The future of sustainable energy innovation is women-led, community-powered, and based in the Global South.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed flawed systems that have failed marginalised communities living in the Global South for decades. These groups now face myriad crises all at once, from job losses and business closures to deepening food insecurity, overwhelmed public health systems, and climate-fueled instability. Many women have lost primary, secondary, or tertiary sources of income – or all three – putting entire families at risk. The end result, the World Bank estimates, is that more than 70M people may be pushed into extreme poverty. The majority of them live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 800 million lack access to electricity.
Even before the pandemic, more than 70 per cent of healthcare facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa lacked stable sources of electricity. Without access to energy, these clinics cannot store vaccines, run ventilators, or power heaters to sterilise water. In short, they cannot perform the essential, life-saving work that has now become even more vital in preventing and treating people with the coronavirus.
The problem extends far beyond access to healthcare. Students are unable to access their remote, digital-based classes. Entrepreneurs cannot market their wares online or power their shops. Rural and peri-urban women are locked out of access to education, skills training, or technological advancements that would reduce their labour load and provide necessary pathways toward advancement, economic opportunity, and equality.
Amidst these compounding crises, the need for clean, accessible, and affordable energy has never been clearer. That is why the Shine Campaign is bringing together values-driven donors, investors, and advocates, including women, indigenous, and grassroots community leaders to announce the Shine COVID-19 Recovery Fund. The fund, created in partnership with women leaders representing last-mile energy communities, will provide small grants to sustain entrepreneurial energy access initiatives. Recipient projects must be locally-rooted, women-led, and should centre decision-making within their respective communities.
At this pivotal moment in time, we have the chance to address long-standing, systemic inequities in energy access and economic opportunities by investing directly in the leaders driving community-level advancements in clean energy: women. Across the world, from boardrooms to local communities, women are taking the lead on energy initiatives and climate change. They are demanding to be integral players in decision-making processes. In Global South communities, that is no different. Women, and women of colour in particular, are on the frontlines of responding to both the COVID-19 and climate crises. Long before COVID-19, women have been spearheading innovations and driving scalable renewable energy solutions to power their communities and lift them out of poverty. Notably, they have done so by leapfrogging the polluting fossil fuels that got us here in the first place, opting instead for clean energy infrastructure. In Jharkand, India, Selco works in a remote community where women came together to create rice milling operations powered by a decentralised solar powered machine. Now, in the midst of COVID, they have locally produced rice to feed their families and sell locally without the risks of travelling 16km to the large fossil fuel-powered mill.
At this pivotal moment in time, we have the chance to address long-standing, systemic inequities in energy access and economic opportunities by investing directly in the leaders driving community-level advancements in clean energy: women.
If history is any guide, recovery will likely come far later for these women and their communities than it will for wealthy Western nations. That is why stable funding – with microgrants as an important part of the solution – is so critically important. Over the coming months and years, the Shine COVID-19 Recovery Fund Grant’s investments will play a central role in ensuring that these frontline entrepreneurs, cooperatives, agencies, and community leaders have the resources necessary to secure a sustainable future for vulnerable or marginalised populations.
The fund will support a number of priorities, from offering immediate economic relief to existing enterprises and providing access to personal protective equipment (PPE) to supporting efforts that operate at the nexus of health and clean energy, including solar-powered clinic grids, handwashing stations, mobile phone chargers, and ventilators. Additionally, it will support programmes that ultimately assist recovery efforts by helping minimise the spread of COVID-19.
This fund is responsive to this moment, but it also invests in those laying the groundwork for the challenges yet to come. The energy access efforts it will fund, and the community-centred leaders developing them, can protect people and the planet from both current and future pandemics and climate-fuelled chaos. They can power small businesses, foster a sustainable and just transition from fossil fuels, and light the path to recovery and resilience for Global South communities and the rest of the world. In order to do so, they need continued support. Shine is proud to stand with these vital leaders because we know that the future of sustainable energy innovations is women-led, community-powered, and based in the Global South. We encourage others with funding capacity to join us.
Sheila Oparaocha is International Coordinator and Programme Manager at ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy. Emira Woods is Senior Program Consultant at SHINE.