Mayi Walas

Across sub-Saharan Africa, energy poverty disproportionately affects women and girls.

Simultaneously, women entrepreneurs face far more barriers to running sustainable businesses in rural communities.

However, it has been shown that women are key change-makers in providing energy access to rural communities and we recognise that having women at the forefront of our work is essential to achieving our mission.

‘Mayi Walas’ means ‘Shining Mothers’ in Chichewa, Malawi’s national language. In 2021, SolarAid launched the Mayi Walas programme, to recruit, train and support women entrepreneurs to run solar light businesses across rural Malawi.

This programme combines access to training, financing solutions and long-term business support to enable women entrepreneurs to break through the barriers they face in launching, growing and scaling successful businesses.

Eness Naliwa, 35 years old, part of the Chimwemwe Mayi Walas group is practicing sale with her field support agent Willis Katungwe. Photo: SolarAid/Chris Gagnon.

To recruit Mayi Walas, we work closely with Village Savings and Loans groups (VSLs), which operate as small, informal credit unions –  where community members deposit savings and take out small loans.

Once recruited, SolarAid, through our social enterprise, SunnyMoney, trains the Mayi Walas in financial management, marketing and the benefits of solar products and conducts ‘market-activation’ activities within the community to boost the Mayi Walas’ businesses by building trust and demand for solar products.

To enable the Mayi Walas to scale their solar businesses, we provide solar lights on interest-free loans funded through our partnership with Lendwithcare. 

After 12 months of selling solar lights, Mayi Walas are then invited to become members of FEBCO, the micro-finance institution established by SolarAid, where they will have access to larger loans and  long-term business support.

With a network of ‘Shining Mothers’ across Malawi lighting up their communities we are closer to achieving our mission. With women at the forefront of rural energy access programmes we can light up every home, school and clinic in Africa by 2030.

The Chimwemwe group and the Tikondane Group Mayi Walas meet together with Alex Mpenda and Mphatso Msewa from SunnyMoney in Nyama. The two groups are based only 500 meters from each other. Photo: SolarAid/Chris Gagnon

"I am motivated by seeing the smile of a woman realising she no longer needs to worry about income only coming from what little farm produce she has to sell."
Mphatso Nsewa, Mayi Walas Project Supervisor

Unlocking the power of women to light up communities

Following the launch of the Mayi Walas programme in 2021, there are now 41 established Mayi Wala groups of women solar entrepreneurs launching solar light businesses in their rural communities across Malawi. By April 2022, the goal is to have established 109 more groups across the country – meaning 1,500 women solar entrepreneurs will be recruited to bring safe, clean light to their communities.

Meet the Mayi Walas: Sagurani Friday

Sagurani Friday is no stranger to hard work and when the opportunity to start her own solar business arrived, she took it. Working together with a group of women has transformed her life and business.

Malawi’s ‘Shining Mothers’

As SolarAid’s first programme dedicated to supporting female entrepreneurs, we are excited to see the impact this model will have. We hope that the presence of successful, female-led solar businesses will have a trickle-down effect in rural communities – having a positive influence on perceptions of women as leaders, encouraging families to keep their daughters in education and inspiring young girls to dream of becoming business owners and leaders themselves.