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.

February 2018 || Women’s empowerment, price hikes and trainings galore

The good: We’re almost on target with our sales and income goals, and have significantly grown our sales agent numbers since last month, due to some extremely successful recruitments in four of our branches across Kenya. Our Women’s Empowerment program, in partnership with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, also fully kicked off this month, with a women’s-only recruitment in one branch, and targeted support to female sales agents.

The challenge: There was a dramatic price change for one of our most fast-moving clean cookstoves, and the major increase affected sales from the second half of the month. We have been adjusting this to find the most appropriate price point for customers, whilst still optimizing the profit margins for the sales agents and the organization. We have taken part in a number of market activations with partners and credit providers to lay the groundwork more sales in the coming weeks.

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How do we change lives?

Did you know, LivelyHoods has an official theory of change? 

We do. 

Below you'll see how we express our impact at several levels: people, planet, and profit, and how that applies to everyone that our work touches, from the individual cookstove user or trainee, to the household, and society as a whole. You'll see that we use this triple bottom line approach to talk about the difference that our training and distribution network makes in Kenyan communities. 

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The Sisterhood Rising: A series of stories of women empowering others

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In celebration of International Women’s Day 2018, we are collaborating with a group of outstanding organisations working to empower women within the energy access sector. We will be sharing stories of women’s empowerment from around the globe over the course of this month. Today we’re kicking it off with a piece from our friends at Empower Generation, a social enterprise in Nepal that empowers women to own and lead franchises that deliver life-improving products to rural communities. Empower Generation’s co-founder Anya Cherneff shares the story of her business partner and entrepreneur, Sita Adhikari.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress, a “call-to-action to press forward the progress of gender parity” and “to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.” In veneration of International Women’s Day today, US Women’s History Month, and in recognition of all women everywhere, I’m telling stories of sisterhood: Women empowering others to rise up and cross physical, cultural, racial, religious and gender barriers to achieve success in business, at home and in their communities. I work for approximately one billion global citizens living without electricity, and over three billion who are cooking over an open fire to feed their families every day. The fact that women suffer the most from energy poverty is loudly touted within the impact sector. Commercial solutions that do not include women at all levels of business will fail, but how do you effectively recruit and provide a supportive environment for women and other underrepresented groups to thrive? These are the stories of the people I work for and it is my great privilege to share them with you.

 

In Nepal my partner, Sita Adhikari and I, are growing a network of franchises rooted in the rural communities where they work. Nepal ranks 144 out of 188 on the 2016 United Nations Gender Development Index (GDI). It has made some strides in instituting laws to reach gender parity, but rural Nepalese women still face many challenges in gaining equal access to economic opportunities due to lower education levels, an illegal but pervasive dowry system, a patriarchal society, and systematic poverty. Disturbingly, less than 7% of women are included in Nepal’s formally recognized workforce.

However, there are signs of hope. Rural Nepalese women are the most powerful activists progressing the gender equity agenda. They are providing for their families by working on their farms or in family-owned shops. They are active in their communities, leading community-based nonprofits, and extending support to marginalized people. Despite these contributions to the economy and their communities, the majority of this work is unpaid and unrecognized. This was the case with Sita Adhikari, Co-Founder of Empower Generation and CEO of the last-mile distribution company, Kalpavriksha, when I met her in 2010.

Sita grew up in a progressive rural family. She was encouraged to study in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, far away from her home and received her master’s degree in economics. Sita was also able to marry the person she fell in love with, which is very rare in Nepal with most marriages being arranged. Sita recognized her privilege to grow up in a family that believed in her, supported her education, and gave her freedom to choose her own husband.

When Sita finished her graduate studies, she went back to their village in Jhuwani, Chitwan. Sita managed her family’s fish farm and other entrepreneurial ventures that contributed to the family budget but she was never paid a salary or was recognized as the legal owner of a business. After she helped to build a community library in Jhuwani, Sita observed that most of the users were men. Sita created women’s reading groups and made it mandatory for the library to obtain a wide range of books so they would interest everyone. The reading groups she created developed into a public speaking club, and eventually into the Jhuwani Women’s Savings and Credit Cooperative, a women’s microfinance fund and the most successful program offered by the library.

 

 Anya, Empower Generation entrepreneur Runa Jha, and Sita 

Anya, Empower Generation entrepreneur Runa Jha, and Sita 

Based on her own experience and through many other women at the cooperative, Sita saw how difficult it was for women to earn money, independent from their husband’s or extended family’s income, regardless of whether they came from a progressive family.  She herself experienced how not earning her own income limited her personal decision making power in the household, and a lowered perception of her in society. She thought about the many rural Nepalese women who did not have an education or agency within their own families, and became motivated to find a way to improve their situation. A chance meeting I had with her launched her on her path to becoming an entrepreneur and using her business to empower more women to start their own businesses selling life-changing products such as solar lights, clean cookstoves, and water filters to remote customers.

Sita started her business, Kalpavriksha, in 2012 at the same time I was inspired to found Empower Generation, and a partnership between the two was a natural fit. Her vision was to employ at least 100 women in a company that she owned. Today, Sita is the sole owner of Kalpavriksha, a wholesale distributor of life-improving products and the manager of a franchise network of 20 businesses and their 300 sales agents. She has become a recognized expert on energy access and inclusive workforce development and is frequently the only women on a panel or in the room for high-level energy access meetings. As Empower Generation’s Country Director, Sita helped 23 women entrepreneurs launch 20 businesses and trained more than 1000 women and girls in sales and marketing. Providing entrepreneurial and employment opportunities to underserved groups by offering business skills training, mentorship, and capital, with Empower Generation’s support, continue to be Sita’s focus and passion. She says, “It is necessary for women to earn an income. Unless they have money in hand, women’s empowerment won’t succeed. They should not be seen as beneficiaries; they should be respected and promoted as stakeholders.”

On International Women’s Day, we honor women like Sita, who work everyday to advance gender parity. They do this by creating platforms for others to develop their voice and agency and by bravely leading through example of refusal to accept the patriarchal status quo.  Women helping women to rise in a united sisterhood is a theme we should all embody, not just on March 8, but consistently and continually throughout the year. Today, let’s all think about the people in our lives who are fighting for progress and could use an ally. Let them know we stand with them.

January 2018 || Small but mighty

The good:  The year 2018 is one that all of Kenya has entered into with a sigh of relief. The rollercoaster elections of August and October 2017 are behind us, the economy is starting to pick up again, and a fresh year brings fresh opportunities. For LivelyHoods, this means returning sales agents are full of energy and determination, and the new sales agents we’ve been training all month are raring to go. Though we have a smaller sales force than at the end of the year, due to some individuals not returning after spending the holidays in their rural homes, or moving on to other opportunities, this sales force has been doing great things.  Average agent income and total sales revenue are both well above our goals for this month.

We were also delighted to welcome two new team members in our Nairobi office. Dennis Ochieng is our new Country Director, who will be leading our operations in Kenya to even greater success in the coming years as we continue to expand. Gertrude Jonams is heading up our Women’s Empowerment work, to provide targeted support to female sales agents through mentoring and training.  Read more about our team on our website.

The challenge: January was a short month, as we resumed operations only in the second week, and so we had few days to hit our full month’s targets. Given this time constraint, we did extremely well and even trained 100 people! However, this required a lot of travel across the country and we pushed our training team to the limit, with people spread across all of our branches and going from one training straight into another. We were also excited but put to the test by some shifts in roles and responsibilities, with several team members evolving into new positions within the organization. This therefore requires new processes, structures, and getting used to being held accountable for new responsibilities.  As always, we’ve been blown away by the resilience and energy of the whole LivelyHoods team, and everyone is working towards the shared goal of creating jobs for youth and women in their communities.

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December 2017 || ending the year with a bang

The good: Despite not holding new trainings in December, we’ve retained almost all of our workforce from the previous month and further grown the average agent income, which is fantastic news for all of the LivelyHoods sales agents. The economy is slowly regaining its balance, and spending on household purchases is starting to pick up again.

The challenge: December is always a short working month, with everyone, including LivelyHoods staff and sales agents, taking a well-earned break, meaning fewer days to hit those all-important goals. We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved this month, which is testament to the hard work put in throughout the year and the grit and determination of LivelyHoods trained sales agents.

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November 2017 || BACK TO NORMAL

The good: After several turbulent months, operations could finally resume (almost) as normal, with all branches open all month, little to no election-related unrest, and committed LivelyHoods sales agents getting back out in the streets and markets with high spirits and quality products! Our agents worked hard and exceeded the income goals established for 2017, meaning that on average each of them took home more than we aimed for at the beginning of the year.

The challenge: The number of agents across the organization did take a hit, as the branch closures and travel surrounding elections meant that some sales agents did not return to their LivelyHoods branch, remained in their rural homes, or found other ways to make ends meet in the interim, despite us providing additional support over this time to make up for the dip in productivity. As the year draws to a close, training of new sales agents is also slowing down, but that means that field staff are providing even more targeted support to the remaining number of agents in each branch.

 

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