When Onyinye Onye Ndimele heard about the opportunity to sell solar products, she was not convinced she would be able to make a business out of it. She works as a high school teacher and also sells toiletries like coconut oil and shea butter for extra income. “At the beginning, I was worried about how will I sell solar? Will people even buy it? The products seemed so expensive. So I started with a small investment of 41,000 naira [$114] to buy my first solar products.”
That was over two years ago. Today Onyinye’s family and business are thriving. She participated in Solar Sister’s 12 month-training on key business skills, clean energy technologies and confidence-building tools. “I know how to market products now. And I put the profits back into my business. In the future I want to buy land and build my own house.” Eventually Onyinye plans to buy her own car to help to sell more products and grow her business to more remote communities. Apparently, the entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family. “My five year-old already knows about solar lamps. He will pick it up and say, ‘This is a solar lamp. You push it three times.’ And he will push the button to get the bright light.”
Onyinye lives with her husband and two toddlers in a lively market town called Awka, in the densely populated Igbo heartland of southeast Nigeria. Her family and many people in Awka are connected to an electrical grid, but power cuts are so common that people must rely on other ways to power their lives. Most people use candles, kerosene lanterns and rechargeable lamps to light their homes, and firewood or a gas or kerosene stove to cook food. The economic and health costs of using toxic fuels and firewood are well documented and Onyinye sees the effects first hand. She is motivated to grow her business because she wants to increase her income and also she is proud to be helping her community make the switch to cleaner, healthier energy sources. “In my business I have been able to impact the lives of so many households by introducing to them solar energy and clean cookstove, I have helped them save a lot of money by switching to solar and clean cookstoves, and I am happy about that!” This double return is what pushes Onyinye to do more and reach further. And she’s eager to learn more. “Everything about Solar Sister is educative. I’ve learned a lot about being confident in myself and being persistent. I believe I can do anything I set my mind to do. I enjoy the trainings a lot, they help me not only in my solar business but in other businesses and aspects of life.”
Even with product support, tools and mentoring, running a successful business around new technology in rural Africa is no easy task. And when you are a woman, there are specific challenges. Onyinye’s husband, who is also a teacher, was initially skeptical of her activities. But when she began to bring home extra income and was invited to Abuja as a top entrepreneur, she says, he opened up to the idea. “I was going to get on a plane for the first time ever and my husband then realized that it was no longer a child’s play, this [solar] is a serious business.”
Onyinye began her journey just a few years ago and she is now seeking to grow her business further and reach more people with the transformational power of clean energy. Thousands of women like Onyinye are waking their communities up to the power of renewable energy all across the African continent and beyond. This is Onyinye’s story and there’s more to come!