Solar Sister

Research Activities:

Using our 53-question survey, we queried rural Northern Tanzanian households on uses of solar lanterns, as well as their impact on education, health, economic opportunity, and women’s agency. We conducted 257 surveys with Solar Sister customers and entrepreneurs in over 20 villages among the Babati, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Karatu, and Tanga regions. In our sample, 49 respondents were men and 208 were women; 27 were Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and 230 were users, and 29 individuals were on-grid while 228 were off-grid.  We relied on Tanzanian research assistants for oral translation of the survey into Swahili and participants’ responses into English. We discovered interesting differences in the applications of solar and its impact particularly between groups based on gender and entrepreneur/customer status.

Key Findings:

    1. Economic empowerment as a result of solar. Households using solar lanterns consistently increase their financial assets through acquiring savings from no longer purchasing kerosene. Beyond these gains, many individuals used their increased lighting time from solar to initiate new income-generating activity or further current business(es). In addition, many participants reported greater control over financial decisions because of solar.
    2. Inconsistent impact on women’s agency. The adoption of solar lanterns seemed to positively impact women in more abstract ways, such as perceiving increased respect in the household and community. However, women did not appear to report increased agency based on more tangible signs of change, such as learning a new skill or attending more public meetings. Women nevertheless appeared to associate economic opportunity with agency.
    3. Saving time, protecting health, and strengthening education. Solar impacts areas that reach far beyond merely the provision of light itself. Before solar, individuals used to spend 1.45 hours on average traveling each week to obtain kerosene. In addition, more than ⅔ of participants reported negative health effects as a result of kerosene, while an overwhelming 94.2% of participants shared that their children’s academic performance increased since their households starting using solar.
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Social Enterprise:

Alaina Boyle

Victoria Yu

Faculty Research Mentors:


A white paper on the power of solar to spark economic opportunity and agency. This will highlight the benefits of solar lanterns, examining patterns in customer characteristics, uses, and impacts of solar.  It will focus on the differential use of solar by men and women, solar entrepreneurs and customers, and households with and without electricity. Our findings will provide insight into the impact of Solar Sister’s reach while enhancing understanding of the impact of solar in rural locations.

A peer-reviewed journal article on the gendered impact of solar lanterns. Building on the white paper, we will undertake a formal research paper to further examine solar usage and the impact across groups. It will examine how solar technology affects the gendered workload through task shifting, differential use of solar by men and women, and the economic uses of solar technology.