Exploring the role of Mini grid Business Models on Women's Socioeconomic Participation in Uganda

04.04.2024|09:32 Uhr

Wuppertal PhD student Eileen Lara during interviews in a shop with cold storage in rural Uganda

As a PhD student at BUW under the mentorship of Prof. Philipp Trotter, Chair of Sustainability Management, I embarked on a field research expedition to Uganda earlier this year. My objective was to delve into the intricate relationship between energy business models and gender dynamics in rural off-grid areas of Uganda, my homeland. A place known for its beautiful sceneries and welcoming people. Today, I am excited to offer you a glimpse into the motivations driving my research and some of the captivating findings I have uncovered.

As a a PhD student at BUW, working with Prof. Philipp Trotter, who serves as the Chair of Sustainability Management. I am thrilled to share my research findings with you. My name is Eileen Lara and I am passionate about examining the relationship between gender and energy businesses. Having a background in electrical engineering and a master's degree in renewable energy, I am grateful for the opportunity presented by this PhD which allows me to integrate and investigate my many research interests in energy, gender dynamics, and the role of entrepreneurship in stimulating development.

My research journey began by recognising the key role that entrepreneurship can have in promoting social and economic advancement, especially in economically disadvantaged nations. The participation of the private sector in enhancing energy accessibility is crucial for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals. Moreover, research efforts highlight the crucial importance of women in reducing poverty, as they frequently allocate money towards improving household conditions, hence raising the overall standard of living. However, in order to achieve these advantages, it is essential to provide women the authority and control not just within their homes, but also in wider economic settings. As a student studying the complex relationship between energy businesses and gender, my specific focus is on the expanding mini-grid industry in Uganda, a country located in East Africa, renowned for its beautiful landscapes and warm residents, earning it the nickname "Pearl of Africa." 

Energy is crucial for driving socioeconomic development, highlighting the importance of business strategies in promoting gender equality. Nevertheless, the existing literature sometimes oversimplifies the complex nature of gender dynamics, thereby perpetuating stereotypes and failing to recognise the many and important contributions that women make, particularly in the realm of technology. Our study employs a comprehensive method to empowerment, drawing from Kabeer's 1999 framework, which emphasises agency, achievement, and resources as essential elements. Our goal is to assess the effectiveness of current business approaches in promoting a major involvement and inclusion of women by redefining empowerment within this specific context.

The scope of our research was centred on three major mini-grid enterprises that are active in districts such as Nwoya, Lamwo, Namayingo, and Mpigi. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research approaches, we conducted detailed interviews with more than 70 individuals from the community, including both males and females. In addition, valuable information was obtained from 10 key informants, who included mini-grid managers, field crew, and local leaders.

Some of the early findings we have discovered include the varied strategies employed by the companies and the impact of asset finance on stimulating demand. Furthermore, we have noticed clear differences in the way women are perceived in the northern and central regions, influenced by cultural factors. It is worth mentioning that women's groups in the northern region showed greater male involvement in specific cases, disrupting what should be essentially a safe space for women. As the research progresses, we anticipate to provide significant insights into the effect of different business models on women's empowerment in the energy sector.

Our primary objective is to promote energy-enabled sustainable development and gender equality in Uganda and beyond.

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