Episode #5: Why Isn’t Clean Energy Abundant?
A Conversation with Sita Adhikari, Nepalese Entrepreneur
In April 2015, Nepal was struck by a massive earthquake and major aftershocks that have continued to cause death and injury, landslides and extensive damage. Today we’re talking with Sita Adhikari in Kathmandu Nepal. Sita is Country Director for Empower Generation, a clean energy cooperative that delivers solar lights to rural communities. Empower Generation has created a network of female entrepreneurs to lead a clean energy revolution and improve the quality of life for Nepalese families. In the wake of the recent earthquake, their work has become especially important. VIEW TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Monica: What is Empower Generation?
Sita: Empower Generation helps to scale and establish women-led social enterprises that sell small solar lights and renewable energy to the community.
Monica: Sita, tell us a little bit about your background.
Sita: I have a masters in economics. I started one women’s savings and credit cooperative around 2000. I always want to empower women, and work with women groups, and share my knowledge, and learn from them. I saw the value in the community, that how it is important to empower women economically. That’s why I started Women’s Savings and Credit Cooperative.
At that time it was not an easy job to start women micro enterprises, micro finance organizations, so I had a lot of struggle to gather women in the community, and convince them, to start micro finance organization.
Monica: Sita, did you grow up in Nepal?
Monica: What was your life like that made you interested and passionate about this work?
Sita: It’s a very good question. I am a fortunate woman that I got to get the good education. I was born in hillside, very hillside, and my father and mother decided to go to the Terai area (low-lying land at the foot of the Himālayas). He migrated to the Terai area so that we can, my siblings and us, get the chance to get the government education.
And I always think, I had the chance to get the education. That’s why I need to return this, to contribute that education to the community, women who do not equally get an opportunity like me to be educated. For me in my life, this is what education means. If we can help the people, if we can serve, we can reflect our education, to the community, to the nation, to the families. This is my inspiration.
Monica: Sita, you cannot imagine how inspiring that is to hear you say it. It’s something so very beautiful that you’re doing for yourself, and for your family, and for your community. Thank you for sharing that. Why did you decide to bring clean energy and solar power to Nepal?
Sita: For me personally, I wanted to create opportunity for our people to change their lives – for children to be able to study at night, for people to keep their businesses open longer, for women to work her job easier at night, and for the children and women in their home, a healthier life. Women and children are mostly affected by smoky kitchens and by the kerosene lamps, because of the poor quality of lamp and poor quality of energy sources that have to be used by the women in the houses.
For example, if there is three kinds of lighting sources available in the house, then three kinds means one is kerosene, one is emergency light, and one is candle. The kerosene always goes to the kitchen for the woman. And the emergency light, I mean the flashlights, the battery lights, which are less dangerous and not as smoky, are always in the sitting room for the guests, or with the head of the family. And for the children are the candles or the kerosene lights. That is how allocation of energy use is in the home.
So I am always looking at that situation of the women and children. That’s why I decided to bring clean energy to Nepal, which is very necessary for us to improve people’s lives. I was looking for an opportunity for women empowerment and trying to reduce the energy poverty that we are facing.
And then I also know that solar has such a huge impact on people’s lives in Nepal because we have sun power everywhere, children can study after dark, and it’s safer. It is better for the environment and women can work in the night very easily. That’s why I choose the solar.
Monica: So Sita, you recently experienced a major earthquake with many aftershocks in Nepal. How has your community fared? How is everyone doing?
Sita: Oh, this is very unlucky for all Nepali people. It’s a very bad situation now and many houses are damaged. We have lost a lot of life, and still we have aftershocks so it’s very scary. It’s made people complain and they’re depressed. And yeah, this is the situation. We try to overcome that fear, but when aftershocks come then it’s again upsetting. So this is happening. It is a bad situation.
Monica: What has this meant for the energy situation?
Sita: You know, the situation is bad, always it is bad in Nepal. But after this earthquake it is even more of a bad situation with the energy. I also realize after this event, that after this earthquake happened, I realized how important work we are doing for this nation, and how important the solar energy is. It creates value on my own, like it’s a very important thing that I am doing. So I am more motivated to help the people and I feel more responsibility to distribute more and more solar, to not only a few parts of the country, all over the country. It’s our responsibility and it has clear demand.
So in this time, it’s very important to provide them lights, especially for women and children to be safe, without house, in the yard, and in the tents, with the safe lights. This is very important for them to save their lives, to be safe from the dark, and for different unexpected activities that can happen in the dark.
And the kerosene light is expensive, and then usually it is not available in this situation in the village area. And who have kerosene, but they are not able to light it, because they are in open sky and sometimes there is rain. Sometimes there is wind, and basically they are sitting in the dark without lights so it’s very scary. So I’m very proud that our light is providing, making them safer.
Monica: You started micro finance, and now Empower Generation in Nepal. And you’ve learned so very much. What do you think you’ve learned that would be helpful to other people in the world who want to also help their communities?
Sita: I think this is not an easy job that I am doing. It does not always feel good, and then sometimes also very distressful and sad. But it’s always like the next day it makes me more energized and work more for the community. So first of all, it is our responsibility if we know something, if we learn something from this world, then this is our responsibility, to transfer our knowledge to the others, to contribute.
Because we are taking something from this earth, from this nation, from this society, then we have to contribute. That is our responsibility to give that. If we think this one formula, and then we will inspire, like we inspire to help the people. There is a lot of struggle and struggle. But we can overcome.
Monica: Do you think our world should be powered by clean energy?
Sita: Yeah, of course. It is the only way we can all live sustainably.
Monica: When you think of a future powered by 100% clean energy, what does that world look like in your imagination?
Sita: I imagine a world where women are empowered to lead their community out of energy poverty. Where the dignity of every person and environmental sustainability is everywhere. That I imagine.
Monica: Sita, I know I asked this of you earlier, but tell me again. Why is it important to you to help women? It’s difficult work, and yet you wake up every morning feeling energized and with purpose.
Sita: If we really want to develop our communities, our world, then we have to have empowered women because we can clearly see that if one woman empowering one house, then it positively affects their household culture. It positively affects her children. She can educate her children. She can manage her household very well. She can manage the nutritious food to provide her family. And she can decide the best for the household, so this is a very important thing to empower women.
But it’s not only for the women. It’s for the society. It’s for the nation. It’s for the world that it is very important to empower women. And for the sustainable development, I believe that we know that women are energy managers of households. And if women are empowered, if women have decision power, definitely our world will be safe and sustainable – half of the population, empower them and we will have prosperity in the house, in the society, and in the nation.
Monica: When you imagine yourself in your older years, possibly with your children, maybe your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, community members, and they ask you, “Sita, how did you make a difference?” What will you tell them? What will be your legacy?
Sita: My legacy is I want to create a culture where women are respected everywhere. That’s my legacy, so I try for that in my life.
Monica: Is there anything else you would share with us?
Sita: Thank you so much for letting me put my ideas and my thoughts in your public media. I am very thankful.
Monica: No Sita, thank you. The work you’re doing, and the passion, and commitment, and dedication that you have to the work you’re doing is remarkable. It’s very special to have you share your journey with us.
Sita: My pleasure.
About Sita Adhikari: Sita was founder and President of the Jhuwani Women’s Savings and Credit Cooperative and a founder of the Women’s and Children’s Section of the Jhuwani Library in Nepal. She has a Masters Economics (Tribhuvan University) and BA Commerce (Sahid Smriti College). While working as Empower Generation’s first entrepreneur Sita decided she wanted to extend opportunities to women around Nepal. Today she is Country Director for Empower Generation, helping women increase their social value by becoming economically productive and independent.