Working to Advance Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Off-grid Energy Sector

By Carla Visser, Power Africa Off-grid Project

“As a woman, I am able and happy to change the stereotype of what a technician looks like,” said Mandali Live, an OffGridBox field technician from Kigali, Rwanda.

Mandali Live, an OffGridBox field technician in Kigali, Rwanda
Mandali Live, an OffGridBox field technician in Kigali, Rwanda.

Because of social stigmas and prejudices, women are often excluded from education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). With only one third of jobs in the renewable energy sector held by women, women are disproportionately under-represented. Inspirational women, like Mandali Live, are reframing the narrative and encouraging women and girls to join them to turn a male-dominated sector into an equal opportunity space.

“When I grow up, I want to be a technician like you,” said a ten-year-old girl in Nyanza, Rwanda, to Mandali after seeing her install an OffGridBox containerized solar energy system. “Hearing that made me smile — I was really happy,” recalled Mandali.

In 2020, Mandali started as an off-grid energy field technician with OffGridBox, a company providing clean water and renewable energy in remote areas of Rwanda. She was motivated by the company’s mission to improve lives and its commitment to invest in women working in the energy sector.

“Most people in the engineering sector are men,” said Mandali. “OffGridBox gave me this opportunity to show that young female engineers are really capable.”

She is also an apprentice under the Women in Rwandan Energy (WIRE) initiative apprenticeship program, implemented through the Power Africa East Africa Energy Program. WIRE started the apprenticeship program in July 2020 to support over 115 female graduates from universities and technical colleges to acquire on-the-job training with Rwandan energy companies, including OffGridBox. So far, at least 68 female graduates have benefitted from this program, advancing women’s participation in the fast- growing Rwanda energy sector.

Mandali is passionate about her work because of the impact it has on the lives of people living beyond the grid. Only 12 percent of the rural population in Rwanda has access to electricity and solar energy solutions are in high demand in underserved areas. Not only does solar energy bring access to lighting at the household level, it also powers social and health services in communities.

“You have to be courageous,” said Mandali. “I would like to say to young girls looking at me that nothing is impossible. You have to be confident in everything, and you have to think ahead. If I can do it, so can you!”

In 2020, OffGridBox was awarded a grant to provide renewable energy to six rural healthcare facilities in Rwanda. Four of the systems have already been commissioned and installation of the remaining two is underway.

Since 2020, Power Africa has invested more than $2.6 million in the electrification of healthcare facilities across nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa. To improve maternal and child health services, Power Africa recently announced a second grant window for solar electrification of healthcare facilities in Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda.