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How one woman is leveraging renewable energy to lift other women

After 20 years of working in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and Americas at senior management level with top north American corporations, as well as leading humanitarian organisations of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, sometimes rendered in English as Doctors Without Borders), Francine Munyaneza decided to travel back home to start up her clean renewable and affordable energy business.

“I wanted to create an impact in terms of the environment, knowing that with solar energy, you can create water heaters and electricity. My wish was to provide electricity in rural areas as well as hot water mostly in urban areas.

 

“One of my postings was in Israel-Palestine and I saw how they effectively used solar energy. And realising that access to clean energy was difficult in some parts of Africa, I decided to return to Rwanda. Even though I wasn’t sure about the market I knew that we have a lot of sun and we can use it to achieve clean energy,” she shares.

 

Educated in finance and business management, with no background in energy, she was equipped with her green building project and women empowerment agenda, to fight against climate change through gender led solutions.

 

In 2013, she founded Munyax Eco, a company specialised in solar energy (thermal and photovoltaic) and energy efficiency sectors by selling and installing environmental friendly and high quality products

A year later, the company was selected by Rwanda Energy Group, through a tender from the Solar Rwanda Program, to be a certified supplier and installer of Solar Water Heaters and has so far, successively installed more than 600 Solar Water Heating systems.

After five years of operation, Munyax Eco was recognised by the London Stock Exchange Group to be among Africa’s fastest growing, and arguably the most dynamic businesses in its latest ‘Companies to Inspire Africa’ report, released in January 2019.

Behind these achievements, were challenges that she says, if not for the passion and determination to achieve the company’s mission, she would have given up.

“First of all because I was not an engineer, and because I was not raised in Rwanda, I did not have the connections to see me through the field. Also the access to finance turned out to be harder than I thought,” she says.

Luckily for her, shortly after she arrived, she came in contact with Energy Private Developers (EPD), a network of energy developers, it was easier to access information in the field and to their challenges with stakeholders, to bring about value addition.

“Rwanda also being gender sensitive, EPD gave me a voice but the energy sector still has women as a minority, it showed me that I have to give opportunities to women. With EPD, I could feel that women had different approaches so I knew it was important to bring other women with me. Since the beginning I was very keen on promoting women,” she says.

Fighting to bring more women on board

Despite the fact that women make up five per cent of the entire sector in the country, Munyax Eco has managed to make up 50 per cent of women in the company.

This, Munyaneza explains, she does by training women who lack enough skills in the sector.

“When I’m doing recruitment, sometimes I do not find the skills that I want so I have to train them, as long as they have the potential. From installing panels and electricity, as well as report writing, finance and administration, we train them in different skills through the Women in Rwandan Energy Network (WIRE) training programme, even though it calls for more money,” she says.

For the energy guru, it is important to have many more women on board, so as to have diversity to bring about a different approach of work and value addition.

“Many women are qualified to work in this sector but they are marginalised because they are considered a burden to companies when they get pregnant or they are less equipped.

“But the working world was made for men by men. Maternity leave, for example, is difficult to handle, especially for small companies like mine because we are at loss for money even though we have some compensation from social security. Three months of absence, however, can be compensated for with paternity leave to enable men share roles with women at home, “she says.

She also adds that there is a need to come up with innovative solutions, as a sector, when dealing with heavy work like installation of big tanks and panels, so as to provide technical support to women so they can work efficiently.

“For companies that want to give possibilities to women, it’s important to give incentives, and in return, we will see women appearing more and more,” she adds.

Big strides

Munyax Eco, signed recently a memorandum of agreement with the Ministry of Infrastructure to conduct a feasibility study for 11 mini-grid, an off-grid electricity distribution network involving small-scale electricity generation. With this milestone, Munyaneza is hopeful that they will be able to accelerate access to electricity in rural areas of Rwanda as the government aims to supply electricity all over the country by 2024.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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