Programme Development and
7/5, First floor, South Patel Nagar
New Delhi, 110008, India
ruchi at sewabharat.org
There are therefore no specific laws and policies protecting them against exploitation. Energy access plays a key role in sustainable development, poverty alleviation and climate change. It is well acknowledged that access to clean and reliable energy, particularly renewable energy, has a positive impact on the environment, children’s education, quality of life, income and health amongst others. An impact report of a SolarAid intervention found that rural African families were saving around US$ 70 per year from solar energy access using this saved money on better food, education and farming. Furthermore, households have been reducing 300 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions each year. While access to energy is instrumental in ensuring a decent standard of living, it is twice as important for home-based workers, because their home is also their workplace and energy services are a productive asset. Since the earnings of most home-based workers are on a piece rate, increased output is crucial. Erratic electricity supply and load-shedding affects production levels, sometimes leading to the cancellation of work orders.
In a study conducted by HNSA in lower income households of Kathmandu, Nepal, home-based workers reported that load shedding has been hampering their work for an average of 3.75 hours per day. Almost half – 49%– of the home-based workers surveyed, reported the use of alternative energy (candles, kerosene light and power back-up/ emergency light) for their work. Access to assets, tools and equipment based on modern fuels can augment output and productivity of workers.
A study by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad city, India, stated that the productivity of garment workers almost tripled when a foot-pedal was replaced with a machine. This concept applies to other occupation related productive assets such as electric grinders, looms, beauty parlor equipment, and potter wheels. Since home-based workers combine their work with domestic duties, time is an important resource. However, fuel gathering and collection (wood, kerosene and gas cylinders) takes time away from income generating activities of homebased workers. According to a study in rural Rajasthan, an average household spends 50 hours per month in fuel-wood collection and transportation. Health too is a productive asset for informal economy workers. Health issues, due to hazardous fuel, can lead to reduced working hours and increased expenditure on medication. According to the World Health Organisation, indoor air pollution is responsible for more than 1.5 million deaths in India per year.
For potential end-users, affordability is the biggest challenge. A product is often considered expensive and unaffordable because of the upfront cost. SEWA Bharat addresses this by mobilising subsidy from government schemes and facilitating financing from nationalised banks and SEWA Bharat’s created institution to buy products on loan. Mobilisation of subsidies for households is undertaken through dialogues and advocacy with government departments and donors. SEWA Bharat is currently linking members to the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), a flagship programme of the Indian government.
Since banks are reluctant to lend to poor fearing bad debts, SEWA Bharat undertakes two tasks. Firstly, it encourages banks to lend to lower income households by creating awareness among bankers through trainings, programmes and meetings and secondly, SEWA Bharat ensures full repayment of the loan by creating necessary checks and balances. Credit is provided to end-users who already have benchmark savings in either of SEWA Bharat’s micro-finance models i.e the self-help groups and the thrift and credit cooperative. End-users can choose a loan scheme as per their repayment capacity and cash flow. The loan tenure can go up to 48 months. Every month, SEWA Sathis collect the installment at the door step of the end-user and deposits the money, known as ‘door step’ financing. Monthly tracking of repayments is done through monitoring and information systems and fines are collected in case of default. SEWA Bharat has facilitated loans worth US$ 143 000 (Rs 85 lakh) for 1200 households and has ensured 95% recovery of these loans. Additionally, it has mobolised government subsidy amounting to US$ 44 000 (Rs 27 lakh) for women workers. The current default rate is 5% with the average loan amount to each individual at US$ 100 (Rs 6000).
While at the beginning of the programme, the loan tenure was for 48 months, there has been shift towards smaller loan tenures due to two factors. Firstly, initially women workers wanted to elongate the loan period as a safeguard against product quality. Women workers believed that the organisation would swiftly respond to product faults if they were outstanding on their loan. However, with increased usage and experience of quality service from SEWA Bharat, women workers’ scepticism of the durability of goods has been addressed and they willingly choose loan schemes which are of a shorter period of time. Secondly, SEWA Bharat has also incentivised early loan repayments through small discounts.
There is a strong focus placed on increasing the longevity of the decentralised energy systems. The SEWA Savera programme has a technical wing which looks after installations, trainings, and after-sales services of the lights. Fixed servicing of lights is conducted every six months and after -sales service is provided for three years. Local technicians are trained in installation, servicing and complaint resolution. At the time of installation, women workers are advised on lights placement for optimum effect. Upkeep and maintenance of lights are the primary responsibility of women workers. Usually, women members fear damaging the lights due to incorrect usage or handling. Therefore beginners and refresher technical trainings are conducted with them to acquaint them with the ‘Do’s and Dont’s’ of the products.
Impacts of the SEWA Savera programme on the economic empowerment and increased convenience of home-based workers
The use of energy products has offered new work opportunities and livelihood security to women workers.
“ there are 60-70 households in my village and they all come to my shop to buy goods. Because the village is away from the nearest town, my shop is a hub for people to buy daily items. I use the solar light to do the calculation as well as weigh the goods before they are sold to the customer. Now everything is done in bright light and customers are able to see the weighing process and are convinced about what I am selling. Further, during late evenings, customers are able to ascertain that my shop is opened by seeing the bright light from far.” Bhagvatiben, Sarojini self-help group Treasurer
"One of the key things I explain to women during marketing is that while they have to pay endless rent to the generator operator, with the SEWA Savera programme they can have ownership over the light system at the same cost.” Gudiyaben, SEWA Sathi responsible for a cluster in Bariyarpur block
Solar home light systems have replaced kerosene lamps as a source of lighting in one room houses. As per anecdotal evidence, there has been a reduction in household expenditure on fuels by at least 80% in small houses. In slightly bigger houses, solar home light systems have reduced monthly expenditure on fuel by 30%. Households also have the option to charge mobile phones from the light system. This has proved instrumental in reducing the cost of mobile charging by US$ 1.50 ( Rs 90) per month, in remote areas, where people had to travel between four to five kilometers every other day to get their cell phones charged. Earlier in the programme, most of the women end-users used kerosene lamps during cooking which would get extinguished from any slight movement. The comfort gained from using a stable and bright light while performing domestic chores is profusely highlighted by women workers. Women also point out that residue from kerosene wick would often blacken the walls, making the house appear more darkened. In some cases, more lamps had to be used to offset the darkened room. However, with solar lights this problem has been resolved. Study hours of children have been extended due to solar lights and children emphasise a peculiar benefit of solar home light systems – that bending close to kerosene wick for brightness would often burn their hair. This is no longer an issue with the solar home light system. Household members also cite that the kerosene lamps would often cause fires in thatched houses, a danger now overcome with home light systems.
Women associated with this programme recognise their contribution to the reduction of household expenditure and to the increase in household income. Many of the lights have been bought by women workers and are being used in income generating activities by other earning members. Lakshmiben from the village Raithatha has bought a solar home light system which is used by her son to run a tuition centre. Due to the bright light, the teaching hours in the centre have been extended. Lakshmiben’s son is able to earn US$ 100 (Rs 6000) every month and has increased his income by US$ 25 (Rs 1500) since the installation of the lights. Access to credit and the acquisition of an asset in a women’s name is an empowering process.
At the onset of the programme, the ownership of the lights was held by the self-help groups who lent the lights to other women for usage. However, these end-users expressed the wish to convert the rentals into instalments so that they could own the product after full-repayments. They recognised that the lights had multiplier effects in their household and it was a device they wished to have control over. It is noteworthy that credit provided to women workers for procuring light systems is approved after their credit and repayment history is assessed. While their accumulated savings is a precondition for institutions, like banks, to lend, it is also collateral used by women workers to highlight their credit worthiness in order to procure other renewable energy products. For instance, some of the women workers have expressed the desire to obtain other renewable energy products such as a fan, water pump and television.
The interlinkages between energy access and the livelihoods of informal economy women workers is emerging as a critical attribute in interventions and policy discourse by governments, NGOs and donors. There is a need to build the understanding of the linkages between the economy, culture, social milieu and networks in which poor women live and operate. As highlighted in this article, there are multiple ways in which lack of energy access affects women as compared to men, as women are not only primary caregivers in the household but also workers who use their home as a workplace.
The SEWA Savera programme addresses such life-cycle needs of women workers through renewable energy. Women workers are at the forefront of the SEWA Savera programme. The cost required to buy energy products is borne by women workers and local women workers from the community are involved in creating awareness, financial linkages, and loan repayments. Energy products are provided in the name of the woman and the ownership of energy products ensures upkeep and proper maintenance of systems, ensuring greater accountability on usage and payments.
The model is effective in its execution due to adoption of practices like ‘door step’ financing, ‘door step’ service and ‘door step’ products. These are significant because distance, time, energy and cost are major barriers among informal economy workers to reach out and adopt new products and services. This model can be replicated by any organisation which has a strong community presence and network and advocates for a favourable policy environment which allows women institutions (self-help groups, associations, cooperatives, banks and unions) to directly access government schemes and incentives, saving bureaucratic delays. Through the creation of an adequate ecosystem, organisations like SEWA Bharat can bridge the gap between the technology provider and end-user.
UNDP, 2015. Bihar: Economic and Human Development Indicators. Available from: http://ww.in.undp.org
Practical Action, 2014. Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2014 Practical Action: Rugby.
World Health Organisation, 2015. Indoor Air Pollution: National burden of disease to indoor air pollution. Available from: http://www.who.int/