Pioneering research shares women’s voices to improve energy access solutions

  1. TEA programme enables partners and companies to collect and use gender-disaggregated data to improve services for female customers

  2. Impact measurement company 60 Decibels delivered customer engagement projects with 15 off-grid energy social enterprises supported by TEA partners

  1. 3,860 customers were interviewed, 25% of which were women. Insights focused on customer profile, experience, satisfaction, feedback, adaptation to Covid-19 and its impact

  2. Deevabits Green Energy, a solar distribution social enterprise in Kenya, is one of four companies working with Value for Women, a specialised advisory firm helping organisations advance gender inclusion, and using insights to improve women-led business performance through sales and leadership

Increasing energy access for underrespresented groups

Within the TEA programme, the Leave No One Behind agenda centers on increasing energy access for groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented in the energy conversation. Women, especially disadvantaged women, are a particular focus.

The first step is to speak directly to women about their energy usage, needs, and preferences. Through the TEA programme, UK aid funds surveys and other forms of data collection with women who can participate in, and benefit from, energy access initiatives and products.

60 Decibels: collecting data from female customers to improve clean energy outreach

“Cooking food takes a shorter period and I’m using less charcoal which helps me to spend less money,” said a female respondent in one of the Lean Data surveys delivered by TEA Partner 60 Decibels – an impact measurement company – to 15 off-grid energy social enterprises supported via TEA.

Lean Data projects consist of surveys with a sample of companies’ customers to identify the gender composition of clients, their access to the product or service, and its impact. The impact measurement company helped the social enterprises understand customers’ needs and the way the energy products and services they provided were changing lives. These companies are delivering solar lanterns, improved cookstoves, pay-as-you-go solar home systems, energy hubs, and mini-grid connections. Lean Data projects aimed to identify the gender composition of companies’ clients, their access to the product or service, and its impact upon their lives.  

Over a nine-month period, 60 Decibels conducted phone interviews with 3,860 of these companies’ end-users in 11 different languages across Cameroon, DRC, Kenya, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. A quarter of interviews were with women, enabling segmented analysis to identify differences in experiences by women compared to men.

According to the surveys, 90% of customers reported an improvement in their quality of life as a result of accessing energy through companies supported by TEA. These companies were also successful at reaching low-income customers, with 83% of them out-performing the 60 Decibels benchmark in that respect. Another positive metric was reaching a population that never had access to an energy product or service before – 65% of companies’ customers were in this category. Customer types also included 63% living in poverty (<$3.2/day) and 6.4% with some form of disability, both of these indicators being higher than the 60 Decibels benchmark average.

Gathering this type of consumer data in person is challenging and costly. However, 60 Decibels used a standardised question set developed and tested over many years, geographies, and languages to improve efficiency. This also enabled benchmarking, to help social enterprises seeking to improve their impact and customer experience. The 60 Decibels team used phone surveying which was vital given Covid-19, and selected a sample size that generated robust and rigorous results.

The key differences identified for female customers included their demographics, income levels, access to energy products, challenges experienced, and impacts of clean energy products accessed to date. 60 Decibels is also measuring the impacts of Covid-19 on income and vulnerability levels via an insights dashboard in which indicators and results can be filtered by multiple categories including gender.

Using the results from these surveys, companies associated with the TEA programme heard customer voices and experiences, sometimes for the first time, to help inform the design and delivery of their products and services. For many of these companies, it is the first time they have gender-disaggregated data at their fingertips to inform decision-making.

Deevabits Green Energy, a solar distribution social enterprise in Kenya, also recently partnered with 60 Decibels to carry out customer data collection with 222 customers and 113 spouses to study the different experiences of women and men in the same household. Of the full sample, 44% were men and 56% were women. The results were used by the company, in partnership with two other TEA Partners – gender inclusion advisory firm Value for Women and the Global Distributors Collective, a collective of last mile distributors around the world – to tailor and improve its approach to female customers, and increase energy access among this group.

Specifically, Deevabits tested a targeted digital marketing and sales strategy, and a training strategy to improve the sales performance of sales agents. At a time when sales agents were unable to carry out regular in-person sales due to Covid-19 lockdowns, there was an opportunity for Deevabits to reach out to its customers through online marketing activities in a gender targeted manner. It developed and tested a new strategy with the help of Value for Women, which transformed Deevabits’ approach to communications. The team learnt the benefits of intentional and strategic gender focussed communications in this area, including the quality of photos, messages or content, scheduling of posts, and the handling of online inquiries. The digital marketing strategy also allowed Deevabits to market its products and promote its brand outside of areas where it typically operated. In the first two months after the rollout of the strategy, Deevabits saw an increase in inquiries about its products from clients, and recruited an agent in an area where they had no previous presence. Deevabits expects to continue to see increased traffic to its website and social media channel, generating more leads, improving its brand awareness, and increasing sales.

Acumen: better understanding female customers, key in delivering positive impact

Acumen, an impact investor and TEA partner, prioritises customer data collection as a foundation for its investments into companies, including its clean energy portfolio. Acumen’s focus on gender equity stems from its overall impact goal of bringing products and services to the market that bring dignity to, and improve the livelihoods of, low-income customers. In many contexts, this means products and services for women who are often more marginalised than men. Through Acumen’s portfolio, we know that roughly more women (62%) than men (60%) are accessing new energy products or services for the first time. As such, better understanding female customers plays an important role in delivering positive impact to more people, more effectively, through clean energy access.

To advance this agenda, Acumen seeks to verify that the products its investees are providing are suited to the needs and preferences of women and have a positive impact on them. The challenge is that companies do not often collect gender-disaggregated data. In many cases, they may not even know the proportion of their clients who are women or anything about women’s needs and preferences related to the product.

To bridge this information gap, Acumen has embedded 60 Decibels’ Lean Data impact measurement data collection into its pre-investment due diligence process, and post-investment impact tracking. Acumen has also used Lean Data with a number of companies to better understand what motivates women to purchase an energy product or service, such as clean cookstoves or solar home systems.      

One of the key insights that emerged from these surveys is that, while customers of both genders say that they feel safer since buying and using their energy product or service, there is a difference in how men and women talk about safety: men refer to improvements in the security of the home, while women talk about safety of the family in terms of health and accidents. This insight is useful in developing communication materials and product or service design.

Another learning is that, while 68% of energy access companies’ customers are men, and in 61% of homes it is the male adult who makes the decision to purchase an energy product or service, in the clean cooking sub-sector more women than men are the primary purchasers.

As a result of this work, Acumen’s investees now have an improved understanding of their female customers and of how their products and services can better meet their needs.

Value for Women: working with data to increase women sales agents’ performance

The gender-disaggregated data collection that many TEA partners are involved in helps to benefit female customers. TEA partners and companies are using the results to improve and tailor their products and services and improve energy access for excluded or underrepresented women.

For example, gender inclusion advisory firm Value for Women provided advisory on gender-focused research, strategy development, implementation and impact analysis to four clean energy companies in Africa. In a project with the Global Distributors Collective, a collective of last mile distributors around the world, it delivered strategies to support commission-based women sales agents. Companies saw a remarkable increase in agents’ sales performance and/or motivation within the first few weeks of implementation (for example, one company recorded a 41% increase in women agents’ monthly sales after motorbikes with riders were made available by the company).

Companies also noted that such strategies made agents feel valued, and were expected to improve agents’ retention (an issue many companies face) over time. Moreover, one company saw increased confidence among women agents, particularly in selling to men.