Cody Hall, Santa Clara University, Accounting, 2017
“Though we only shared a few words, I saw so much of what I aspire to be in her. Her kindness and thoughtfulness did not require the same native tongue…”
Santa Clara University student Clarissa Nguyen reflects on an impactful interaction she had while working with Empower Generation in Nepal this past summer. Even though there was a langue barrier, Clarissa found a way to identify and connect with this local Nepalese woman.
Empower Generation is a US-based social business, offering reliable and sustainable clean energy by providing solar-powered lights and lamps at an affordable price. Empower Generation also hires and educates local Nepalese women, called “Solar CEOs” to help sell Empower Generation products; they, in turn, learn valuable business skills.
Through Empower Generation and their products:
· Over 244,400 individuals in Nepal now have access to solar lights
· More than $2.38 million USD has been saved by customers
· Students can spend 2.5 more hours a day studying
STUDENTS WORK WITH EMPOWER GENERATION
The Global Social Benefit Fellowship is offered through Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, and is open to all juniors at the school. Students are paired with social entrepreneurs throughout the world to help conduct action field research. After multiple months of academic research, students spend the summer completing fully funded field research. Clarissa and her research partner, Ash Hammad, conducted 36 in-person interviews and surveys of Solar CEOs and Sales Agents working with Empower Generation to understand the impact Empower Generation has on their lives.
Imagine living a in a dark world. Literally. In Nepal this is a reality for over 30% of the population who lives without electricity. Even the customers with electricity experience blackouts lasting up to 18 hours a day due to the limited electrical generation and weak grid.
LIFE FOR WOMEN IN NEPAL
In Nepal, women are mostly financially dependent on men. Women generally receive less education than their male counterparts and frequently earn little or no wages for their work. Most recently, Nepal ranked 108th out of 156 in the United Nation’s Gender Development Index. This index measures the difference between men’s and women’s achievements in three different aspects: health, education, and earned income. Many families in Nepal face financial hardship and can only afford education for one of their children. Boys receive more education than girls, in part because of the widespread belief that men are better suited for nonfarm work, and thus are in greater need of a formal education. This educational disparity reinforces the injustice suffered by women in Nepal.
Women are paid considerably less on average than men in Nepal – even though women make up 90% of the agricultural workforce. In 2006 50% of 223 women interviewed in Nepal reported earning no income in the past 12 months. Women have also reported working an average of three to four more hours a day than men.
The Empower Generation average Solar CEO income, at $1,535, starkly contrasts the struggling national GDP of $694. The income earned by Sale CEOs is more than double the national average wage in Nepal. Through Empower Generation women are breaking free of the employment limitations set upon them.
One Solar CEO, Sita, made over $11,200 USD in a single year. Sita was able to sell over 30,000 units, mostly to two large organizations, to help reach this astonishing number. With a substantial income like this, women like Sita are able to fully support their families and offer uplifting new opportunities for them. Through increased income women can afford to better educate their children, purchase new clothes and better food, and start saving money to apply for credit.
FIELD RESEARCH AND QUESTIONS
During July and August of 2016, Ash and Clarissa worked with Empower Generation to conduct field research in Nepal. With the help of a translator and questionnaire, they conducted interviews with Sale CEOs and Sales Agents. The interviews often took place in personal homes of the women, allowing Ash and Clarissa to immerse themselves in the daily lives of each family. They also shadowed some of the Solar CEOs to local markets and other areas where they conduct business to fully understand how Empower Generation is changing lives.
Ash and Clarissa spent countless hours working with local women to respond to the 40-page questionnaire they created. Questions in the interview included:
· How economically independent are you?
· Did you have any prior work experience before becoming an entrepreneur?
· Is your opinion more respected in the community now that you are an entrepreneur?
Questions like these allowed Ash and Clarissa to measure the positive impact Empower Generation is having on numerous different aspects of these women’s lives.
When asked what she does with her money earned from Empower Generation, Solar CEO Kala said, “I use that income to send my kids to school. I want them to travel the world. I don’t want them to be looked down upon like me.” Kala wanted to ensure her three daughters were getting a proper education, an unattainable reality if not for Empower Generation.
Through the employment opportunity offered by Empower Generation, no longer are women like Kala viewed as inferior to men, but rather their actions and ideas are being supported in ways they have not been in the past. Women are now also able to support their families and provide their children opportunities that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. As Empower Generation continues to grow in Nepal, it appears the status and respect for women will grow as well.
FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE
The Fellows experienced moments of joy and uncertainty. Both Ash and Clarissa expressed how being in Nepal allowed them to reflect on their privilege and realize the diverse opportunities they have in the U.S. Ash stated, “I learned an immense amount about my privileged status as an American male on a global scale.” Participating in the Global Social Benefit Fellowship can be an eye opening experience and cast light on issues from around the world. It can also help add perspective and reflect on the Jesuit philosophies taught at Santa Clara University, where the vision is to “educate citizens and leaders of competence conscience, and compassion and cultivate knowledge and faith to build a more humane, just, and sustainable world.”
Both Ash and Clarissa feel they have been transformed by participating in the Fellowship experience. Witnessing firsthand the change social entrepreneurship is having on the world inspires them. Ash states, “the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment that I receive from data collection in the field is incomparable to other work I’ve done.” And Clarissa believes, “ I am not the same person I was before the fellowship… I will always love with my full heart and strive to be a good person, because like social entrepreneurship, change starts from the bottom up.”