#WomenInEnergy: “I can make the most impact by daring to pursue what I believe in”

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Rekik Bekele

Rekik Bekele is the CEO and Founder of Green Scene Energy PLC. She is an electrical engineer who started working in the renewable energy space in 2009. She has worked in the private sector, for nonprofits and governmental organisations.

She founded Green Scene Energy PLC in 2016 to provide affordable digitally-managed off-grid solutions to rural areas of Ethiopia. Her ambitious goal is to provide 10% of Ethiopia’s National Electrification Plan goal of 6 million households electrified by off-grid solar through Green Scene Energy: that would mean providing first-time energy access to 600,000 households in the next 5 years.

Despite COVID and the ongoing civil conflict, the Green Scene team are working tirelessly to bring energy access to new customers and find approaches that will help deliver the country’s ambitious electrification targets. They have been trying various business models, including partnering with Ethio-telecom to do a tech integration via a revenue share model. They are launching the first solar distribution this year to accelerate their reach across Ethiopia. They are ready, they just require additional financing.

Image: Green Scene Energy PLC

How do you approach gender at your organisation?

Whenever possible, we hire women. Women are every bit as ready as mean to collaborate, roll up their sleeves and do any job. Sometimes even more so. That flexibility is particularly important in a small company like ours. One of our leaders is male and he wants to hire more women, for the same reasons.

Do you know the composition of your workforce and how do you incentivize women to grow within the organisation?

We have 10 employees right now and we are evenly split, gender-wise. Our aim is to continue this way. One of the key policies we have to attract and retain women talent is the flexibility that we offer. As a mother of two children myself, I understand the importance of flexibility, of being able to work remotely when it’s needed. We offer maternity leave as well. In return, we find that women think highly of the company, they are engaged and great workers.

What do you think has been the impact you have had on the sector as a woman CEO/Founder?

At my first job, I was the only woman working alongside six men.  As an engineer, I did installation work side by side with men. Many women my age were already married, so it was surprising to many people in the rural areas where we went to see what I was doing, as an ‘unattached’ woman. There was certain inspiration generated by it too, a suggestion of alternative ways.

I spent one year living and working in rural Lalibela. It was not a very normal thing to do for many women. My family didn’t want me to go. They had safety concerns and people are not used to women living on their own. There are prejudices, especially in rural areas, but also in the city when you go out alone at night as a woman. My brother would come to pick me up at the station so I didn’t have to walk home alone. In Lalibela at first, there were rumours about me but I gained the respect of the community by doing my job. You can only know what happens when you try.

As I progressed professionally, I started receiving invitations to talk at the University of Debre Birhan, in order to encourage women to start engineering degrees. Over the years, I have also spoken with graduate students to provide my experience and give them the message: daring to pursue your beliefs is the way to make a strong impact.

Even now, we are generally only one or two women in the private energy sector; men are still in the majority. There are many female graduates in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Women in Energy (EWiEN) association has ambitions to engage them – but it hasn’t yet tapped into the potential they could bring to the sector. My hope is that if women see others be successful enough, especially financially, there will be more women coming forward as entrepreneurs and more women in energy. They need role models.

Image: Green Scene Energy PLC

Do you look at your customers disaggregated by sex?

We have different sales models. When we sell in cash directly for example when we go to a market, usually it’s to men. In Ethiopian rural areas, it’s mostly men who manage money and have extra to spend. The women have just enough for the shopping they have to do on a given day.

However, when we sell products through microfinance institutions that make the products more affordable, we target both men and women. Women tend to pay for their loans quicker than men.

We also have a third sales model, PAYGO (pay-as-you-go). Men buy it but in many cases but, if they are married, we prefer the wife to be the one taking the loan. Women’s repayment rate is better and they benefit the most from the product because they spend more time in the house. Women also observe more directly how their children benefit from solar power. They don’t want those benefits to be lost, so they push their husbands to keep payments up to date.

What are specific actions your organisation is doing to empower women as customers and users of your products?

We have two Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) signed with industrial parks because 90% of their workers are women from rural areas (Hawasa?) that mostly are off-grid. These women have experience with electricity and they have a steady source of income so – if their household is off-grid –  they can take off-grid solar products back to their home or – if they live in a connected area – they might purchase a PAYGO product on behalf of their families who are unconnected.

Image: Green Scene Energy PLC

Can you tie female participation throughout your operations with positive business results?

Yes. Women as business developers are more thorough. They pick up and internalise ideas really quickly. I also think with more women in the company, the atmosphere has drastically improved. Women are great communicators.

What do you think are the key initiatives the sector can take to enable further women’s involvement both in the workforce and as customers?

I think, as an industry, we have to make investors understand the need for PAYGO, especially with higher proportions of female customers. Once they start paying and seeing the benefits, all users – but especially women – feel empowered to continue buying other products.

To increase the number of women employees, companies need to understand the real benefits a balanced workforce offers, instead of just complying with an arbitrary requirement or quota. Often, it also requires more effort to hire women. Recently, we posted a job offer and received 200 applications. 20 of the applications were from women; only 5 of these sent their resumé, and only three came to the interview. Sometimes you have to go back to the start, attract women through the right channels. Networks like EWIEN are also great at recruiting female talent. I would also like to see more women featured, women’s contributions made visible, and not just on 8 March each year. Role models are so important.

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