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.
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.
“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.
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.