AUGUST 2018 || LET THERE BE LIGHT

The good: This month has again been a huge month for solar sales, with solar products accounting for almost 40% of all our sales. Our sales force has grown since last month, with some very successful recruitments in Nairobi, and average agent income is also exceeding our goal for the 6th month in a row! We’ll be looking to further expand our product range, which we hope will lead to an even greater increase in sales agent income.

The challenge: Our sales revenue has gone below 75% of our goal, which has led us to take action to overcome the retail slump, especially with regard to clean cookstoves. We’re engaging in marketing events and roadshows with manufacturing and marketing partners, which is giving us greater reach and creating demand in the towns in and around where we have local branches. These marketing events have lead to an increase in sales in several branches.

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JULY 2018 || Agents doing it for themselves

The good: Sales agents are exceeding all expectations, and selling enough to earn an income that exceeds the goals we set out at the beginning of the year. This means more cash to save, invest in their family, or invest in their own future business. This month again, solar products accounted for a significant proportion of clean energy products sold, proving that our sales force can adopt new product pitches and vary their basket of goods. We’ve also seen a slight rise in the size of our sales force, as higher income means agents will stay longer!

 

The challenge: Our overall revenue is not quite hitting the level we projected, and we see a general low level of consumer confidence in Kenya right now, with the typical Kenyan holding on to their money as the price of basic necessities has risen drastically (petrol, flour, etc.).  

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JUNE 2018 || A NEW MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

The good: Yet another new addition to the LivelyHoods family, which has grown to a total of 12 branches! We opened our branch in Kisumu this month, which is Kenya’s third largest city. This has been a challenging branch to open, as it had been slated for 2017. However, unrest around last year’s elections in the area led us to delay this branch’s opening. Now it is fully in business and we have a fresh cohort of Kisumu-based agents brining clean cookstoves and solar products to households in their communities. We’ve also further grown our sales of solar products to include pay-as-you home systems, in part due to the success of these products in our new branches where there are low levels of electrification.

The challenge: Though each sales agent is excelling (demonstarted by the average sales agent income of 123% of our goal), we do not have as large a sales force as we would like for this time of year, which makes it challenging to hit our revenue goal. Some recruitments have been less succesful than projected, so we had a low number of new sales agents joining the branches. We have, however, expanded our partnerships with community groups, who we partner with as both customers and independent entrepreneurs.

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MAY 2018 || A NEW MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

The Good: we’re delighted to welcome Bungoma to the LivelyHoods family, as our newest branch in Kenya, bringing our current total to 11! It is a thriving sugar town, with much of the population involved in farming or the production of sugar or maize. This is the closest branch to a neighboring country, lying less than an hour by road from Uganda…watch this space! This May we have had amazing results in terms of income per agent, hitting way above our goal for the month. We have also substantially grown our sale of solar products, totaling 17% of our clean energy products sales, our best ever solar results!

The Challenge: We’ve landed a bit below our sales revenue goal, and have not seen the month-on-month growth we were expecting for this second quarter of the year so far. Though our installment payment sales have been high, these do not always lead to complete sales that same month, and may be completed between one and three months after the customer registers on the plan.  

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the SisterHood rising #4: A conversation we’re not having about the energy access sector

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In celebration of International Women’s Day 2018, a group of outstanding organisations working to empower women within the energy access sector are collaborating on a series of articles. We are sharing the stories of women’s empowerment from around the globe and in this fourth, and final, piece of our series we hear from Emma Colenbrander, Pollinate Energy cofounder and leader of the Energy Markets portfolio at Practical Action. Emma discusses the need for women’s meaningful participation in the global energy sector.

Over the past five years I’ve read and heard a lot about gender in energy access. The focus has been on the importance of including and empowering women in energy access value chains, particularly as consumers and as sales agents, and how this can be achieved in practice. Energia summarises the rationale for this neatly: when women have access to energy it contributes to poverty reduction; taking women into account in energy interventions means improved energy access and adoption; and having women in energy jobs improves energy supply chain effectiveness.

This is great - but there’s one big conversation we’re still not having, and that’s about women’s meaningful engagement and leadership in the global energy access sector.

Gloria Steinem once said that women get more radical with age, and this resonates strongly with me. As I get older and my career progresses I increasingly experience and witness biases against women. It’s well known that the mainstream energy sector struggles with an extreme gender imbalance. But I see first-hand that the energy access sector is similarly failing to engage and empower women as advocates, leaders and change-makers.

Energy access conferences are overwhelmingly male. I am consistently sitting through all-male panels (and no, sticking a female moderator on a panel with six men doesn’t count as gender diversity). Leadership in the sector is dominated by men, and this is particularly true of those organisations that hold the purse strings. This makes it hard for me to take conversations about gender in energy access projects seriously – after all, change has to start at home.

PEG Africa, a pay-as-you-go solar home system provider in West Africa, is setting a good example here. They have acknowledged the need to do more on gender, both from a fairness perspective and a business perspective, and are tackling this head on by piloting gender-inclusive business practices. They’ve set out a Gender Action Plan with five key objectives that include increasing the number of women in decision-making positions. This genuine commitment to change is inspiring, and something we can learn from.

 Pollinate Energy City Co-leaders Meenal and Eloise promoting Gender Equality, one of the official 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Pollinate Energy City Co-leaders Meenal and Eloise promoting Gender Equality, one of the official 17 Sustainable Development Goals

 

More good news: women in energy access are coming together, collaborating, sharing knowledge, and supporting each other to achieve new levels of impact. An example of this is the work I have done over the past year with four-women led social enterprises in Kenya, India and Nepal in exploring opportunities to collaborate in a meaningful way to reduce inefficiency and leverage each other’s respective strengths. This is rare: securing financing is dependent on being able to prove why your organisation is better than your competition, and this creates negative incentives to collaborate and fosters mistrust. But these four women-led enterprises (Pollinate Energy, Empower Generation, Essmart and LivelyHoods) have proven that we can break down these barriers to create a more transparent sector, reduce duplication of effort, and achieve greater impact.

As a result of these collaboration conversations, two of these organisations are now merging to achieve greater scale, while the others have entered strategic partnerships to share information and resources, co-apply for funding opportunities, and advocate on the global stage. This is a rare demonstration of partnerships in action, beyond the usual rhetoric of collaboration at global (male-dominated) conferences.

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These conversations started when I was Executive Director at Pollinate Energy, and together we have gone on to lay the foundations for the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), an emerging initiative founded on the belief that for the energy access gap to be effectively bridged we need to change the conversation. Right now the sector is all about competition and picking winners. We want something new: we want sector-wide approaches that lift all boats and allow us to genuinely learn from and build on each other’s work. This is exactly what we’re working to create through the GDC. The GDC seeks to leverage economies of scale and process between last mile distribution companies, for example by centralising functions like procurement and training, and sharing learnings and best practices to optimise business models across the sector.

I am excited by what I see as a fundamental shift in paradigms and ways of working in the sector. I am excited by women leading the charge to unlock previously untapped potential for impact at scale.

So what can we do as a sector? Help facilitate these kinds of collaborations and conversations. Put women leaders in the spotlight and provide the right platforms for them to engage. Acknowledge what we’re not doing well within our own organisations and as a collective. Commit to implementing concrete actions to empower women in the sector. Stop letting fear of competition prevent meaningful collaboration. Take the Owen pledge.

And for god’s sake, put a woman on your panel.

 

Emma is a social entrepreneur and international development professional. She is a Trustee at Ashden, leads the Energy Markets portfolio at Practical Action where she heads up the Global Distributors Collective, and is a co-founder of Pollinate Energy, a multi-award winning social enterprise in India that brings clean energy products to urban slum communities. Emma has also worked with the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), focusing on development finance and innovation.

APRIL 2018 || WORKING TOGETHER

The Good: This month we’re proud to see the average sales agent income has been maintained, meaning that across our branches, agents are earning a stable, safe and sustainable income. We’ve successfully launched partnerships with major agricultural and financial institutions with a national presence, and have already engaged with them in community-based market activations. These activities have opened up new possibilities and channels for our sales agents, and also promise long-term opportunities for continued partnership.

The challenge: Our revenue goal was higher than last month, but due to heavy rains across the country and some serious flooding in some parts, we didn’t hit that ambitious goal.  We’re still happy to see that all branches are adopting new strategies to market, approach groups, and work with local partners.

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 Stanford Alumni Day of Service, one of the many visits we had this month and the sales agents showed them the ropes of last-mile distribution of clean energy products!

Stanford Alumni Day of Service, one of the many visits we had this month and the sales agents showed them the ropes of last-mile distribution of clean energy products!

THE SISTERHOOD RISING #3: Women doing it for themselves, and for their communities

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2018, a group of outstanding organisations working to empower women within the energy access sector are collaborating on a series of articles. We will be sharing stories of women’s empowerment from around the globe over the coming weeks. In the third piece of our series Tania Laden and Claire Baker make a case for more active inclusion and leadership of women. Their organization, LivelyHoods, is a social business that creates job opportunities for Kenya’s youth and women in their own communities, transforming marginalized populations into clean energy distributors.

Kenya is a hub of social entrepreneurship and of tech innovation, where people from across the globe are flocking in pursuit of the next big thing to come out of the ‘Silicon Savannah’. However, it’s also a country where the majority of women are still confined to the kitchens, fields, and fireplaces of urban and rural homes. These women are locked out of the formal job sector and prevented from reaching their potential as professionals and leaders in their communities.

“When I cofounded LivelyHoods in 2011, we set out to tackle two issues which we saw as being barriers to development in Kenyan slums: youth unemployment and a distribution bottleneck for innovative, clean energy, products,” explains Tania Laden, LivelyHoods cofounder and Executive Director. “What we didn’t realize was that we were creating a powerful model for women, in particular, to earn an income and become community influencers by educating other women on the benefits of modern energy technologies, like clean cookstoves and solar lamps.”

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the noxious health impacts of traditional cookstoves given their role in household cooking and fuel collection in Kenya. Traditional cooking and lighting technologies cause indoor air pollution that can be so toxic that respiratory illnesses kill more children than malaria in urban areas. Women working as clean energy sales agents fight back against dirty energy practices one sale at a time.

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LivelyHoods’ mission is to distribute life-changing products through a door to door sales force that creates jobs for talented youth and women in slums. It’s essentially the Avon model for clean energy products, for which the primary consumer is also women. To date, they have trained 1,500 women, and distributed over 26,000 clean energy products across 10 community branches throughout Kenya.

LivelyHoods operates 10 branches across Kenya, and the team grows all the time as new trainees and sales agents are brought on board.

Rachel became a sales agent in 2016. She was new to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and was at a loss for how to piece her life together after experiencing emotional trauma and financial stress.

“Before Joining LivelyHoods I was just from a broken marriage. I was confused because I was literally dependent on my husband for everything and anything. When my marriage broke down I was devastated. I moved to Nairobi without any plans on how to get a job, and life was hard trying to get people to host me. I had just moved to Nairobi, rented my own house (a single room) and the house was empty and I could barely get rent to pay for the house, leave alone food.”

Rachel is one of over 100 LivelyHoods sales agents going door to door in slums communities across Kenya every day. LivelyHoods continues to train hundreds of women each year through its network of branches. Once women complete the training program, they receive a revolving consignment of products, so that they can sell and earn a commissions-based income without taking on any financial risk.

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“Since joining LivelyHoods I now never have to worry about what to eat or where to get money for rent. The best thing that happened is that a few months after joining LivelyHoods I got money to claim my kids’ custody, which came through, and I’m now able to care for them and even pay their school fees and their upkeep. The fact that I can save with LivelyHoods gives me courage that my emergencies are catered for. I had never worked in a sales company and so I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but I was given a chance here, given the skills I was missing, and it made me become one of the best sellers; I’m now a senior sales agent.”

There’s a global realisation in all sectors that without the inclusion and leadership of women, development can’t happen. A transition to clean energy can’t happen without women because women are often the decision makers for household energy. While Tania did not set out the with the intention of building a business that was women-led or focusing on women as customers and employees, it happened naturally because given the opportunity, women can become leaders, managers, influencers and breadwinners, often outselling their male counterparts 3:1. Women now make up 90% of the top 10% of sales agents, and are more likely to commit long-term to working as sales agents, growing their sales to up to $1,000 a month. This is proof that leaving women out of the equation, whether at the household energy level or in the larger conversations around development, is a huge missed opportunity.

The Authors

Tania Laden earned her B.S. from Stanford University, where she graduated with a degree in Science, Technology and Society with a focus on Management Science and Engineering. Tania joined LivelyHoods at the end of 2010, bringing her global business acumen and experience to the organization. Prior to LivelyHoods, Tania worked as a Financial Advisor with Morgan Stanley, where she focused on assisting non-profits and social ventures manage their assets and investments. As a Business and Technology Analyst at EZLearn, an educational technology start-up in Brazil, Tania assisted with managing the technology team and customer outreach activities for over 10,000 customers. After serving as an adviser and volunteer for two years with KITO International, Tania moved to Kenya to build and manage iSmart, the first social enterprise created by LivelyHoods.

Claire Baker leads fundraising, communications, and partnerships for LivelyHoods, and works closely with the operations team in project planning and monitoring. Since graduating from Durham University in England with a degree in Modern Languages, Claire has worked in the non-profit and social business sector in France, Spain and Tanzania, and has taught English in rural communities in Mexico. She worked for two years in operations and communications management to promote disability rights for Jaccede.com, an award-winning not-for-profit in Paris, and was part of a growing social business focused on access to solar energy in East Africa. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

MARCH 2018 || SPRINGING INTO ACTION

The good: One of our objectives is to pursue month on month growth, and this month we’ve achieved that for every single one of our KPIs. The most significant growth has been in the number of energy efficient products sold, with an increase specifically in terms of solar products, as we’ve developed a new partnership with D.Light, one of the world’s primary household solar manufacturers. We have this year rolled out a new remuneration structure for sales agents, which is designed to encourage goal setting and enhance retention of sales agents.

The challenge: We’re still a small way off our revenue goal as an organization, and we have a large discrepancy between the sales of our top branches and our lowest performing branches. The challenge now is to identify the specificities of each area and to adjust the product mix and marketing strategies for each. We also have some strategic financing and marketing partners with whom we are working in a number of branches, to boost the number of opportunities LivelyHoods agents have to make sales.

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THE SISTERHOOD RISING #2: Tipping the balance to making gender equity the company norm

 Amreen, and experienced 'Pollinator' showing a solar light to a customer in an informal settlement in Bangalore, India. 

Amreen, and experienced 'Pollinator' showing a solar light to a customer in an informal settlement in Bangalore, India. 

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2018, a group of outstanding organisations working to empower women within the energy access sector are collaborating on a series of articles. We will be sharing stories of women’s empowerment from around the globe over the course of this month. Today, Alexie Seller discusses the momentous efforts to reach gender parity within Pollinate Energy, a social enterprise in India that delivers life-changing products to families living in India’s slum communities.

In December 2016, I was sitting in a room at our annual retreat in Chennai, India. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had just declared in a bold PR move that he was demonetising the Indian cash currency, and Trump had been declared President of the US. Obviously we were all feeling a little uncertain about where things were headed in this changing world, but we still had to focus on our organisational strategy for the coming year.

As I looked around the room at my team, something dawned on me. Although our organisation was founded by myself and five other Australians (four of us women), and had always been led by women, I was the only woman in the Pollinate Energy’s India team.

How could this happen? We, a female-led social enterprise focussing on improving lives of families (mostly women!!) in Indian slum communities, suddenly had no female staff. I was shocked. I realised the scale of the problem - if we couldn’t manage to create a workplace that enabled women to join us and develop into leaders, then what hope would any other commercial company have? In India, only 17% of business leadership roles are held by women!

That was the moment I decided to make a change to ensure that the balance was tipped back in favour of an inclusive and diverse workplace under my leadership as CEO. Our goal for 2017? Simply to hire more women as program staff and as sales people, whom we refer to as Pollinators. I figured that was the first step. Until we achieved better gender balance in our team, we couldn’t expect significant impact empowering women through our work in the slums. According to a McKinsey study on gender parity in India, gender equality in work is heavily linked to gender equality in society. Yet, in India more than 70 percent of women have not entered the formal labour force.

I managed to hire an exceptional candidate as our Pollinator Recruitment Officer, Rani, who was to champion our initiative to increase female representation amongst our sales team. Hailing from a village outside of Hyderabad, India, Rani was the youngest in a family of four. Her elder siblings are all married, have children and still live in the village they grew up in. Rani’s life could have looked like her siblings, except that Rani graduated at the top of her class in high school, which guaranteed her full government reimbursement for her post-secondary studies. After graduating, she worked as a senior development engineer, a field that few Indian women enter compared to men. When Rani’s parents fell ill, however, she had to make the difficult choice to put her rising career on hold and take care of them. It was during this challenging crossroads that she came across Pollinate Energy. Now Rani has a job where she is fulfilled, challenged and has opportunities for growth, while she is still able to stay close to her parents and care for them.

Under Rani’s leadership, we started the process of championing recruitment of women at Pollinate Energy. The end results speak for themselves - by the end of Rani’s first year, we had hired 8 women as sales representatives and 5 women as program staff members. We’ve gone from 7% to 42% female representation in our Pollinator team in the past year. We are excited about how far we have come on this journey, but it was definitely not easy and we are nowhere near done. Our next focus is on empowering more women to move into positions of leadership in our organisation, and on identifying new ways to impact women and children in the communities we serve. In essence, improving outcomes for women as our colleagues and as our customers is becoming a core element of how we operate as an organisation.

As the leader throughout this transition, I learned some important lessons about how to drive this kind of change at an organisational level:

1.     Make your team accountable, and accept that change takes time - Gender inclusion remains a huge problem, and without direct leadership and team accountability we were not going to achieve it. In this situation, it was important that I set targets for our team to recruit women, whilst acknowledging that this would prolong our  recruitment process to find a suitable candidate. By taking the pressure off how quickly we recruited and instead focussing on getting a quality candidate pool, we were able to find the right people for the roles.

2.     Call out the bias - We all have unconscious bias. One of the key roles I played was to regularly call out biased comments and use these as learning points for our whole team on how ingrained these perceptions can be, and also how this impacts women’s experience in the workplace. This served as a constant reminder for our team, who in turn started to call out their own bias.

3.     Make it topical - Naming our gaps in gender diversity and making it a topic that we discussed was half the battle. Suddenly male staff members who had never even mentioned gender to me before announced that their number one achievement last month was hiring a woman. It became a moment of celebration and achievement.

4.     Find a mentor - We partnered up with some incredible women leaders of social businesses doing similar work, like Anya and Sita from Empower Generation in Nepal. Who have built a women-led distribution network that is 99% women. They provided me with advice and mentorship, and were a shining example for our team to look to.