Women entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe empowered by solar kits

Sky at SunsetSometimes you come across a story which stops you in your tracks and forces you to think about the daily challenges in your own life. It might even make you realise life here in the UK ain’t so bad after all. We all know about Zimbabwe, an African country beset by economic problems for many years and the butt of a thousand jokes. We’ve all heard them.

This particular story centres on an initiative launched by the Zimbabwe Resources Foundation in which solar kits were given to 100 women entrepreneurs. Included in the kits were solar panels, LED lights, mobile phone battery chargers and battery packs that store the solar energy.

Nothing unusual there, you might say. But it’s what the women have done with the simple and inexpensive kits, how it has changed not only their own lives but also members of their community that is truly inspiring. One of the recipients, Hilda Mubaiwa, from Zimunya, runs a bottle store and a grocery shop that were failing to generate enough income to support her family because of frequent power cuts.

She told The Zimbabwean newspaper, “But, now I consider myself lucky as I am one of only a few small business owners in here with access to clean, affordable electricity. Since I received the solar kit, I don’t use the candles and I am now selling cold beer and soft drinks among other things that require electricity.

I can open my shop for a few extra hours each day. Now I am making a sustainable income by renting out fully-charged LED lamps every evening and charging people’s mobile phones using solar powered batteries,” she said.

Having the kit means she can also charge football followers a $1 entrance fee to watch live television matches at her bottle store, pushing up beer sales in the process.

Now that’s true entrepreneurial spirit in action!

Straight as the crow flies, the distance between Zimbabwe and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar is roughly 3,500 miles. While Qatar banking ways may differ little when compared to its Zimbabwean counterpart, the conservative nature of Middle Eastern society has often meant difficulty for the entrepreneurial-spirited woman intent on raising capital to start a new business. But in a land where the sun shines on average eight or more hours a day, there are no handouts of solar energy kits.

In Qatar, 62% of interest in entrepreneurship came from males, and just 38% from females.

A survey last year by the then Booz & Company – it has now combined with PwC to form Strategy – found young Qataris showed the least interest in becoming entrepreneurs. Just 3% of Qatar’s local high school and university students expressed interest in becoming entrepreneurs, compared with 11% regionally.

The survey, which was featured in Qatar Today, also found a striking imbalance in interest between female and male students, in part because young women lacked female role models. In Qatar, 62% of interest in entrepreneurship came from males, and just 38% from females.

According to the article, lack of finance and challenging business conditions made life difficult for women entrepreneurs. Women in business did not have easy access to credit, especially since they don’t have the required collateral to secure loans because of unequal access to land and property. As a result, only 10% of the funding for women entrepreneurs came from commercial banks and other formal sources. Yes, the ways of banking in Qatar and elsewhere are indeed mysterious to behold.

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