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Woman led company wins award for lighting up Nepal

A women-led clean energy initiative has won a prestigious international award for supporting the development of solar businesses in Nepal
<p>CEO Mina Mahato in her shop in Pratapur, Kailali district, Nepal [image from: Ashden] </p>

CEO Mina Mahato in her shop in Pratapur, Kailali district, Nepal [image from: Ashden]

Empower Generation, which works across the Terai – or plains areas – of the Bardiya, Rupandehi, Chitwan and Siraha districts of Nepal, won the 2017 International Ashden Award for Clean Energy for Women and Girls at an awards ceremony in London, UK, last night.

The organisation aims to empower women to set up business and become CEOs. Each CEO manages a team of agents to sell solar energy products in rural communities. According to its website, Empower Generation agents have distributed 55,000 solar products, providing 280,000 people with cleaner and safer light and power, in a country where half of the population lives without reliable access to power.

“Winning the award is huge for us, being a small company,” Sita Adhikari, co-founder of Empower Generation, told thethirdpole.net. “We have an ambitious scale-up plan, so the Ashden Award is a great platform for us to network, have support and talk about our work.”

Empower Generation is bringing clean energy to remote areas of Nepal, helping to alleviate poverty, improve health and reduce carbon emissions [image by: Empower Generation]
Established in 2001, the Ashden Awards champion innovative organisations in the field of sustainable energy. International award winners receive £20,000 (more than 2.5 million Nepalese rupees) and are given support to further their work, including business, technical and financial advice. Notable previous winners from South Asia include Husk Power Systems, Grameen Shakti and the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme.

Currently, Empower Generation supports 23 women CEOs who manage 170 agents, male and female. The agents sell solar lanterns, solar home systems, clean cookstoves and water filters rom SunKing and d.light, which won an Ashden Award in 2010, to local families and NGOs, many of which are delivering programmes in response to the 2015 earthquake.

“Women feel the most pain from energy poverty and therefore, they stand to gain the most from clean energy,” Anya Cherneff, executive director and co-founder of Empower Generation told the Ashden Conference in London on Tuesday. “Many of our sales agents and entrepreneurs start out as customers. They buy a solar lantern or a cookstove, it changes the way their household runs, it makes an impact on them and then they go out and objectively sell that to their peers.”

Empower Generation’s CEOs receive financial and management training, and are mentored while they develop their businesses, which have individual names and must be registered in the name of the woman CEO.

“We focus on the CEO because we want to help develop her leadership. We introduce her in her community as a businesswoman and we make sure that they have a real company running out there,” Adhikari told thethirdpole.net. “We also give sales and marketing training to the sales agents to promote their business in the community.”

The Ashden judges said, “The training and support that Empower Generation provides to women to help them run their own clean energy business is crucial and makes an enormous difference, improving both their financial literacy and their position in the community,” said the judges.

The Empower Generation model has proved so successful that it started working in Myanmar in March. Moving forward, the organisation will work to scale-up in Myanmar while also expanding in Nepal. The organisation aims to have 100 women CEOs and 1,000 sales agents by 2020.

“Energy is really a human-centered problem,” Cherneff told the Ashden Conference in London on Tuesday. “There’s no one product, one subsidy or one killer app that’s going to solve any of the world’s problems. Local communities are going to solve these problems.”

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