Like many other women in rural Nigeria, Habiba worked in a roadside food stall at night, helping her mother prepare and sell food to passersby. These stalls relied on kerosene lamps for lighting which, according to the World Bank, carries health risks equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
Habiba was given the opportunity to attend renewable energy workshops and technical trainings under the Promoting a Sustainable Solar PV Market in ECOWAS Program, an initiative of IRENA and the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency that aims to help renewable energy entrepreneurs successfully bring their ideas to life, where she was inspired to pilot the introduction of solar lighting for a number of other food stall operators.
“The empowerment of energy consumers is one of the fundamental principles of the renewable energy transformation. Decentralized technology is now proving to offer economic opportunity and social benefits,” said Gurbuz Gonul, Senior Program Officer in IRENA’s Regions work.
This experience proved pivotal, inspiring her to launch Sosai Renewable Energies and offer her family and her community affordable and reliable energy access, without the health risks. Before long, Habiba was taking on larger projects, even helping the Baawa and Kadabo regions implement 10-KW solar micro-grids, providing electricity to over 800 individuals through a pay-as-you-go model.
Providing energy access to the low-income families in Habiba’s community was part of her learning process, and caused her to adjust her pricing model and business approach to the needs of low-income families in her community.
As Habiba put it, “There is huge energy poverty in our country and over 89 percent of this poverty lies in rural areas. There is a need to bring innovation in renewable energy and sustainability to bridge the poverty gap. I believe innovation is only as good as the impact that it makes.”
This sentiment echoes IRENA’s research, which shows that off-grid renewables offer a cost-effective, environmentally sustainable way to accelerate the pace of electrification. Expanding the range of appliances powered by off-grid renewables can also encourage income generating activities in rural areas.
Habiba also created Women of the North for Excellence, an initiative where women can become entrepreneurs through leadership in commission-based projects.
One project involves renting out solar dryers for drying peppers and other crops, thereby increasing their shelf life. Nigeria accounts for about 50 percent of Africa’s pepper production and in rural northern Nigeria as much as 40 percent of a family’s income can come from harvesting peppers.
“Because of the solar dryer I am now more relevant in my community. People seek me out to dry their produce and I have benefited financially,” said Karime Yahaya, a woman working with the MASI.
Thanks to Habiba, more women northern Nigeria have access to an affordable and sustainable source of energy that carries with it a range of socio-economic benefits, and also to income-generating activities. She is continuing to scale-up her renewable projects and other endeavors, such as a project to improve cook stoves in rural communities and installing a computer room in a school in Kaduna State.