One woman’s power to inspire

Resilient. Entrepreneurial. Creative.

These are the words used to describe the women in Malawi who stand at the forefront of the movement to bring clean, safe energy to their communities brightening lives and the planet. 

Across sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls are disproportionately affected by energy poverty. But as the primary users of household energy and trusted members of vast social networks, there is growing evidence that women are best placed to bring renewable energy to the most remote areas. 

The women of the Tikondane Mayi Wala group are proving this to be true. From creating sustainable income to lighting up their communities and inspiring other women to do the same, women are paving the way for a more sustainable future where everyone, everywhere has access to clean, safe solar power.

Violet Matemba, Mayi Wala and serial entreprener, in her home under a solar light (SolarAid/Kondwani Jere).

In TA Chikowe, Malawi, Violet Matemba, a 38 year old mother of three and serial entrepreneur, is creating a ripple effect of transformation across her community with her businesses. At the core of her entrepreneurial endeavours lies her solar business. She saw firsthand the impact a solar light could have and wanted to share them with her friends. “Since I’ve been using the solar lights, I’ve never had to pay for batteries, so they also help me save money. I started selling these lights to my friends because I can attest to the benefits they bring. On top of that, the earnings I had from selling solar lights helped me provide food for my children.” Selling solar lights has given Violet the opportunity to expand her other businesses while providing her financial stability and the ability to explore new opportunities.

Violet’s entrepreneurial journey began with a small restaurant in her village, but she always had her sights set on more. So, when the opportunity to join the Mayi Walas, a group of women working together to sell solar lights, presented itself, Violet couldn’t refuse. Joining the Mayi Walas became a catalyst for expanding her income streams to include four rental properties and a thriving solar products business. “I only had a restaurant when I first started my business, and I had MWK50,000 (about £24) to start with. For the benefit of my children’s future, I built houses for business purposes as well because the capital kept growing. The solar lighting business has made all of this possible. As I previously stated, I didn’t own a house when I first started this business, but as the revenues increased, I began building houses, which has allowed me to support my children.” 

From boosting economic growth to leading the conversation on the financial and environmental impacts of solar lighting, Violet’s impact is far reaching across her community. But her biggest impact might be on the women who look up to her as a role model. Violet’s story of resilience and success has been a catalyst for women across her community to start and scale thriving solar businesses that not only change their lives but transform their communities.

One of these women is Veronica Ntenje, a 27 year old mother of two. “Violet’s success inspires me daily…The effect of her achievements motivates me to strive for more. We still work together, and her guidance is invaluable. She teaches us a lot about business management and how to work hard.” 

Veronica Ntenje sells a solar light to a customer (SolarAid/Kondwani Jere).

Just like Violet, since Veronica started her solar light business through the Mayi Walas, she experienced significant changes in her life. “Solar lights have improved our lives, and being a Mayi Wala has brought financial stability. I vividly remember the first moment I used a solar light—it was like bringing daylight into the darkest night.” She’s also improved life for her family. “Through this journey, I’ve been able to buy two goats and build a house using the profits from my business. We used to live in a makeshift house when we came here but now this is my house as you can see.”

Veronica says, “Having a group business with other women is empowering. We share experiences and support each other…However, I’d love to see more women running successful businesses, as it positively impacts individual lives, the community, and the environment. We need more women in positions where they are able to make their own money and not wait for men to provide always.”

Working alongside Veronica as a Mayi Wala is Nelie Beston, a 25 year old mother of three who also looks up to Violet. “Violet has been a great inspiration to me in this business journey and someone who assists me a lot as well. Her success motivates me to create multiple sources of income, just like her. I do not have as much capital but I am very hopeful that I can grow the business.”  

With the guidance of Violet and the support of the women in her group, Nelie has seen a huge change in her life. “I’ve been able to buy a bicycle, build this house you are seeing here, and I am able to sustain my household. This bicycle helps me a lot in my business as I use it as a mode of transport both for solar lamps and when I’m going to sell my tomatoes.”

Nelie Beston’s customer trying out a solar light (SolarAid/Kondwani Jere).

She believes working together with other women is essential to creating a thriving, sustainable business. “There are a lot of advantages running a business as a woman and in a group.  Firstly we help each other to find customers and we help each other to put together capital for the business. On my own I cannot manage to raise the capital required to buy a lot of lamps for sale but as a group we are able to put together some money…from the profits I’ve been able to start my own solar business therefore I find it very necessary to work with.”

Nelie Beston cooking by solar light outside her home (SolarAid/Kondwani Jere).

Violet’s successful businesses inspired a whole group of women to work together to create businesses that not only transformed their lives, but that of their communities. Nelie says, “Solar has brought light into our lives, quite literally. I use the lights to do my household chores. I use it for cooking, do other chores at night as well. It has improved our quality of life, contributed to community development, and reduced our contribution to climate change as we are now relying on solar light and not businesses that affect the environment, all while providing sustainability and saving us money.”

Simarlily, Veronica states, “Solar has been transformative. It brought reliable light to my family, created opportunities in my community, and contributes to a cleaner environment by reducing reliance on non-renewable sources.”

Both Veronica and Nelie have their sights set on expansion. Veronica hopes to become a solar light distributor opening branches in neighbouring Mozambique while Nelie says, “A year from now, I envision further growth and expansion. I hope to continue empowering myself and contributing to the prosperity of my family and community through my businesses.”

From the women inspired to dream big in their businesses to the market stalls lit up at night, the bold ideas of one woman have transformed a community, creating a ripple effect. Every light sale, every study hour, every house that no longer needs to rely on kerosene is a testament to the power of women to drive the clean energy transformation in the most remote and rural areas.

Learn more about the Mayi Walas programme and support women entrepreneurs today.

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