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Women in Last Mile Distribution in Asia

Source: Frontier Markets/Representative Image 


Globally, 1.06 billion people are living without access to electric energy for their basic daily needs. Where the grid is not a viable solution, alternative models and sources of energy can enable communities “leap frog” from off-grid to solar powered energy. Ranging across a range of clean tech solutions – from micro grids to smaller scale solar home systems and lanterns for individual use. Social Enterprises like Frontier Markets are not only harnessing the power of the sun to bridge the energy gap but also leveraging non-traditional distribution methods and channels – primarily women through their ‘Solar – Saheli’ program.

The access to the light picture is not improving fast enough. There is not enough energy investment, the energy investments present are not geared towards energy access and there are no well-defined criteria for measurement of energy access. The SE4All global tracking framework 2017 shows that 482 Mn and 380 Mn people are living off the grid in rural Africa and Rural Asia – Pacific respectively.

The GOGLA study states that the conventional method of electrification measures 24% people have access to electricity and 76 per cent people live in dark. However, the Multi-tier Framework approach raises this electrification rate from 24 per cent to 27 per cent. This is mostly due to the inclusion of off-grid solutions, mostly solar lighting systems and solar home systems. The contemporary approach measures electrification through a multi-tier framework approach measuring levels of energy available to households.

Climate policy initiative has broken down energy investment from multilateral funding in which half is funneled in renewable energy generation, one-fourth goes into fossil fuel generation and a quarter goes into other sources i.e. a small fraction of the investment goes into energy conservation, energy access, and decentralized energy solutions.

The solar products market is developing strong but volatile. These products are manufactured in India and China but they are distributed widely in Africa. The big numbers of job creation in Africa are concentrated more on distribution and after sales service rather than production. Henceforth, there is a need for grant capital for the creation of the skill sets and collaborate with local government and initiate B2G partnerships.

To sustain growth, significant market challenges like finance (seed) needs, public policy environment and poor quality products swamping nascent markets and partners with development agencies for cover last mile distribution costs have to be addressed.

Frontier Markets stages a brilliant example of channelizing the potential of women in last mile distribution. Frontier Markets has decided to focus on women, despite it being a very difficult market. While the ecosystem challenges were many, three significant challenges they faced were:
(a). Awareness: People had no idea of the value of clean energy to address challenges
(b). Access: People could not get the products
(c). Trust: People were scared of this innovation

They optimized distribution to the last mile by actively building a solid distribution network of existing retail shops. They take the financial risk, establish an ongoing presence in the community and support the “Solar Sahelis initiative” who meet the customers daily.

So, by optimizing awareness, distribution, and trust, Frontier Markets optimized the scale of achievements, creating not only social but financial wealth for women. This combination of retail distribution and women connect has kept Frontier Markets close to the end customer; they are not only embracing solar but providing insights to innovation – helping FM bring newer solutions like solar power packs, solar coolers, energy efficient farming tools, and cooking solutions. Hence, the idea is to make the “Sahelis” solar entrepreneurs and Frontier Markets is instrumental in financing, partnerships, structuring the business model around that finance, innovative structuring etc.

I am positive that this piece of writing has fueled vast opportunities for further discussions to sustain growth, and to achieve significant market challenges that need to be addressed.

Aparna Singh is a graduate in Economics and currently working in the philanthropic arm of Philips Lighting, Amsterdam. She is passionate towards international development and interventions in developing economies by public, private and governmental organizations. 

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