Katherine Lucey

Solar Sister

Solar Sister combines the breakthrough potential of clean energy technology with a woman-centred direct sales network, creating sustainable businesses while improving living standards in remote communities.

Focus: Energy, Women
Geographic Area of Impact: Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria
Model: Hybrid non-profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 1,000+ (2014)
Annual Budget: USD $2 million (2015)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 30% (2015)

The Social Problem
Over 1.6 billion people live without the most fundamental access to electricity. Nearly 3 billion people cook food and heat their homes with traditional cookstoves or open fires. 4 million premature deaths occur every year due to smoke exposure from these methods. This energy poverty is most acute in Africa, which has the lowest per capita energy use of any continent. 70% of the ‘energy poor’ are women and girls who live with the worst consequences of this energy poverty.

Innovation and Activities
Solar Sister recruits, trains and mentors women to build sustainable businesses selling portable solar lamps, mobile phone chargers and clean cookstoves. It combines the breakthrough potential of clean energy technologies with a network of grassroots women entrepreneurs. Solar Sister entrepreneurs use their social networks to provide the most effective distribution channel to rural and hard to reach customers. Modern energy has life transforming benefits such as improved education for children, better indoor air quality for families and economic wellbeing of women.

The core business of Solar Sister is sales and distribution, which generates a steady and growing income stream. At the individual level, each Solar Sister entrepreneur is empowered to create a financially self-sustaining business. The cost of the establishment, support and training and ongoing management of the Solar Sister network is an investment in the long-term income opportunity. Growth and capacity building financed from donor support and grants is helping establish a base of operations that will, at scale and in the longer term, generate sufficient income from the sale of clean energy products portfolio to finance operations.

Since 2009, more than 1000 Solar Sister Entrepreneurs have brought light, hope and opportunity to over 300,000 people in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria. Data show that there is a 30% reduction in household expenses when solar lamps replace kerosene, as well as an additional 3 hours of study time for the children. To conclude, 90% of the income generated by a Solar Sister Entrepreneur is reinvested into her family, improving their lives and providing benefits for the next generation.

The Entrepreneur
After a 20 year career as an investment banker with expertise in the energy sector, Katherine retired from banking and turned her attention to finding a sustainable solution to the energy poverty that causes suffering to a quarter of the world’s population. In addition to Solar Sister, Katherine has served as Chief of Operations for Arzu, Inc., a non-profit organization working to empower women in Afghanistan by providing employment and social benefits. Katherine is an Ashoka Changemaker and she currently serves on the board of Solar Light for Africa, a not-for-profit corporation that brings solar energy to rural communities in East Africa, as well as several local charitable committees supporting education and the environment. She holds an M.B.A. from Georgia State University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Georgia.