Green Prakriya : Women’s micro-enterprise initiative for sustainable rural lighting in India

Posted on 24. Jan, 2012 in: Uncategorized

The Centre for Appropriate Technology and Livelihood Skills (CATALIS) has undertaken a micro-enterprise initiative for providing sustainable lighting solutions for rural communities, through solar lighting devices. Involving rural women in these initiatives has proved to be an effective and sustainable means of ensuring the success of the programme.
CATALIS initiated a ‘3 M’ approach viz. ‘Make, Market and Maintain’ to promote appropriate technologies in villages. Initially the tribal village of Pereka in Jharkhand was chosen as a model village. In Pereka village, in order to build community ownership, a committee was formed with representation from the 3 different hamlets. There were 6 women on the 15-member model village committee. The committee, in collaboration with the staff from CATALIS, did a resource mapping and a needs analysis of the village and came forward with different appropriate technologies to be adopted. One of the key areas suggested for initial work by the people was energy – with sustainable solutions to home lighting being the main priority.

For people in the villages, life comes to a standstill after dusk. Inadequate lightning is not only an impediment to progress and development opportunities, but also has a direct impact on their health, environment, and safety, as they are forced to light their homes with kerosene lamps, firewood and crop residue. The people’s suggestion was for solar powered lighting, which would ensure kerosene free illumination. The community decided that the solar lighting initiative should be implemented on an entrepreneurial model, facilitated by CATALIS. The conceptual model was developed by CATALIS and materialised after a series of close consultations with the community. Two Self-help Groups (SHGs) were formed – Gidan Maskal SHG and Harakan SHG – each with 10 women members. Interestingly, the women groups picked up the assembling work within a very short time through an intensive training programme. The women were trained in areas of business skills, SHG management, conflict resolution and business plan development, as well as technical aspects of solar lanterns. Training was provided in the village itself, which suited the women’s daily schedules. The training was scheduled so that its results were visible within the training period itself – serving to further encourage and create self confidence amongst participants.

After meeting the lighting requirements of their own village, the SHG members now assemble solar lanterns (US$ 1 = INR 46.9) on their own (without any assistance from trainers or the programme team).

They sell them in the local market as well as to other villages, making a profit of INR 250 to 300 per lantern. These solar lanterns use LEDs (light emitting diodes) which provide a 20 hour back up, as against the prevalent solar lantern models that give a maximum of 4 – 8 hours back up. The SHGs procure the required spare-parts from a reliable supply source. Within 6 months, the SHGs have assembled and marketed approximately 800 lanterns in the vicinity. As solar lanterns meet the lighting needs, there has also surfaced a need for mobile phone chargers. With additional training, the women could also venture into providing mobile phone battery charging services through solar charging units, which would give them an additional source of income. The initial capital for the entrepreneurial initiatives was partially provided by a local NGO (LEADS), while the rest was sourced from the savings of the SHGs. During the initial stages the profits were channelled into the group’s capital fund as direct investment to the business. Now, 40% of the profit goes into the capital fund and 60% is divided equally among group members

This initiative was a learning experience and demonstrated that rural women can play the roles of energy service providers. In order to do so, they need a variety of capacity building and other inputs, both technical and non-technical in nature. This model is presently being replicated in 2 other villages in the Chhattisgarh and Orissa states of India.

Source : e-net magazine, 2010-Issue :2

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