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 participants 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.
Oluwakemi Ojewoye is a solar energy entrepreneur in Nigeria. Her business journey started in 2016 when her husband bought a solar lamp from a woman entrepreneur in their district. Regular and long-lasting power cuts impacted their daily lives, leaving them completely in the dark after sunset. The solar lamp made a huge difference to their wellbeing and prompted Oluwakemi to become a clean energy entrepreneur with Solar Sister, a social enterprise aiming to empower women through clean and sustainable businesses in rural African communities.
However, in late March, Oluwakemi was forced to suspend her activities due to the COVID-19 outbreak. She described the situation in Lagos as very serious and tense. Because of an increasing number of violent episodes and strict rules imposed by the government, people did not feel safe going out. The lockdown measures and the limitation of movement have hindered her ability to reach out to her customers, while governmental relief packages have not been directed to last-mile communities and small-scale businesses.
“This has heavily affected my business and forced me to re-evaluate how to reach my customers,” Oluwakemi said. “[But] Solar Sister supported me and taught me how to seek a solution whenever there is a problem. I have installed a large banner in front of my shop, and I have implemented a number of strategies, including digital advertisements. 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.”
Oluwakemi said she would keep using these new ways of marketing and selling even after the measures are lifted, while Solar Sister is thinking about incorporating these strategies into their training to entrepreneurs. “Now that lockdown measures have gradually been eased, my customers are coming back and sales are increasing again,” Oluwakemi said. “In the future, I think that the government should do more to support small-scale and last-mile entrepreneurs who sell smaller products, like solar lamps.”
Thanks to her passion and hard work, Oluwakemi has been able to financially support her family, especially since her husband, who is a teacher, lost his income due to the closure of schools during the lockdown. Her work has also changed the way people look at her in her community. Being a woman entrepreneur has raised her profile and disrupted some of the prevalent gender norms, making her an example of resilience and empowerment.