Inclusive investments: How REPP-supported projects are promoting gender equality in African countries
8 March 2023 | By Laura Lahti, Head of Impact, Camco
Happy International Women’s Day!
Today, I wanted to take stock of some of the great achievements being made by investees of the UK government-funded Renewable Energy Performance Platform (REPP) in supporting gender equality and to highlight once again the critical role of women in addressing climate change, energy access and other sustainable development issues.
Despite women and girls representing roughly half of the world’s population and with that half of the world’s potential for positive change, gender inequality persists everywhere and is stagnating social progress. The situation is particularly dire in Africa, where more countries rank among the world’s worst for gender inequality than any other region, meaning women and girls in these countries have far fewer opportunities and worse prospects than their male counterparts.
Overcoming this inequality is of course highly complex, but the progress to date has been too slow. Critical to addressing the problem, however, is ensuring access to modern clean energy for everyone while also ensuring Africa’s female entrepreneurs have better access to finance to grow their businesses and establish financial independence.
With funding from the UK’s International Climate Finance (ICF) through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), REPP supports women entrepreneurship by investing in women-owned and/or managed businesses. Under Camco’s management, it also works directly with investee companies to help them improve gender equality within the business and project communities and make them more attractive to gender-conscious lenders.
One of REPP’s key performance indicators is how much of its funding is aligned with the gender lens investing criteria of the 2X Challenge, which aims to inspire DFIs/IFIs and the broader private sector to invest in the world’s women. The criteria relate to the proportion of women involved in different areas of the business and include “entrepreneurship”, “leadership” and “employment”. A fourth criterion, “consumption”, refers specifically to the products or services provided by a company that disproportionally benefit women.
As of 31 December 2022, REPP had committed 35% of its funding to 13 investments that are aligned with 2X Challenge’s gender lens investing criteria. And since REPP’s inception, a total of 1,770 newly created jobs have been held by women.
Female entrepreneurship in action
A standout example here is that of Sierra Leone-based solar mini-grid operator Energicity (SL) Ltd, which is owned and managed by renewable energy trailblazer, Nicole Poindexter.
Energicity (SL) Ltd (a subsidiary of Energicity Corporation) won a concession for the construction and operation of 9 new solar-powered mini-grids in Sierra Leone and the operation of a further 23 existing sites through a competitive bid issued by Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Energy’s Rural Renewable Electrification Project.
The electrification project was conceived in the wake of the 2014 Ebola crisis to support Sierra Leone’s health care system, and a significant part of Energicity (SL) Ltd’s Moyamba project aims to strengthen local healthcare services via direct connections to hospitals, clinics and free-of-charge provision to community health centres.
To date, the project has connected more than 30 hospitals and clinics to solar power, as well as providing first time access to electricity to nearly 23,000 people. Before now, these clinics have had to rely on often unreliable diesel generators as their only source of power, causing both air and noise pollution. Today, the clinics can provide services to patients throughout day and night, including critical maternal and child healthcare, safe in the knowledge that their essential equipment and lighting will not be affected by an unexpected power cut.
Energicity (SL) Ltd’s is not only run by women, but 35% of its employees are also women. Interestingly, the company has more women in all categories of jobs, except maintenance technicians. However, a recently created gender action plan is aiming to increase the number of women working in technical fields, as well as establishing partnerships with women entrepreneurs for productive use of energy.
Gender-based violence affects women around the world. To increase awareness and help address the problem at a local level, REPP works with its investees to establish and implement the necessary sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) prevention policies and procedures to ensure the health and safety of its female workers and the women and girls living within the project communities.
Nuru, a REPP investee based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been doing great work through the installation of streetlights in Ndosho, a densely populated neighbourhood of Goma where crime towards women has been a problem, especially after dark. The streetlights were installed in 2020 with funding from Microsoft through the purchase of Peace Renewable Energy Credits (PRECs) from Nuru’s solar mini-grid. (As a side note, Camco is working with Energy Peace Partners on its P-REC Aggregation Fund, which is an impact-focused fund unlocking finance for new renewable energy projects in fragile, energy-poor countries in Africa.)
A survey last year found 26% of respondents felt safer in the street-lit area of Ndosho, compared to neighbouring Mugunga. The respondents also noted a reduction in the threat of sexual assault and the additional benefit of increased trading hours thanks to the streetlighting.
Of course, access to energy provides multiple other benefits that are crucial in improving both women and men’s position in society, such as better domestic lighting and access to information, as well as extended hours of operation for household tasks, studying and business activity and enhanced livelihood options through the productive use of energy.
These positive impact stories are just a selection of many excellent projects being implemented across Africa thanks to the FCDO’s funding of REPP. To find out more about the platform and all of the other companies and projects it supports, please visit https://repp.energy.