Change Makers in Energy Access: Spotlight – Simon Bransfield-Garth

Learn about how Simon's passion for innovating technology to bridge the gap in modern energy services between rural off-grid and grid powered urban communities has earned him recognition as a “technology pioneer” by the World Economic Forum

Our systems have been tremendously beneficial in giving women their own source of income. A woman who now has access to a solar home system for example, can earn a few shillings to charge their neighbours phones, providing an income stream that is solely hers.

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies, has long been an advocate in using solar power to address the energy access challenges in sub-Saharan Africa. His passion for innovating technology to bridge the gap in modern energy services between rural off-grid and grid powered urban communities has earned him recognition as a “technology pioneer” by the World Economic Forum. Azuri’s Pay-As-You-Go (PayGo) business model has enabled hundreds of thousands of rural families in 12 sub-Saharan countries to gain access to energy by reducing the upfront costs associated with solar powered appliances and home systems. Under Simon’s executive leadership, Azuri is embarking on a gender empowerment and equality initiative called the Brighter Lives Initiative, which looks to encourage and increase the number of women working in the off-grid solar sector.

Azuri Technologies has sold more than 200,000 solar home systems in sub-Saharan Africa to-date and invested around 2 billion Kenyan shillings in Kenya alone to enhance the lives of millions of families. Did the company see itself in achieving this milestone when it was established in 2012?

We actually expected we would be much bigger. We have grown quite fast, around 90% every year for the last five years, but we also expected that the market would grow more significantly. This sort of experience is not unusual in new industries — it is common for the short term to grow more slowly than initial estimates but that the long term is actually more impactful. Mobile phone growth is a good example of this, where usage today is much higher than was predicted 10 years ago.

We have come to discover that there are significant financial and operational challenges scaling this business. In the early phase of our business back in 2012, people thought that once you have a piece of clever technology, everything will else would fall into place. However, what we have come to understand over the years is that the technology is a relatively small part of the overall solution. The other aspects, such as financing and distribution services to consumers, are the dominating factors for success. That’s why we are putting considerable investments into those aspects to enable us to be able to scale our services and product offerings.

British High Commissioner Jane Marriott (far left), Beatrice Nariyaka Unilever Retailer (left), Azuri Agent Hellen Awour (centre), Azuri CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth (right), Azuri GM Snehar Shah (far right)

Azuri’s solar home systems and appliances have provided access to modern energy services for many communities in the off-and weak-grid sector. However, one of the things we know about the benefits of modern energy access is that it is not gender neutral. How does Azuri and investment into distribution services, namely, the Brighter Lives Initiative, address this?

The people who spend most of their times in households using essential household technology tend to be women. Women see more of value in having light, televisions and the ability to charge phones within their homes, compared to men. [For example], a key finding we discovered is that televisions are a very valuable means of providing information to women. Through our many surveys, we heard from our customers that due to access to solar powered television, they are now more aware of things they weren’t aware of before, including health campaigns and political topics. This is enabling our customers to feel closer to the broader community, which is quite empowering.

We also found that our systems have been tremendously beneficial in giving women their own source of income. A woman who now has access to a solar home system for example, can earn a few shillings to charge their neighbours phones, providing an income stream that is solely hers.

It was not until more recently that we started to look at women in the workforce. We actually do have quite a lot of females in Azuri’s senior team in Nairobi — more than 50% are women. In our SHS agent workforce, that number is 35%. [Given this], we wanted to see what we can do to increase that representation, and this led to our commitment called the Brighter Lives Initiative. Of all the agents that we plan to hire this year, we will [consciously] hire at least 50% women with the goal that, over time, our overall agent workforce would evolve towards equal representation by men and women.

We have begun running marketing and awareness campaigns to encourage more women to become Azuri agents. The agent role suits women quite well because it involves knowing your neighbors and being a trusted representative of your community. The role also offers very flexible working hours. Actually, the best time to go and sell Azuri products is during weekend evenings. This provides a degree of flexibility to women, as they are likely to have home and caregiving duties during the daytime. We are therefore putting efforts into highlighting these opportunities and encouraging women to become agents for Azuri.

What benefits has Azuri seen or experienced with the current female agents in the company workforce?

We have seen that our female sales agents are collectively very diligent, reliable and consistent in their work. As members of local, informal groups, our female agents are able to leverage their networks and inform their friends about our products, leading to referral sales. Currently, around 50% of our new product sales are through referral sales compared to sales from marketplace advertisements. We tend to find out that people who have Azuri products regard them highly as the products are of high quality, and this works very well for our female agents when conducting referral sales.

Azuri CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth officially launches the Brighter Lives Initiative to help bring more women into solar energy

Could you provide any insights into why women continue to be under-represented in value and supply chains of off-grid companies?

From a senior level, it is very much unfortunately a case of [the types jobs and] who is applying for these roles. For example, in our engineering roles, we do not see many women in sub-Saharan Africa applying, whereas, when it comes to production line roles for our Malaysian manufacturing partners, there isn’t a single male worker to be seen. In the communities that we serve, there continues to be gendered stereotypes around men and women’s working roles, so unless you [a company] actively think about trying to change that, we’re going to have this disparity.

Azuri understands this and we put effort into getting women involved. Knowing that women tend to engage more with women, this tends to be helpful [in increasing women’s representation in the supply chain]. By showcasing our women in non-traditional roles (e.g. photographs of our Azuri female agents doing [traditionally masculine] tasks), they are more prone to accept women in these roles, which is facilitating a general cultural shift over time to women being able to present themselves as being more independently minded.

What trends do you foresee for the future of gender empowerment and equality in the clean energy access space?

I have seen that with relatively modest efforts, such as awareness raising, marketing and positioning, we can encourage women to become part of the workforce, and thus begin to facilitate gender empowerment and equality in the clean energy access space. Investing in women’s groups will be critical as women seem to relate to each other and trust each other more easily than with men, at least in terms of how clean energy appliances can increase the livelihood and safety of their homes.

Azuri Agent, Florence Muthoni installing a solar panel

What advice do you have for companies looking to undertake initiatives like Brighter Lives?

I believe groups that seek to implement such initiatives will find success in marketing their opportunities to women specifically via women’s social and community groups. Additionally, we have found great success in orienting our training programs with an emphasis on issues that women are currently facing, such as safety and work/life balance. The success of a program like Brighter Lives lies in creating specific social networks to provide self-help forums for women seeking to become involved in the workforce. This includes mentoring at both the 1:1 and group levels to support new women personnel with any issues encountered when starting a new program like Brighter Lives.


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-and-weak-grid energy access space. This series seek 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 Simon’s impactful work by connecting with him on LinkedIn and following Azuri Technologies’ Twitter account.