Foto: Sven Torfinn. Rwanda, Kigali, mei 2018. This image is part of a series of pictures produced to illustrate the research “electricity’s impact on women’s empowerment”, conducted by ENERGIA and Hivos. Pictures were taken in Kigali, capital of Rwanda and rural villages where several development organizations and also companies have invested in off-grid energy solutions and solar power. Rwamagana District, Rubona Sector, Bitter Cell, Umubuga Village. Francine Nyirangirene is part of a group running a charging station. A blue box is connected to a solar panel, and once the battery is full can charge up to five headlights at the same time. The charging station was provided by Nuru Energy, including up to a 100 headlights which were distributed to community members. In the morning they drop the lights at Vivian’s house, she does the charging for a little fee, and in the afternoon people pass by to pick the lights again.

How Female Entrepreneurs Can Light Up Rural Rwanda

Just over 52% of households in Rwanda have access to some form of electricity. This access is not evenly distributed across Rwanda. In rural communities, where most Rwandans live, energy access rates are far lower. Furthermore, the country’s geography severely limits the reach of Rwanda’s electric grids.

This means Rwandans are increasingly turning to off-grid energy solutions, namely solar power.

My guest today, Rebecca Klege, is a Ghanian economist whose research focuses on the intersection of clean energy access and female entrepreneurship. She is a researcher at Environmental Research Policy Unit who is completing her PHD studies at the School of Economics, University of Cape Town in South Africa.

What makes Rebecca Klege’s work so unique is that she flips a common study question on its head. Rather than asking how energy access empowers women, she examines how empowered women can promote energy access, and whether or not they do a better job of it than men.

At the center of her research is a for-profit social enterprise called Nuru Energy. This company provides re-chargeable solar lighting to village level entrepreneurs, who then sell the lighting to others in their community. Using sales data from Nuru Energy, Rebecca Klege was able to compare the effectiveness of female salespeople versus their male counterparts. She finds that female entrepreneurs of this solar energy product are significantly more successful than male entrepreneurs.

There are broad implications of this finding, which touches on questions around sustainable development, clean energy access, and women’s empowerment. These questions and more are being put to the test in an on-going randomized control which Rebecca Klege also discusses in this episode.

And on a very similar note, I want to draw listeners attention to a recently concluded Virtual Workshop on Gender & Energy Access, hosted by Duke University and featuring 200 practitioner-scholars from over 30 countries. You can find a link to that workshop and white paper on

Today’s episode is the third installment in a series of episodes that will be published over the next few months that showcase the research and work of the Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative. SETI is an interdisciplinary global collaborative that aims to foster research on energy access and energy transitions in low and middle-income countries. Currently, SETI is housed at Duke University, where it is led by Professors Subhrendu Pattanayak and Marc Jeuland. To learn more about SETI, follow them on Twitter @SETIenergy.

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