Power Africa Celebrates International Women’s Day

Building a Better Business through Gender Inclusivity

What motivates a start-up to prioritize gender inclusivity as part of its business plan? For PEG, a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar home system (SHS) company headquartered in Ghana, the inspiration was all about opportunity.

“We think there are a lot of opportunities in our business that are ignored because women are often ignored or overlooked,” says Hugh Whalan, Co-Founder and CEO of PEG. “We are excited about exploring how to build a better business by being more inclusive about how we engage with gender.”
PEG Sales Field Manager, Hanna, with her customer Kwaku at his home where the SHS is installed. Credit — Laura Allan

With the support of Power Africa, PEG is blazing a trail by piloting gender-inclusive business practices in the off-grid energy sector in West Africa. The practices have been detailed in a Gender Action Plan that will guide PEG in implementing, and measuring the impact of, activities to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in one of the leading pay-as-you go businesses in the region.

By applying a gender lens to several areas of its business, PEG aims to meet 5 key objectives:

  1. Increase the number of women in decision-making positions
  2. Strengthen internal policy frameworks
  3. Improve repayment rates
  4. Increase the number of female customers
  5. Increase employment of women in field staff positions

In only two months since developing the Gender Action Plan, PEG has filled two competitively selected senior management positions with female hires, including the Ghana Country Director position. PEG has also developed a framework for a mentorship program to develop women leaders in PEG, which will be piloted from March 2018.

Some particularly innovative activities have been identified, and will be tested as good practice, to ensure PEG meets these objectives. For example, with respect to improving repayment rates, PEG will ensure that customer data collection includes contact details and signatures from a spouse or household partner. While the primary customer is likely to be male (86 percent of current customers), PEG is testing an assumption, supported by data from Power Africa partner, Fenix International, that the ability to contact a female in the household will lead to more timely customer payments. The accuracy of this assumption will be measured at intervals throughout 2018.

Increasingly, off-grid and other energy companies are recognizing what PEG has recognized: that promoting gender equality is not only a question of fairness, but of sound business practice. There is a business case that posits a number of profit and efficiency related arguments for greater gender inclusion by companies. In the off-grid energy sector, for example, women have a better understanding of household energy needs and the benefits of the types of products offered by companies like PEG. This first-hand understanding can be beneficial in a sales role. Currently, only 10% of PEG’s direct sales agents are women, a fact the company acknowledges may be hindering opportunities to increase sales and profit.

Abigail, a PEG sales agent in Juapong, showcases PEG products to customers using a display unit. Credit — Chris Morgan.

The opportunities are not PEG’s alone. Women in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, where PEG operates, will benefit from employment opportunities and energy access as PEG takes steps to employ more women and target more female customers.

Despite recognizing value in gender inclusiveness with respect to business operations and social impact, the practical steps required to make the necessary changes happen may be elusive to leaders in a male-dominated sector. PEG’s efforts, with ongoing technical support from Power Africa, will help other players understand what approaches are most effective.

PEG’s commitment and actions are inspiring, and demonstrate that companies, regardless of the size and sector, have the capacity to ensure that women can participate in business and benefit from the energy technologies offered.

Read a related blog Translating Policy into Action.

For more information on integrating gender considerations into the off-grid energy sector, contact Denise Mortimer — Gender Advisor, Power Africa: dmortimer@usaid.gov