How Can we Break the Bias in Energy Access?

Increasing the participation of female entrepreneurs in the energy access sector can help ensure that vulnerable women and girls are not left behind in the global clean energy transition

By Jasmine Brand-Williamson, Marketing Communications Executive, Energy Saving Trust, Co-Secretariat of the Efficiency for Access Coalition

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. Although women drive many of the innovative and gender-focused solutions for SDG7, only 22% of the energy sector workforce is female. Increasing the participation of female entrepreneurs in the energy access sector can help ensure that vulnerable women and girls are not left behind in the global clean energy transition.

Without reliable energy access, women and girls in developing countries are tasked with collecting firewood for cooking and heating. Appliances such as clean cookstoves offer an alternative and free up time for other income-generating activities.

As part of our work on the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, we aim to enhance opportunities for women in energy access. Funded by UK aid and the IKEA Foundation, the Challenge is a global, multi-disciplinary competition that invites teams of university students to create affordable, high-performing off-grid appliances and enabling technologies. Competitions like this help provide young women with the skills and confidence to pursue careers in male-dominated sectors. The Challenge helps to address gender biases by hosting webinars and panel discussions that focus on gender and social inclusion, and providing support for the students with mentoring from industry experts, many of which are women.

This International Women’s Day invites us to ‘Break the Bias’ in our communities, workplaces and education systems. We commit to working towards a world free from discrimination and gender bias. To celebrate, we spoke to three female participants in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge to find out how they are working to address gender barriers and work towards universal clean energy access.

First, we meet Nidhi Pant. Nidhi is the co-founder of Science For Society (S4S) Technologies. Nidhi trained as a chemical engineer and is currently acting as a mentor to support students through the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge.

Nidhi Pant

Could you please tell us a little bit about S4S Technologies and what inspired you to start it?

My organisation, S4S Technologies, works with women farmers. This involves giving them access to food processing technologies that can help them earn additional income. As a woman working in energy access, I’ve seen that women carry out most of the work at the farm gate at the village level. Their work is visible, but these women are invisible. So, designing technology for them, making sure they have access to this technology, and making the right financial instruments for them was very important. What inspired me was the willingness of these women to go outside their comfort zone. They manage work alongside a thousand other activities and the patriarchal norms that exist. The women still have the same amount of enthusiasm every day to work hard and earn an income for their families. Everything we do today is designed to keep women at the centre.

How does your work contribute positively to the lives of women?

First, we eliminate all sorts of barriers that prevent farmers from accessing technologies or financing, so we ensure that they are present in the value chain. Our value chain is 100% operated by women. Second, we ensure that they have assured additional income that doubles their household income. In this way, they become the breadwinners of their family, develop more confidence, and have a seat at the table to be a part of decision-making. Lastly, the women we work with are also gaining respect within their communities through their entrepreneurship, financial independence, and participation in community decision-making. Therefore, they become community champions.

Please could you tell us about your involvement in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge?

For the past two years, I have worked as a mentor in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. I mentored different university students who are eager to find solutions in energy access. I mentor teams from different geographies and backgrounds and give them advice on how to focus on economic markets and technologies. I’ve also taken part in webinars, lecture series, and question and answer sessions, so that students can learn more about careers in energy access. I feel that such Challenges are so important for students at an early stage. It’s only through these competitions that you can test your prototype and ideas to translate them into actual products. It helps you channel your energy and make something very concrete out of it. It’s very helpful to go through the entire cycle of technology development to market-ready at an early stage of your career, such as at university. You also get to meet like-minded people and learn about communities that are facing similar challenges. It helps you to understand different aspects of your business model and technology and you also meet mentors or companies working in similar domains.

What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in energy access?

Energy access is a great career option because it’s what women do best. Women have the empathy to look at problems and give direction to them in a very different way. The importance of women in energy access is immense and as a career option it is very aligned and it’s very fruitful. As a university student, then as a woman coming out of university, I was not taken seriously by anyone. Whether it was a farm, vendors who would do a prototype development for us, distributors, or at the market. People have a lot of biases, so they assume it’s your father’s company or it’s your husband’s business that you’re working for. I think the only way that can help you to combat this is your technical knowledge, so you need to be very sure about what you are talking about. Be sure about how you’re articulating and be very decisive. Do not get intimidated by male-dominated areas. This level of courage will give you the confidence to change the ecosystem. I think for a woman just to take that first step and have that belief in herself. Do not doubt yourself. Do not second guess yourself. Be confident and know your work very well.

Next, we spoke to Zainab Sajjad who is a student participating in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge from 2021–2022. She studies electrical engineering at the National University of Sciences & Technology in Pakistan.

Zainab Sajjad

Could you please tell me about your experience as a woman in engineering?

It has been a very good experience so far in engineering as I had the passion to do this and continue in this field. Many parents prefer their daughters to become doctors rather than engineers. In my opinion, if you have a passion for something, you have to go for it. There was and still is a huge gap between the number of male and female students in engineering, for example in the civil engineering department here in my university, there are only two or three other girls in the department. Now, women are taking a great interest in engineering and I’m passionate about this field. I think other women should continue to work in this field, as well to work towards equality.

Please could you tell me about your involvement in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge and your innovation?

To start something from scratch, you only have the idea or a thought process behind that idea, project, or product. However, I have found all the webinars in the Challenge very beneficial. For example, the experts delivering the webinars have encouraged us to consider the sustainability, scalability, usability, and affordability of our design. These are things that we might have ignored initially. Looking at the SDGs and how our product could support the SDGs is also very important. All the feedback that we have received is very helpful to develop our design.

My team is designing a solar dehydrating system for food preservation. This was motivated by the lack of solar dehydrators that currently exist in Pakistan. In the rural areas, there are many women farmers who dry food by hand. The solar dehydrator could help reduce the time that women spend laying out mats, spreading food, keeping watch for animals and storms, etc. It could also help them to earn more money.

Do you see yourself pursuing a career in energy access?

Yes, I have a passion for engineering. Through this project, I could launch this product into the market and show the importance of our design. As the product is innovative to our country, I’d like to launch the product into the market to support both myself and do the best for the community and end-users.

Last, we spoke to Josephine Tariya Bwonya, a participant in the second year of the Challenge. Josephine has recently completed her studies at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya.

Josephine Tariya Bwonya

Please could you tell us about your involvement in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge?

Our project was a solar-powered water filtration and purification unit. We filtered cloudy water from any source. We were inspired to design this as many Sub-Saharan African communities lack purification units. Often, all that people can do is boil water using charcoal and firewood, which contributes to deforestation. We were looking for an environmentally friendly solution to boil water, and to help people save money on their electrical bills by using solar-powered technology.

How has the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge helped to set you up for your career?

The experience was really great because it has helped me to look for a career that involves working in a team. A few years back, I was just looking at going into an office asking for a job. I’ve realised that there are careers whereby you can develop solutions to problems. It is really exciting compared to just sitting in an office working alone. The Challenge pushed me to pursue a career in software development.

Have you faced any challenges being a woman in engineering?

The school I studied at is mostly known for technology and engineering courses, and it’s mostly male-dominated. When I applied, I chose electronics and computer engineering. I was scared they wouldn’t choose me as I’m a woman and especially in Africa. Once they accepted me, I was also scared, as my class was mostly men. I was scared that along the way I might drop out. I completed the course and even the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. From interacting with males on the course, I realised we were on the same level. This has really built my confidence. I’ve realised that intelligence is not based on gender.

What advice do you have for other women looking to explore a career in engineering and technology?

Of course, my advice to the young ladies is that they should not feel diminished because of their gender. We can even achieve higher grades than the guys. Do not fear when choosing these subjects in high school. All subjects are not only for men, but also for everyone. Apply for these STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses. If you are a woman, you will get plenty of work opportunities. You will also be able to take part in competitions like the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge.


With women leading the way, we can achieve SDG7 faster and achieve a more just and inclusive clean energy transition.

Efficiency for Access and Engineers Without Borders UK are delighted to collaborate on the delivery of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge.

To learn more about the Challenge, click here.




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