Suggested Citation: Singhal, Prachi, Mousumi Kabiraj, Kalyani Krishna, Anubha Sharma, and Shaily Jha. 2023. Unlocking Sustainable Livelihood Opportunities for Rural Women: Lessons from Mainstreaming Women in Clean Energy Powered Livelihoods. New Delhi, Chennai: Council on Energy, Environment and Water; Villgro Innovations Foundation.
The study explores learnings, evidence, and recommendations on creating sustainable livelihood opportunities for rural women, emanating from gender-forward initiatives deployed by the Powering Livelihoods (PL) programme, to mainstream women in Distributed renewable energy (DRE)-powered livelihoods.
Powering Livelihoods is a USD 3 million (INR 21 crores) initiative by CEEW and Villgro to mainstream clean energy-based solutions in India's rural economy. It provides capital, technical, and sectoral growth support to help social enterprises deploy many clean energy-based livelihood solutions in a gender-inclusive manner.
Rural women are silent workers and significant contributors to the rural economy (Patel and Sethi 2022). A recent research study by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2025, India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) may increase up to 18 per cent just by providing equal work opportunities for women.
At 75.7 per cent, agriculture accounts for the largest share of women’s employment. Next up, micro-entrepreneurship forms an alternate avenue for the productive participation of women in the workforce (Bhardwaj 2022). By 2030, an estimated 30 million women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are expected to flourish in India, employing nearly 150 million people (Bhasin 2022).
However, one of the biggest challenges Agri and allied industries face is low mechanisation and the need for more reliable electricity. Approximately 119 million farmers and 34 million micro-enterprises in the Indian rural economy are constrained by unreliable electricity access (Waray, Patnaik, and Jain 2018). Decentralised renewable energy (DRE) powered livelihood solutions have the potential to solve this while simultaneously reducing drudgery and time spent on labour-intensive activities.
They provide several benefits that can help in enhancing livelihoods and the lives of women, their families, and communities exponentially. A USD 50 billion market opportunity exists for clean energy– powered livelihood appliances to boost India’s rural economy, especially among women.
For the Powering Livelihoods (PL) programme, we explicitly integrated a gender lens throughout to mainstream women in all our activities. We undertook several initiatives to build our internal capacity, our portfolio enterprise’s capacity and the larger ecosystem’s capacity to understand, target and reach women customers. Targeted funding for gender inclusion was made available to the enterprises to help them budget the time, efforts and resources needed to mainstream women across their organisation and value chain.
We conceptualised, piloted and catalysed various partnership models and business strategies that could uplift women’s socio-economic participation and make technology-based rural livelihoods women-friendly.
Many of our strategies result from incremental rounds of discussions and field testing; thus, maintaining a minimum of a 6–9-month timeline for any new intervention to stabilise and show results is integral. We observed that enterprises and end-users often devise ways to succeed and scale once presented with enough impetus. The key is to centre women end-users’ needs, experiences, expectations, risk-taking, motivations, and limitations while designing any intervention and being open to continuous iterations and pivots.
To realise the shared goal of sustainable livelihoods for women, each key actor will have to collaborate and prioritise gender goals.
Only when the above stakeholders work together will DRE livelihood technologies be able to serve as a low risk, easy-to-access springboard for a rural woman micro-entrepreneur to power her business and our rural economies.