Supporting locally-run, woman-led businesses is a key element of the Alliance’s gender strategy to increase the role of women in the sector and to address gender issues to scale adoption. Through the Women’s Empowerment Fund (WEF), the Alliance works with small and medium enterprises that are run by women, such as Appropriate Energy Saving Technologies (AEST) in Eastern Uganda. AEST creates livelihood opportunities for women in the cookstove and fuel value chain by scaling women’s participation as suppliers of agricultural waste, producers of charcoal briquettes, and as distributors and after-sales service providers for these products. AEST has an added focus on increasing women’s economic empowerment through agency-based empowerment and leadership training for women employees, as well as engaging men as agents of change within the community.
Increasing women’s participation and empowerment in the cookstove & fuel value chain
Young women drying briquettes at the production site
Through support of the WEF, AEST has experienced tremendous growth in the last three months. The company has acquired much-needed machinery to expand its business operations and has increased women’s participation at different levels of the value chain. To ensure that women have access to the resources and networks they need to be successful economically, AEST provides agency-based empowerment, leadership, and business skills training to its network of micro-entrepreneurs. At the beginning of the project, AEST’s trainers attended a 5-day training-of-trainers workshop in Nairobi, Kenya hosted by The Developing a Sustainable Cookstove Sector (DSCS) Project, implemented by Winrock International with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This workshop built the capacity of AEST staff in the Empowered Entrepreneur Training Handbook, which is a curricula developed by the Alliance to support women working in the household energy sector. Following the workshop, AEST trained 23 Ugandan micro-entrepreneurs (14 women, 9 men) who are engaged in the production, distribution, and after-sales components of AEST’s business. Over the next 6 months, they will continue to train micro-entrepreneurs using this curricula, as well as host trainings for 70 women on distribution, marketing, after-sales services, and the carbonization of waste.
AEST’s WEF project also aims to increase the number of men in communities that support women’s livelihoods and income-generating activities. To achieve this, AEST conducted four community dialogue meetings with 61 men and 108 women in two districts (Kumi and Soroti). This has greatly strengthened the collaboration and joint efforts by both men and women to work towards solving community problems together, particularly the issue of fuel scarcity. Dialogues amongst the community members helped raised awareness about the importance of women’s participation in the workplace, and men reported that they would be supportive of their wives or partners by providing them with startup capital for business activities or childcare to help foster a better environment for women’s entrepreneurship.
Most of [the participants in community dialogues] confessed that, for once, they felt that outsiders recognized the existing indigenous knowledge, skills, and capabilities of their community which would play a very important role in improving or changing their situation – Betty Ikalany, CEO, AEST
The community dialogue meetings also benefitted AEST by motivating community members to partner with their company to ensure quick adoption of clean cooking solutions. Those with existing businesses saw cookstoves as a way to expand their reach, and others saw this as an opportunity to start new entrepreneurial activities. AEST will continue to engage women as a core component of its initiatives, ultimately enhancing business effectiveness, sustainability, and the ability to have a lasting social impact at the community level.