#WomenInEnergy: “It’s possible to be what you want to be”

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Sharon Yeti

Sharon Yeti is the Co-Founder and CEO of Powerlive Zimbabwe, which was founded by Sharon and two more women in 2018 with the goal of helping people in rural areas access energy while empowering women. They sell, distribute and install high-quality decentralized and scalable modular Home and Business Energy Systems on a Pay As You Go (PAYGo) basis through a network of strategically positioned rural women social groups. Their products are bought by off-grid residential households, small-scale farmers and schools in the rural and peri-urban areas of Zimbabwe.

Until 2019, their focus was on solar home systems (SHS) but in 2020 they evolved to the distribution of SHS and productive use products, increasing their technology range.

How do you approach gender from your organisation?

Women’s empowerment is at the core of our mission. Women are the most affected by lack of energy. It affects the education of their kids when they have no light, without a solar water pump it is the women and girls that go to get water from the river…

Image: Powerlive Zimbabwe

Do you know the composition of your workforce overall? Do you look at it also segmented by level of responsibility?

We do. 89% of our solar agents are women, as well as 40% of our installers. Initially this was met with some resistance in the communities where we worked because it went against social customs. However, women sales agents are really motivated, they want to succeed. Having a job means they can save some money and ensure their kids’ education.

Additionally, women sales agent can talk to women customers and connect to them. If we have male sales agents, the husbands of our female customers can get suspicious. It’s easier for a woman to be let into the house. In the office, 75% of the employees are also women.

What are the policies you take to promote women to grow within your organisation? 

We give them space to be themselves. They don’t need to be like men. I’m a mother myself so I understand that if a child needs to go to the doctor, you will have to go, so we have adjusted to working from home, where you can be more productive.

We have an open relationship and talk to each other; we don’t pull each other down. For the office managers, the message is ‘show your potential and you can reach higher positions’.

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

I come from a family of five girls and my parents were great, but there’s always the feeling that boys are more important than girls, it’s almost as if they were not enough if they don’t have any boys. Somehow, I wanted to prove that women are worth just as much as men and that they can make a difference in someone’s life. As a woman CEO, I feel other women can see it’s possible to be what you want to be. That’s why I participated in a panel to inspire girls to be in the energy sector. You have to believe in yourself and know what you want. You need to show it’s possible. However, I do sense a subtle difference in treatment as a woman in the sector, with people sidelining you a bit.

Image: Powerlive Zimbabwe

Do you look at your customers disaggregated by sex?

The end-users of our products are mainly women but the head of the household is mostly the man. He is the person who has the money so he makes the decision, but there is a great influence by women in that decision.

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

The power that they get from the products affects everyone in the family. Our relationship with our customers begins with light: that improves health and study times. We can then offer them water pumps to ensure safe, clean drinking water. Once their basic needs are met, they can access information through radios or televisions, as well as a variety of appliances to increase income – like hair clippers or refrigerators. Powerlive also provides financial literacy training and mentorship to its women sales agents and customers.

Do you have cases where customers have become employees and what process did they follow?

Most of our sales agents in fact. First, they are customers, others ask them about the system they have bought, they are interested, then we give them training and, after a while, they start recruiting new sales agents themselves, particularly in new areas. They spread the word.

Do you take specific steps to empower women as citizens too?

We offer training within the company 4 times per year, which helps them improve professionally but also to address challenges faced by our female staff. They get a forum to talk about it. They always have the opportunity to learn from other women, connect and talk. That builds their confidence and empowers them.

Image: Powerlive Zimbabwe

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

Yes, for sure. What we notice in the beginning is women often lack confidence. As they get encouragement, they gain more confidence and they perform much better. We are also proud to have been recognized as Startup Project of the Year in 2021 by the Energy and Environment Partnership Trust Fund (EEP Africa) for our gender lens approach to energy access and our success in a difficult market.

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?

We are happy with the job GOGLA is doing, raising awareness, offering webinars and learning opportunities. I think the best thing we can do is to share knowledge.

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