Working in partnerships with other innovative organisations is a key part of SolarAid’s strategy to light up every home, school and clinic in Africa by 2030. We are further recognising the power of women entrepreneurship in providing energy access in rural communities, where women are key change makers. This is a story from SolarAid’s partner in Senegal, ElleSolaire. ElleSolaire works to support women entrepreneurs to build last mile energy businesses bringing solar energy to rural off grid communities.
Maimouna Faye is a 46-year-old woman living in Nguessim, Senegal. This remote village is in the rural province of Fatick, some one hundred kilometres from the country’s capital, Dakar, and not far from the innermost reaches of the Saloum delta. The extended branches of the Saloum National Park’s delta are significant for Maimouna’s village because the tides and seasons have enabled seawater to reach the plains. Once evaporated, this water creates salt-encrusted flats which the women laboriously harvest. It is a remote area, accessible only by dirt roads, the nearest market is two hour’s walk.
Maimouna lives with eight others in her home, five of whom are her children. As well as keeping the home, and feeding and caring for her children, Maimouna is also responsible for their education – paying for it and encouraging the completion of homework. In addition to her domestic work, Maimouna also runs her own small salt extraction operation to generate some income but the work is physically brutal – the salt burns the skin even when shea butter is used as protection, collecting the salt involves constantly bending over throughout the day, transporting the salt is done by carrying baskets on the head and selling the salt takes long hours in the sun.
“I was tired, deeply tired,” Maimouna recalls. Up daily before dawn looking for firewood, cooking, cleaning, working the harvest and caring for five young children can be quite a lot to manage, especially when you are over 40. And despite the considerable hours of domestic and harvesting labour, Maimouna could see that her children’s education would not be enough to ensure a more prosperous future without further study and that without electricity, the community came to a grinding halt when the sun went down.
That is why in 2018 when ElleSolaire came to the Fatick region, Maimouna was thrilled to join them as a woman entrepreneur. The way ElleSolaire trusts and partners with the local women over time to give them choice and opportunity really appealed. Today, after training at the ElleSolaire Academy and getting experience in installing solar in health centres and in homes, she is a recognized solar technician and sales agent and says the benefits have touched both herself, her family and her community.
“ElleSolaire changed our lives for the better,” says Maimouna. Without light or information about the world beyond the village, the community were quite literally in the dark. “The lamps have brought light for commerce and security at night as well as light to study by for the children. Our health centre has light for night births and the ability to charge electrical thermometers and other equipment. The radios and televisions ensure people are no longer cut off from the rest of the world. What’s more, ElleSolaire solar solutions are much cheaper and more reliable over time than the national network.”
And, as a sales agent, Maimouna receives a commission, one she has used to pay youths to do the tough physical side of the salt harvesting work and maintain her business (and income) that, as the fatigue set in three years ago, she feared losing altogether.
“I continuously give thanks to ElleSolaire in my prayers and am grateful to be a part of this beautiful enterprise. More than anything, I am thankful to the ElleSolaire team and my women’s group for trusting me to lead this project for my community.”