The effort was led by a group of individuals not typically seen in such public, active
leadership roles in Nepal: women.
Empower Generation is a U.S.- and
Nepal-based organization whose mission is
to harness affordable technologies to bring
energy to underserved, off-grid Nepalese
communities. Its focus on energy—and
solar lighting specifically—also has a dual
purpose: to leverage the provision of energy
services to enhance women’s leadership and
entrepreneurship in a society that offers
women few opportunities.
Even without a natural disaster, there is
an acute need for energy services in Nepal.
Roughly 30 percent of the country’s 28
million people are not connected to the
national electricity grid, and those who are
experience little time with power.
“The energy situation is terrible. The grid is
so mismanaged and under-resourced that the
power can be out 18 hours every day,” explains
Anya Cherneff, Empower Generation’s founder
and CEO. Sita Adhikari, co-founder with
Cherneff, adds that power is usually available
from midnight to early morning hours, when
no one really needs it.
Those with means purchase back-up
diesel generators. Those without—or who are
completely disconnected from the grid—rely
on kerosene, candles, firewood, and other
forms of biomass for household energy. In the
remote regions Empower Generation serves,
families spend 25 to 30 percent of their
income on energy, or about US$10 per month.
Percentage-wise, this is on par with what
the poorest 20 percent of the world spends
on energy. In fact, the world's poorest 20
percent pays $27 billion annually for rudi-
mentary energy sources, which accounts for
roughly 20 percent of the global lighting bill
but less than one percent of the visible light
emitted, according to data from Lawrence
Berkeley National Labs.
Everybody suffers from these circumstances, but women are disproportionately
affected. Women’s primary responsibility in
Nepal is household care, and lack of energy
access means many hours spent collecting
wood, cooking over smoky fires and performing home chores and childcare by dim
candle and kerosene lamp light.
What’s more, women in Nepal have
limited opportunity to change their living
situations. A woman’s status is usually
determined by the economic and social
standing of her father or husband. Many
are expected to marry young—a third of
Nepalese women between the age of 15
and 19 are married compared to only seven
percent of their male counterparts, a
2011 U.N. study reports. As for economic
independence, women are allowed to own
property, but it is often in-name only.
These factors, coupled with the high rate
of village and rural poverty in Nepal (as high
as 45 percent in some areas), leaves women
vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and human
trafficking—issues that Cherneff knows well.
“I spent my early career working against human
trafficking and prostitution for the Coalition
Against Trafficking in Women and was a founding member of the the University of Denver’s
Human Trafficking Center,” Cherneff explains.
“The work we did was great, but it was never-ending. For every victim we helped, another
one would take her place.”
After five years, Cherneff burned out.
Instead, she began looking for solutions
at the root of the problem and ultimately
seized on one unique fact about low-
income, low-resource countries like Nepal
as the basis for Empower Generation:
that women are responsible for household
energy decisions. “Women collect, use and
manage their household energy supplies.
They therefore feel the most pain from
energy poverty and stand to gain the most
from the transition to clean alternatives”
Empower Generation, which started in 2011,
is a hybrid for-profit, non-profit organization based in San Francisco and Kathmandu
and works in remote communities throughout Nepal. The non-profit division identifies,
trains and supports rural women in selling
clean energy products—mostly solar lamps—
to their communities. Women that show
exceptional skill in sales and dedication are
supported with resources from Empower
Because women are responsible for household energy
decisions, they stand to benefit most from the transition
to clean sources.
The poorest 20% of the world's
population pays over 20% of the
global lighting bill yet receives
Energy access globally and in Nepal
30% of the country's 28 million people
lack access to the electricity grid.
The other 70% experiences
power cuts for
less than 1%
OF TOTAL LUMENS
(visible light emitted)