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Promoting women entrepreneurs' participation in West Africa's clean energy transition


What do solar water pumping technologies and high-performing stoves in Senegal and solar cookers to produce salt and smoke fish in Benin’s mangroves have in common? These are just three examples of IDRC’s support of women entrepreneurs in West Africa that is also providing access to affordable, sustainable, clean energy solutions. The goals: increase gender equality, promote environmental sustainability and resilience, and enhance economic empowerment. Women’s involvement in these solutions helps improve the technologies, adapt them to local contexts and grow small businesses. 

Research highlights

  • Women entrepreneurs in West Africa are considered crucial to adaptation efforts. 
  • IDRC support for research on women entrepreneurs in West Africa promotes access to sustainable energy solutions, with a focus on increasing gender equality and economic empowerment. 
  • Research on innovations, such as solar cookers in Benin and energy-efficient cookers in Senegal, demonstrates their positive impact on reducing air pollution, preserving natural resources and improving the well-being of women. 

Building on a tradition of entrepreneurship

Africa has a long tradition of women’s entrepreneurship. According to the World Bank, sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of entrepreneurs. The African Development Bank (AfDB) considers that female-led start-ups are key drivers of economic development and contribute to financial integration in the continent through job creation. 

Supporting women’s entrepreneurship is a route to economic empowerment and a better quality of life for African households. Involving women in clean energy not only reduces drudgery and increases their incomes, benefiting their families and communities as well as themselves, it also increased the use of more environment-friendly technologies, lowering pressure on natural resources and abating pollution. In a post-COVID era where many African economies are recovering from the pandemic’s adverse economic effects, such efforts become even more urgent. 

However, research funded by IDRC and partners from the United Kingdom suggests that women entrepreneurs face a “triple differential vulnerability” to climate change: they are often more sensitive to climate risk as a result of their concentration in certain sectors and types of enterprises; they face additional barriers to adaptation in the business environment; and they are often on the frontline of managing climate risk at household levels. The research also found that if women are especially vulnerable to climate change, they are also especially valuable to adaptation efforts.  

A recent report commissioned by IDRC on the intersection of women’s economic empowerment, care work and clean energy concludes that “women’s leadership in the energy sector, governance and policy-making is critical to a clean energy transition that is sustainable and inclusive for all.”  

“At IDRC we see care, the green transition and women’s economic empowerment as interdependent and intertwined,” said Flaubert Mbiekop, senior program specialist at IDRC. “Failure on any one of these fronts would undermine the other two.”  

From solar cookers to business strategies

Woman entrepreneurs in Benin smoke fish on a solar-powered oven.
SEWOMEN/ Université d'Abomey-Calavi

Research on solar cookers in Benin shows how this works. When compared with the performance of traditional cookers for salt production and fish smoking, the solar cookers significantly reduce the demand for firewood, time spent cooking and air pollution. Adoption of this technology will thus help safeguard Benin’s mangrove areas, reduce the time women spend collecting firewood, and improve their income and well-being.  

Another IDRC-supported research team in Benin is examining the impacts of the energy-efficient Guev cooker on the economic empowerment of women and the prospects for scaling up this effort. And, in Senegal, researchers are generating evidence on how to involve more women and women’s organizations in rural distribution chains for the high-performing Jambaar stoves. The key is to better understand what motivates women entrepreneurs to become involved.  

Beyond such practical innovations, IDRC funds research at the regional level to create enabling conditions for women’s full participation in Africa’s energy transition. For example, a wide-ranging group of partners supported by IDRC has brought together actors and stakeholders from the green innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Africa. Launched in May 2022, the Greenovations project seeks to organize support and identify solutions for innovators and entrepreneurs in five green sectors: renewable energy, climate action, climate smart agriculture, waste management and water management. The focus is on women and youth.  

One of the project’s goals is to support a pipeline of investible and gender-diverse green start-ups for impact investors’ consideration. To date, 30 green-sector innovators from across Africa ― 12 from West Africa ― are receiving dedicated support to refine their products and scale their businesses, turning their innovations into viable, market-ready products. The pan-African effort, led by the United Nations University, also aims to make the policy ecosystem more conducive to the development and sustainability of women- and youth-led green businesses. Building on a large IDRC-funded project carried out by the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa on Africa’s Development in the Age of Stranded Assets, the Centre is supporting additional work in four West African countries to explore opportunities for the informal sector to lead the transition toward decarbonized economies. 

In addition, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has stated a need to evaluate current gender mainstreaming strategies, test innovative approaches and formulate new, gender-inclusive finance programs to facilitate business start-ups in the clean energy sector. An IDRC-funded project, announced at the ECOWAS Sustainable Energy Forum (ESEF) in Cape Verde in October 2023, is informing the scaling of technical and vocational training, as well as entrepreneurship and business management training, in the energy sector targeted at women. IDRC was an ESEF partner. 

Contributing to global debates on gender and climate

The work carried out by these and other IDRC-supported researchers is contributing to the global debate on why women need to be at the heart of climate action and what needs to be done to make that happen. For example, IDRC brought the issue of women’s economic empowerment in the transition to clean energy to the 23rd Gender Summit held in June 2023 in Ghana. IDRC also supported the Sankalp West Africa Summit on entrepreneurship and sustainable development, where firsthand experiences shared by business leaders complemented the insights derived from research.  

IDRC-supported researchers have also brought findings to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These global climate change meetings are an opportunity to bring knowledge and evidence on the role women's entrepreneurship can play in the clean energy transition to climate change deliberations, push for women’s full and meaningful participation, and address the most pressing issue of climate change.