In honor of International Women's Day on March 8, we interviewed Joyce Gema, founder and CEO of Boma Safi and a 2014 USADF Off-Grid Challenge Winner. Boma Safi, a woman-owned, woman-run company in Kenya, is an energy distribution business that both targets and mobilizes rural women to distribute and sell its array of solar-powered products and cook-stoves. We asked Joyce how Boma Safi's model is working to power and empower women in Africa.
USADF: Boma Safi is a wonderful model of empowering women throughout the community. Many of the people who will read this article live in the U.S., so I’d like to compare it to a U.S. company – and Boma Safi reminds me quite a bit a U.S. company called Avon. Since 1886, Avon has produced and sold beauty products from a central headquarters where women pick up the products and sell the products door to door. Is the Boma Safi hub and spoke model similar to this Avon model? Like Avon, do women make up the cornerstone of the Boma Safi model?
Joyce: Boma Safi is a woman-owned, woman-run, bottom of the pyramid distribution business. The model allows inclusion of women as the cornerstone of its distribution and as the main target customer base. It is women who are most affected by indoor air pollution in homes hence we work with them to reduce pollution while at the same time including them as partners in our distribution model.
USADF: Give us a few examples of how you’ve seen the Boma Safi women entrepreneurs’ lives change and how the increased income has transformed the community.
Joyce: Women entrepreneurs have been disadvantaged for a long time as they do not have access to credit through the formal banking system, and also lack skills to grow their businesses. Through the Boma Safi model, we provide women entrepreneurs with opportunity to participate in our business model through an order and delivery system without having to put in expensive capital. One of the leading Boma Safi women entrepreneurs is Esther in Kitengela. Esther runs a small salon from where she interacts with women on a day to day basis. We recruited Esther to sell solar products and energy products to her customers. Through this initiative, Esther earns US$ 45 per month in addition to her income as a hair dresser. Esther does not have to leave her business to earn more.
USADF: Tell us why women are uniquely positioned or better qualified to distribute your products?
Joyce: Women are better positioned to distribute our products because they have several forums of interacting with each other and with the community at large. There are a large number of women who depend on the informal economy for financing and to get an income. The products we sell do very well in informal economies as they target those at the bottom of the pyramid. The majority of those in informal economies are women.
USADF: What is your vision for expanding Boma Safi in Kenya and possibly the broader East Africa region? How has support from USADF helped you reach your short and long-term goals?
Joyce: Our vision is to grow penetration of Boma Safi in the five regions where USADF has supported us to establish hubs. Boma Safi is uniquely positioned because our sister company, Tradecare , works with farmers on access to market and aggregation models. Combining the two models of farmer capacity support and aggregation provides a unique opportunity not only to grow Boma Safi but also to benefit those that we work with in three of the regions by combining our agricultural development services and energy distribution.
USADF: How has gaining access to electricity changed the community and the lives of the women? What obstacles remain for the women as the business grows?
Joyce: Gaining access to electricity has a positive impact of women and children. It improves the quality of life, reduces domestic pollution and enable women to make positive contributions towards protection of our planet. Clean cooking fuels remain a challenge to women as there is a direct correlation between indoor lighting and cooking energy. To provide a clean environment at home, it is important to address both lighting and cooking fuels.
USADF: Define success for you and other women business owners in Kenya.
Joyce: Success for me is providing a platform where I can work with other women to solve global challenges through homegrown solutions. When every household in the five regions where we work is electrified and can use clean cooking fuel, then we will have achieved success.
For the full story and to learn more about USADF Off-Grid Energy Challenge Winners, click here.