What if there was an investment so powerful it could solve two critical problems—intergenerational poverty and inequitable access to clean, affordable energy and other technologies? What if we could engage adolescent girls and young women as anchors of both energy independence and social and economic progress?
Batonga is working with young females to build a sustainable infrastructure of renewable energy introduction and scale-up. Guided by world-class development practitioners, green energy companies, and grassroots organizations, we will establish cadres of female “energy entrepreneurs” to distribute and manage these new technologies. Our solution is fueled by the vision of a new field-tested business model that challenges conventional development and energy regimes.
This program addresses two global problems: the failure to assure adolescent girls’ inclusion in sustainable modern economies, and the exclusion of poor communities from new renewable energy and technology advances. We will introduce and scale new technologies through existing young-female-led clubs/platforms that build girls’ social, financial, and technical competencies and a foundation for modern economic engagement.
Females’ disadvantage is often consolidated in early adolescence: school dropout accelerates at age 10, poverty-driven sexual exchanges at age 12, followed by child marriage and unwanted pregnancy. Over 60% of adolescent girls will become single mothers in high-burden HIV countries.
In Benin, three out of four girls in in the country never make it to middle school and over one-third are married before the age of 18. This is a crisis. Research has shown that females are powerful stewards of resources and that income under female control has far greater human capital investment value than the same resources under male control.
Fossil fuel dependence undermines an equitable society, promotes conflict and food insecurity, extends health emergencies, and constrains economic resilience and growth. 2.8 billion people worldwide rely on biomass for fuel, causing 4.3M deaths annually (44% children; 60% female). 2 billion people lack electricity grid access; of these, 60% lack safe water and basic infrastructure, and are digitally and financially disconnected. Benin is below the average for Africa’s low-income countries at 110 kilowatts per hour per capita annually, or 0.01 percent of the average for middle-income economies. Less than a third of the population has access to electricity, and that number drops to 9% in the rural areas where Batonga operates.
Top-down centralized systems—whether delivering energy or social development inputs—do not reach the neediest households. Despite huge demand, market penetration of off-grid energy is limited. Global aid targeting women’s economic participation in key sectors (2% or less since 2007) bypasses the 240M poorest girls.
Batonga’s solution simultaneously increases the income-generating power of girls and young women while assuring resource-poor communities' equitable and durable access to renewable energy and other technologies.
We aim to incorporate green technology training into our existing girl club platforms, positioning girls and young women at the center of a nascent, in-demand vocation. By providing training and access to d.lights, Nokera lights, solar powered cell phone charging stations and other technologies, our girls clubs will become a springboard for promising small businesses with young women at the helm.
Our solution addresses core economic and social drivers of intractable poverty—energy, technology, and financing—by working with off-grid communities to introduce renewable energy technologies and engaging adolescent girls and young women to build a sustainable infrastructure for distributing and managing these systems. We chose this solution because small-scale renewable energy is underway in sub-Saharan Africa; we are harnessing this enormous market by linking it to Batonga’s proven safe spaces approach to accelerate social and economic impacts. Evidence demonstrates that safe spaces programs yield measurable improvements in health, social, educational, and economic outcomes for girls and their families. Our solution will have greatest impact among populations with high rates of fertility, maternal/child mortality, poverty-driven sexual exchange, child marriage, school dropout, and young families dependent on females’ income.
While there are existing programs to proliferate green technology in the Global South, few center women in the delivery mechanism. In this project, Batonga remains true to its core mission – we are ultimately about shining a light on the most overlooked girls in Francophone West Africa, and in this project, we are able to do so by quite literally giving them the power to bring light to their villages. Our intervention’s primary focus is on providing technical skills to the largest number of marginalized girls in our two target communities. Our desired primary outcomes for the girls in our programs are the short-term benefit of income generation and the long-term benefit of career advancement, putting young female entrepreneurs at the forefront of a nascent field. While providing access to clean energy for off-grid or partially off-grid communities is an important output (which will in itself benefit women in myriad ways), what sets our intervention apart is Batonga’s proven track record in girl’s education, empowerment and capacity building.
EVIDENCE OF EFFECTIVENESS
Research demonstrates that energy access correlates to 59% higher wages for rural females, and that countries with higher proportions of energy access have greater gender equality resulting in improved health, social, educational, and economic outcomes (Deloitte University Press, 2014). Recent reviews find positive impacts of electrification on female time poverty, economic participation, and increases in children’s—especially girls’—schooling, although such benefits may be constrained by social structures that limit female control (ENERGIA, 2016; Clancy et al., 2011). Our solution addresses confining social structures by establishing permanent female-led platforms that arm girls with health, social, and financial skills. This approach is founded on evidence that economic factors are powerful drivers of positive schooling and health outcomes for girls (Baird et al., 2010).
Two decades of research among hundreds of thousands of girls and young women in 14 countries reveals a high demand for and scale potential of safe spaces platforms and their capacity to change social norms and impart marketable skills. For example, a randomized controlled trial in Bangladesh (Balika) showed that livelihoods skills training delivered via girls’ clubs resulted in a 23% decline in child marriage and a 35% increase in those earning an income (Amin et al., 2016). In Uganda, a program (ELA) offering mixed social and economic content demonstrated significant declines in risky sexual behavior and enhanced income (Bandiera et al., 2012).
The Batonga Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit founded by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo. Since 2007, Batonga has reached girls in 5 African countries, provided over 5,000 academic years of education, worked with our partners to bring 200,000 pairs of shoes to the poorest school children in Benin and provided bathroom facilities and libraries serving thousands of students.
We plan to leverage our substantial and long-standing relationships on the ground in order to implement this project. We will coordinate efforts with local grassroots organizations that we have worked with since 2007 and collaborate with larger NGOs and organizations including the Population Council, Aflatoun, CARE, Plan International and the UNFPA to coordinate efforts, share data and best practices and ensure no duplication of efforts. We are also discussing a partnership with the Millennium Challenge Corporation Benin and we have a longstanding relationship with USAID Benin. Our multidisciplinary team brings expertise in renewable energy innovation/education, social/behavioral change, field research/evaluation, and program implementation/management from the private and nonprofit sectors.
Our program is unique and bold because it explicitly targets young women and equips them with training, skills, and solar technologies are suitable, scalable and sustainable within the local context. We strongly believe in the three solar technologies we have chosen to incorporate into our intervention:
1) d.lights S300 Mobile Charger + Solar Light, LED Rechargeable Lantern:
The d.light is a global leader in solar-powered solutions for off-grid households, communities and small income-generating businesses. As the largest distributed solar lighting brand, d.light provides individuals, families and communities with affordable, reliable, and accessible lighting and electricity, specifically for off-grid contexts. The d.light S300 is a solar-powered lantern that charges mobile devices and provides 4-16 hours of light per full charge. An added benefit of this technology is that it reflects light at a wide angle, allowing it to light up an entire room with a brightness that is 10x brighter than kerosene lanterns, the traditional source of lighting in rural communities of Benin.
2) Nokero N223 Solar Light:
Given the constrained access to electricity, the provision of solar technology, like the Nokero N223 is not only suitable for the local environment, but also essential to bringing about the sustainable development of energy-rich rural communities. The impact of this solar power will be transformational as its reach will expand beyond the mobile phone charging stations, providing the means to expansively electrify off-grid households in these communities.
3) ovCamp 150Wh Off-Grid Cell Phone Charger Pack:
With a 10-slot USB charging station, the ovCamp contains all the necessary components to establish an off-grid cell phone charging station for small business usage. With a modern lithium battery, this charging system has a long battery life, combined with a low weight, allowing for greater portability and mobility. Additionally, the 10 slots allows for continuous parallel phone charging, allowing the unit to charge up to 30 phones daily.
We plan to distribute 320 units of these technologies among 1,600 girls within our Girls Clubs in Savalou and Bohicon, Benin (240 d.light S300 Mobile Charger + Solar Light, LED Rechargeable Lanterns, 60 Nokero N223 Solar Lights and 20 ovCamp™ 150Wh Off-Grid Cell Phone Charger Packs). These technologies are not only the most advanced solar products on the market, but also the most ideal for off-grid lighting and mobile phone charging in the rural areas that we will be working in. With only 2.4% of Beninese citizens in rural areas having access to electricity, solar technologies are well-positioned to fill the gap between high demand and low supply of electricity access in rural Benin.
Not only will the technologies themselves be suitable, scalable and sustainable, but the delivery mechanisms will be as well. Our established network of Girls Clubs and mentoring groups gives Batonga Foundation a unique mechanism for introducing new technologies into off-grid and partially off-grid communities. Our groups and their mentors/leaders are platforms already deeply integrated into the communities and after receiving training and education, our girls are able to serve as peer educators in their communities. As the girls blossom into entrepreneurs and expand their income generating potential, they will be able to disseminate information about the function and benefits of clean energy technology, and later function as mentors / trainers / ambassadors to other nearby off-grid communities. We foresee this project being scaled up through the identification of nearby off-grid villages which can be reached by our in-country team and trained girls from our two pilot communities.
We have carefully selected which technologies to use based on years of work on a comparable solar technology project, “The Sierra Leone Adolescent Girls Network,” that is currently being implemented by our longstanding partner, the Population Council. This Network is focused on establishing safe spaces for at-risk girls in poor communities through the provision of “Girls Platforms” – similar to the Girls Clubs implemented by Batonga. They selected similar types of technologies as we propose, including the d.lights, Nokero lights, and ovCamp. The key criteria used in the selection and evaluation of these technologies were: 1) mobile charging capacity; 2) portability/mobility; 3) waterproof; 4) compatibility of technology to their users; 5) the amount of hours of light per full charge; and 5) brightness level compared to kerosene lights. The baseline survey and assessment evaluated the products against these criteria and confirmed their success and suitability to the local context. Describing the impact of these solar technologies, one of the mentors from the Girls Platform in Sierra Leone said, “Most of the girls in camp don’t have access to light, so studying at night is an issue. That is no longer the case. Our safe space will be bright, very bright, for them to meet and study. Solar lamps will bring our girls success.”
These technologies are highly suitable to the local context in Benin, where the majority of people in rural areas do not have electricity and are therefore dependent on expensive kerosene or short-lasting battery-powered lanterns. Solar-powered lanterns, which not only charge mobile phones, but also provide an affordable, long-lasting source of lighting is the most suitable solution to the problem of energy poverty in rural Benin. Electricity access can play a critical role in improving learning outcomes for students as it extends teaching and study hours, improving the quantity and quality of education. Moreover, the use of solar technology for lighting in rural households is a cost-savings measure – more affordable than traditional sources like kerosene lanterns.
Despite the rapid proliferation of solar light manufacturing companies like D.lights, solar lights have achieved less than 0.5% distribution rates in sub-Saharan Africa. To mitigate against the potential challenge of introducing this technology to Savalou and Bohicon in Benin, we will leverage longstanding partnerships with local grassroots partners, GAJES (The Groupe d’Action por la Justice et L’Egalite Sociale) and Actions Communautaires pour le Developpement Durable (ACDD). This established partnership model with local organizations, local consultants, and community networks gives us buy-in and will enhance community engagement. We also plan to conduct education sessions with community leaders in surrounding villages, informing them of our goals and inviting them into the process. Further, we intend to engage with local actors in the solar energy space, for example, the Solar Electric Light Fund, an NGO focused on providing cost-effective solar power to rural communities in Benin and Solar Benin Energy, an off-grid solar electrification NGO based in Savalou, Benin. Lastly, to ensure that community members feel included in this process, upon presentation of the solar technologies, we will facilitate a community forum and ask community members to sign a “Community Contract,” showing their support in helping guide, encourage and assist the girls in their engagement with these technologies.
We will conduct initial mapping/assessments of communities and technologies, pilot our solution, and undertake monitoring and evaluation (M&E) during the 1 year initial program period. Pilot phase milestones: new technologies introduced in two regions of Benin; populations selected for training/monitoring technology use. Core training content for female mentors/entrepreneurs developed; local communications strategies created; scaling strategies identified. Distribution venues/networks identified; mentors trained on technology use; cadre trained on repair; ongoing feedback provided on technology design and gaps. Activities will continue for duration of the program.
During rollout, we will track the number of girls trained, units distributed, energy production, and usage. We intend to measure and track our progress through baseline, midline, and endline assessments, evaluating the effect these solar technologies have on our metrics. Spatial-, age-, and gender-disaggregated metrics will be used to track changes in key social, economic, and environmental outcomes throughout the program. These indicators include employment, income, maternal/child health, food security, educational investments, and social norms. Some examples of indicators related to building the capacity of girls to participate in the green energy/tech space are:
-Number of girls who create a business plan to use their technology by the end of their training
-Number of girls who start a business using their technology after one year
-Number of girls who report an increase in income following the training and technology adoption
-Number of girls who are able to cite alternate forms of clean energy technology and their possible uses in their village
-Number of girls who are able to cite strategies for addressing a broken or malfunctioning piece of technology
Alongside administrative data, household surveys will be conducted in the poorest off-grid communities. This will allow us to scale the most successful and cost-effective models and to estimate the averted environmental, social, economic, and health costs associated with our solution. Our research will add to the body of evidence whether the early inclusion of young female entrepreneurs as technology operators enhances community-level resilience to seasonal shifts, climate change, scarcity, and operational risks. We will use qualitative analyses to understand how and why our model for off-grid energy infrastructure among disadvantaged populations is replicable and scalable.
The structure of our network of Girls Clubs contributes to the overall sustainability of our solution. Each girl is part of an expansive support network of other women trained in how to use, repair and maintain this technology. We plan to bolster this even further by providing participants with a dedicated tech support phone line and basic how-to guides for the solar technologies, including operational steps, names of the various components, and recommendations on ideal running and charging hours. All guidance documents will be developed with pictures to ensure maximum accessibility for our girls. With this support network for girls specializing in this role, the success of the technology uptake is strengthened. One step further, we intend to collaborate with local businesses focused on solar technology, such as “Solar Benin Energy,” also based in Savalou, Benin.
Ultimately, our solution is intentionally designed to be sustainable while creating balance between people and the planet through energy independence and economic and technological inclusion. Communities will be engaged from the start in developing business plans and financing models, assuring ownership and competence in implementation. Female entrepreneurs will be trained not just to distribute new technologies but also to manage and repair equipment locally and to train others, thus benefiting both entrepreneurs and consumers. More and larger local businesses will come online as energy access increases, offering expanded opportunities for income-generation and reinvestment into the community. Schools and healthcare services will improve. Our solution builds the capacity of people who are most likely to stay in their communities: young women who have long-term commitments and investments there. Ours is not a top-down solution; it is seeded from the bottom-up—anchored in communities, so communities are invested in its continuation.
Our intervention’s primary focus is on providing technical skills to marginalized girls rarely reached by development or charitable initiatives. Historically, Batonga’s interest is and always will be in reaching the most vulnerable adolescent women and girls and facilitating their empowerment. This program builds on our mission by nurturing adolescent girls into green energy entrepreneurs, and in so doing, improving the health, social, educational, and economic outcomes for them, their families and their communities.
In 2015 more than 190 world leaders rallied the international community to adopt a new vision through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end extreme poverty, inequality and injustice, and climate change. Our solution directly addresses several SDGs: poverty reduction (SDG 1) through the intersection of energy poverty and the exclusion of vulnerable girls/women from meaningful participation in the economy; SDG 7, ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy; SDG 3, gender equality; SDG 8, decent work and economic growth; and, in fact, it contributes to almost all the SDGs. Those benefiting from our solution include individuals, particularly adolescent girls and young females, living in off-grid, resource-poor communities. As 2030 approaches and as various international compacts ramp up (e.g. Paris Climate Accord, SDGs), there will be increasing focus on climate resilience and scalable energy solutions for resource-poor communities. Our initiative will be a model for energy-scarce communities. Giving girls economic skills and income-generating opportunities and increasing access to renewable energy will advance global development goals and improve health, social, educational, and economic outcomes for individuals, families, communities, and countries.