Students Assess Solar in Uganda and Tanzania
Jaro Bellier ' 17, Sustainability Intern for Building & Grounds
Energy poverty is one of the most daunting obstacles faced by developing nations in the modern world, with an average of roughly a quarter of populations of less developed countries lacking basic electrical infrastructure. A number of organizations have taken various approaches in specific regions of the world in attempts to alleviate the issue of poor power distribution. Solar Sister is one such organization that focuses on rural Africa, striving to “eradicate energy poverty through the empowerment of women with economic opportunity.” They supply a network of ‘Solar Sister entrepreneurs’ with lights and cooking stoves which are then sold and delivered to their friends, family and neighbors. By targeting the potential of women and the distribution capabilities of their social networks, Solar Sister aims to bring energy access to the most hard-to-reach regions.
Santa Clara Global Social Benefit fellows, Alaina Boyle '17 and Victoria Yu '17, have traveled to Uganda and Tanzania through SCU’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship along with environmental studies and sciences professor Leslie Gray to conduct a social impact study on the effects of solar lantern use on the end customers of Solar Sister products. What sets their study apart from past Solar Sister studies is that it is the first time that any data has been collected on the actual end-customers of Solar Sister products as opposed to the Solar Sister entrepreneurs who distribute them. The team’s goal is to survey / interview over one hundred people for feedback as they travel from village to village, giving each participant a half-pound of sugar after the survey as a symbolic thank-you for their time and participation in the project.
The focus of the research team is to assess productive usage of solar power for income generating activities or educational purposes. This includes looking at changes in productivity, financial well-being, and health trends in the different communities they visit. According to Alaina, one of the most consistent impacts they’ve noticed thus far is the notable savings people are generating as a result of no longer buying kerosene. The amount saved seems to be around $1 USD per week for most households, which may not sound like a lot, but relative to the total income of most rural African families, is quite significant. In addition, burning kerosene emits a number of harmful gases. Many individuals mentioned that they experienced health problems such as stinging eyes, runny nose, or coughs while using the fuel, and since switching to the solar lanterns, have seen greatly improved health.
Furthermore, the types of questions asked allow for the survey participant to share their favorite aspects of the solar products, as well as where they would like to see improvement--narrowing in on some of Solar Sister’s strongest and weakest points in a way that the organization can use to optimize their business in the future. The purpose of the impact assessment is not only to show Solar Sister the effects of their products on the users, but also to demonstrate to investors and donors the success of the organization in order for continued financial support.
Although the constant relocation of the team allows for the collection of data from the widest possible spread of Solar Sister product users, Alaina, Victoria and Professor Gray travel in and out of a different village each day, unable to form any lasting connections with the locals. Experiencing foreign cultures and immersing yourself in unfamiliar environments is truly one of the most eye-opening and educational experiences an individual can ask . According to Alaina, the most important part of working abroad is having the opportunity for some kind of cultural exchange and understanding individuals raised in completely different environments from your own.
For further information on this experience abroad check out Alaina's Solar Sister Blog.