their professional skills will enable them to also conduct other local business ventures like tailoring, beauty parlours etc. more efficiently. Further, organising them into a network of rural women entrepreneurs can further the women empowerment and gender equality agenda on the one hand and can create an effective last mile distribution channel for private sector companies on the other.

Women as climate change leaders

According to an insightful article by Mary Robinson published on the United Nations Environment Programme, women better understand the inter-generational aspects of climate change and sustainable development. Globally, driven by this understanding, women are adapting to unpredictable crop seasons, water shortages and environment-induced diseases by practicing crop diversification, rainwater harvesting and growing livestock fodder. According to World Bank, 40% of the global labor force and 43% of the agricultural labor force are women. Women are increasingly taking up leadership roles in propagating the importance of practicing sustainable agriculture, protecting natural resources and adopting renewable energy. It is therefore, imperative to acknowledge and harness the contribution of women as educators, entrepreneurs and climate change leaders by including them in the decision making process for addressing climate change.