Promoting Cleaner, More Reliable Lighting and Cooking Systems Improves Lives for Women in Kenya
On average, Kenyan women face higher unemployment rates than Kenyan men. Women in informal settlements are less likely to hold salaried positions than their male counterparts. LivelyHoods is a non-profit social enterprise working to create job opportunities for women and youth in Kenya’s informal settlements, where most households are headed by a single mother. LivelyHoods provides communities in informal settlements with access to life-improving household products through a sales network of trained youth and women. LivelyHoods’ products target female customers, aiming to advance gender equity and increase women’s access to clean energy.
LivelyHoods is one of three recipients of a USAID-funded Power Africa grant focused on distributed electricity services and modern cooking fuels. The grant enabled LivelyHoods to begin offering off-grid energy solutions, such as solar home systems (SHS) and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) cookstoves, on credit to customers in Kenya’s informal settlements. These technologies offer more reliable methods of lighting and cleaner cooking that most residents of informal settlements could not otherwise access or afford.
The USAID/Power Africa grant enabled LivelyHoods to:
- Introduce product financing options to increase lower-income households’ access to solar and LPG systems.
- Reach 910 new customers in Kenya (with 30 SHS and 880 LPG systems sold).
- Train 137 sales agents on the benefits of SHS and LPG cookstoves.
- Employ 71 new sales agents to distribute SHS and LPG solutions in Kenya.
To increase access to off-grid energy products, LivelyHoods partnered with the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, a research advisory firm that applies behavioral science to alleviate poverty, to create a credit program. Drawing on market research, qualitative interviews with customers, and literature on behavioral science, Busara designed credit options to fit the needs and realities of low-income communities, enabling more households to obtain SHS and LPG systems. Through testimonials of customers with similar backgrounds, the organizations worked to increase trust in SHS and LPG products and improve the customers’ ability to use the solutions.
To reach female customers, LivelyHoods recruits and trains female sales agents and women-led sales teams. One such sales agent is Agnes Mbaga, a resident of Nairobi, who, like many other Kenyan women, is no stranger to hardship. When her husband died in 2005, Agnes became the sole provider for her children and grandchildren. A few years later, she lost her job at a telecommunications company. Since then, she has sold laundry detergent, worked as a caregiver at a children’s home, and started her own cosmetic business to earn an income. She also volunteered as a Community Health Volunteer (CHV), visiting homes to share information on health and antenatal care, and was later contracted by the Kenya Community Health Program for paid work on an as-needed basis. However, constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic reduced her hours and her income.
The Kenya Community Health Program and LivelyHoods saw an opportunity to collaborate: Women who were previously health volunteers might make great sales agents for LPG and SHS solutions. Despite the clear differences between performing public health duties and selling off-grid technology, the skills required for CHVs and sales agents are similar: Visiting homes, speaking with household members, and delivering messages in ways that are relatable to individuals from a variety of backgrounds.
In April 2021, Agnes joined LivelyHoods as a sales agent, promoting off-grid technologies to low-income households in her community. Joining LivelyHoods helped improve Agnes’ economic situation: She now has money for everyday necessities without fretting over how much she should be spending. As she says, she can now “save for [potential] medical emergencies.”
Other LivelyHoods sales agents have noted similar improvements to their lives and the lives of their families. Joyce, a 31-year-old sales agent from Kware, states that working for LivelyHoods has given her peace of mind: “Now that I don’t lack food in the house, the children are not going to bed hungry.”
Francesca, a 47-year-old sales agent who also runs a clothing kiosk in Kawangware, claims that LivelyHoods has improved her home and work life, saying that she is “now able to comfortably afford rent and food for my kids. I am also able to increase the stock of my clothes in my kiosk.”
Agents like Agnes help peri-urban households in Kenya, and the women who run them, enjoy more reliable and sustainable lighting systems, improved health outcomes through cleaner cooking, and more free time. She is now known throughout her community as a problem solver, which gives her “satisfaction and happiness.”
The Distributed Electricity Services and Modern Cooking Fuel Delivery grant is administered by the USAID-funded Power Africa Off-grid Project in support of Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid initiative, which contributes to the goal of adding at least 30,000 megawatts of cleaner and more reliable electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections by 2030.