An increasing number of businesswomen are joining their male counterparts in developing new energy markets in rural Senegal and providing much needed energy products and services to remote communities. In a bid to support women’s entrepreneurial spirit and encourage their economic empowerment, GVEP and SEM Fund are working with women in Tambacounda and Kédougou to strengthen their skills and overcome gender-related barriers.
In the poverty-stricken regions of Tambacounda and Kédougou in rural Senegal, access to energy remains extremely low (respectively 9% and 4%). Local women are taking the bull by the horns by putting their entrepreneurial skills to the benefit of their families and communities.Running a successful business can be challenging as it requires a good grasp of technical, marketing and business skills; but it calls for an even greater effort from women, who are faced with gender-related barriers on a day-to-day basis. Like in many parts of the world, in Senegal women are traditionally expected to put their families before their professional lives. Their mobility is often reduced by the need to stay close to their children or elderly they care for. It is harder for them to obtain loans from a bank to invest in their businesses, while developing relationships with other business people along the value chain can be a struggle.
Yet, when businesswomen are given equal access to opportunities, they have the same chances to thrive, as Mrs. Kandé and Mrs. Diallo, two successful entrepreneurs, have proven. When Mrs Kandé started her Latiere Bilaame Pul Debbo dairy in 2002, she was producing as much milk as she could refrigerate, roughly 100 to 150 litres per day. Demand for fresh, pasteurised milk is large but her ability to upscale her production was limited by the inability to power larger machinery and fridges. Some technology and business mentoring from GVEP, along with support in accessing a loan, changed all that. Mrs Kandé used the loan to upgrade her machinery with modern technologies: the two small freezers that preserved the milk were replaced with solar powered tanks and a cold room, enabling her to save energy costs and double her production to 200/300 litres per day. This success encouraged her to recruit six new staff members, which increased her team from seven to thirteen.
“I now feel confident in producing a wider variety of high quality dairy products and I hope to double the business’s turnover by the end of the year,” said Mrs Kandé.
Another outstanding business that has taken-off and enhanced economic growth in the region of Kédougou is GIE Mun’al, an enterprise that processes sheanuts, baobab fruits and cereals such as fonio. Mrs Diallo, owner of the factory, used to outsource the processing of her agricultural produce due to lack of appropriate machinery and power. This ate into her profits and kept her business from growing. With support from GVEP in mobilising funds, she built a partly solar powered processing unit and brought the processing in-house. This initial investment doubled her turnover within the first year. But the benefits extended beyond her business to the entire community.
“With GVEP’s support, not only was my business able to grow and become more productive, but jobs were also created for many others in my community,” explained Mrs Diallo.
Apart from creating employment for fifteen local women, her company generated indirect employment for farmers engaged in the production of raw materials, and for retailers selling her products.
Women’s entrepreneurial activities are proven to have a positive impact not only on the economic development of the communities in which they live, but also on the well-being of their families.
Most importantly, they are a boost to women’s confidence. Mrs Kandé’s success has motivated her to share her knowledge by speaking at international events such as the Paris International Agricultural Show. She has become a role model for many aspiring businesswomen and has received recognition for her accomplishment by the Minister of Livestock and President of Senegal.
“I am very proud of what I have achieved through my hard work. I hope that my story will inspire other women to realise their ambitions. And for this reason I am passing on my knowledge to others, especially to my daughter, who is following in my footsteps,” said Mrs Kandé.
GVEP International and SEM Fund, with funding from ENERGIA, are currently recruiting 250 women entrepreneurs in the energy sector to mirror Mrs. Kandé’s and Mrs. Diallo’s successes. Over the next two and a half years, teams with multiple expertise will mentor women to boost their business skills and assist them in accessing finance. They will also work with the community leaders to raise awareness on the barriers that women face in realising their professional potential, and on the value of women’s participation in the energy market. Women’s groups, already active and collaborating with the implementing organisations, will also provide mutual support and encouragement.