Of Uganda’s population of 38-million people, a staggering 32-million do not have access to electricity. This equates to only 15% of Ugandans having access to power, which represents quite a low figure, even in Africa where 600-million people do not have electricity.

The recent announcement made by the United States Development Foundation (USADF), together with partners Power Africa and GE about the winners of the 2017 Women in Energy Challenge in Uganda couldn’t have come at a better time.

The decision to award a grant of  $100,000 to two Ugandan renewable energy enterprises –- Joint Energy and Environments Projects (JEEP) and Conservation and Development Uganda Limited  (CODE) – to expand their work to reach more women beneficiaries will go a long way in Uganda, which still requires significant investment in infrastructure development. JEEP Chairwoman Dr Maria Bawabya Senkezi said investing in women entrepreneurs is critical because “women invest money back into the community”.

“Providing energy access to Africa’s population is a priority for us,” said Jay Ireland, President and CEO of GE Africa. “The Women in Energy Challenge is one of our commitments towards supporting local entrepreneurs and we are delighted that African women-owned enterprises are solving local challenges.”

The Women in Energy Challenge is  part of the Off-Grid Energy Challenge and was launched in 2016 by the USADF and GE to identify and accelerate enterprises which are either led by women or benefit women, and to thereby help African entrepreneurs compete in the global economy.

By funding renewable energy entrepreneurs, the USADF, which is the only US agency dedicated entirely to Africa and funding 100% African-owned businesses, is bridging the electricity  gap for some of Uganda’s most vulnerable populations. The Off-Grid Energy Challenge forms part of Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid initiative, which seeks to drive private investment in off-grid and small-scale renewable energy solutions.

“We launched this Women in Energy Challenge to find the best and the brightest female entrepreneurs that are making a difference in bringing electricity to rural communities. We are very pleased to see that these women-led enterprises are showing promise in finding alternative solutions to Uganda’s energy crisis,” said USADF President and CEO, CD Glin.

In Uganda, where the USADF has a $5-million co-funding agreement with the government of Uganda, the USADF has awarded three Off-Grid Challenge grants to renewable energy businesses. Since 2013, the USADF has partnered with Power Africa and GE in funding more than 70 off-grid energy companies in nine African countries. Together, they have invested more than $7-million in African entrepreneurs and this has resulted in about 20,000 actual energy connections that have benefited roughly 100,000 people.

Through its various business divisions, GE has been supporting the growing need for stable power in Africa. Given that GE has been active in Africa for more than 100 years and that it has a team of more than 3,200 employees in 33 sites across the continent, the multinational is well-placed to support a wide range of energy solutions.

Power Africa, which is a US government-led initiative, would like to increase electricity access in Sub-Saharan Africa by adding more than 30,000MW of electricity generation capacity and 60-million new home, and business connections. The organisation works with African governments and private sector partners to remove barriers that impede energy development in SSA.

The  grant winners

JEEP is a 100% women-owned business in central Uganda. They plan to use the $100,000 grant to install  six green power units in Kalangala, a remote island district in Lake  Victoria. Fishing is the main industry in this district, but ice to preserve  the fish is expensive and there is a limited supply. The power units, which JEEP is supplying, will have solar-powered cold storage facilities which will  help locals preserve the fish, which can then be sold at the market. JEEP will also supply phone charging and solar home systems, and the profit generated will be used to replicate this model throughout the region, thereby providing more jobs for local women.

CODE is a majority women-owned business in western Uganda, where there is a limited amount of firewood, forcing women to walk long distances in search of fuel for their fires. CODE will use the $100,000 grant to sell 350 Agro-Eco kits, which will provide alternative and safer fuel sources. Using a flexible repayment financing model and a low-cost distribution system, CODE will collect revenues and expand their business to more households in the region.

Image above: Ambassador Deborah Malac  (left), Power Africa Coordinator Andrew Herscowitz (right) and the Honourable  Irene Muloni, Minister of Energy and Mineral Development (second from right), award the CEO of CODE Uganda the Women in Energy Challenge Grant. Image: Courtesy GE.

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