“Providing opportunities for women’s advancement always brings positive outcomes — especially for off-grid companies.”
Semonti Saha has been working in off-grid solar for six years as both a Solar Engineer and most currently, as an Assistant Manager of Product Development at Devidayal Solar Solutions based in Mumbai, India. She leads on the Efficiency for Access R&D Project, Truck Technical Design and Installation, and her project focuses mainly in off-grid locations across India. In this first Changemakers in Energy Access Series Spotlight, Semonti shares her experiences as a woman working in the off-grid sector.
Tell us more about the work you are doing.
My work is dedicated to areas where freely available solar energy can be harvested and stored to provide off-grid energy access for cold chain technology solutions. At Devidayal Solar Solutions, I am equipping vehicles with the solar off-grid freezers needed to store and transport fresh food without risking spoilage. Common transported items consist of seasonal fruit pulp and vegetables like ginger, mushrooms, green peas and more. An upcoming project I am especially excited for is installing solar freezers for women and men fishing along local coasts to help store fish and prolong their business earning potential without risking spoilage.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge in accelerating energy access among women?
The biggest challenge I see in my line of work is that women are aware of the importance of energy, but lack the funds, support and infrastructure needed to gain access to energy sources. Personally, I believe that by reaching out personally and in local languages, we can help rural women learn about how non-conventional, off-grid energy sources can affect a lot of improvements in the quality of life for them and their families. By equipping these women with the proper knowledge in the right ways, I believe women can overcome the challenges they currently face regarding energy access.
Improving access to off-grid appliances has broader impacts on gender equality aside from increased economic opportunities. What are some of the impacts that you have come across through your work?
Women living in rural areas face considerable hardship in their daily household activities that is exacerbated by a lack of energy access. Once we equip them with off-grid appliances and systems like study lamps, small home systems, and solar refrigerators, we see an instant effect that their lives have been made more comfortable and that their burdens have been eased.
When providing solar freezers and internal lighting to women-owned mobile restaurants, we not only see an increase in business opportunities for women, we also see an increase in their desire to learn more about these systems. Women are particularly interested in learning about how the systems work and how they can be maintained properly for long-term use. In turn, our clients spread knowledge to more women on these products and their benefits, fueling the potential for women’s empowerment in the local communities we serve.
What are some energy access initiatives that help ensure women have a voice in the energy making decision process?
After seven years of working on off-grid projects, I believe the following are initiatives that should be taken:
- An emphasis on empowering women in rural areas with the help of local NGOs
- Making it a priority to understand peoples’ basic needs of energy through meeting with them personally when possible, in order to form a trusting bond
- Promote women as leaders and trainers to groups of women to facilitate a comfortable environment for discussion, understanding, and asking questions
- Training women in public speaking to improve their confidence
How can off-grid companies incorporate gender inclusion into their business and services?
First, I am very proud and grateful to be working with Devidayal Solar Solutions, an off-grid company that promotes women’s involvement in energy access projects.
In my first year at Devidayal Solar Solutions, we built two food trucks for women containing ePOS machines to help their small business succeed. We are currently in the process of connecting with local farming institutes to provide cold chain solutions, in addition to evaluating how we can power ladies’ tailoring centers with off-grid energy to increase their income earning potential.
In my experience, providing women with opportunities always brings about positive outcomes, especially for off-grid companies, as these projects help train women in ways they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
The Changemakers in Energy Access series spotlights both women and men whose work is deeply committed to championing gender equality and empowerment in the off-grid energy access space. This series seeks to represent the key lessons learned throughout the Appliances Empower campaign, a global campaign by Efficiency for Access to develop deep linkages between energy access, gender equality and social inclusion. Keep up with Semonti’s impactful work by connecting with her on LinkedIn and following Devidayal Solar Solutions on Twitter.