Removing Barriers to Women Entrepreneurs’ Engagement in Decentralized Sustainable Energy Solutions for the Poor

Rapidly falling renewable technology costs and new business models mean that decentralized energy solutions hold great promise to accelerate universal sustainable energy access. Across developing countries, women are typically the primary household energy managers. Close to their customers, women entrepreneurs have the potential to lower customer acquisition and servicing costs and drive these new decentralized solutions. However, they remain under-represented in the industry.

This paper attempts to understand the root causes of this gender gap. It formulates the research hypothesis that market transformation policies intended to reduce investment risks to accelerate energy access may not benefit men and women entrepreneurs equally because of the existing structural barriers that women face. To test this hypothesis, the paper conducts a gender sensitive investment barrier and risk analysis, overlaid onto an existing gender neutral taxonomy of investment barriers and risks for decentralized sustainable energy solutions.

A key finding is that for women entrepreneurs, existing structural impediments to gender equality translate into additional investment barriers as well as increased likelihood of occurrence and severity of the financial impact of generic investment risks. The paper offers an illustrative theory of change to facilitate a dialogue on the specific interventions needed to address these nder differentiated risks locally. It concludes that market transformation efforts for universal sustainable energy access must include targeted policy measures to ensure equal benefits to men and women entrepreneurs, and optimize the use of public resources to catalyze private investment and reduce poverty.

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