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Bihar rural women entrepreneurs witness 50% surge in awareness about renewal energy

By Mignonne Dsouza* 
An endline survey conducted under the Bolega Bihar initiative revealed a significant increase in awareness of renewable energy among women, rising from 25% to 76% in Nalanda and Gaya. Renu Kumari, a 34-year-old entrepreneur from Nalanda, Bihar, operates a village eatery that serves as the primary source of income for her family, including her husband and five children. However, a significant portion of her profits was being directed toward covering monthly electricity expenses that usually reach Rs 2,000. 
As a solution, she adopted solar-powered equipment, including solar fridge, lights, and fans, both in her eatery and her residence, helping her avoid the burden of steep electricity bills. After realising these benefits, a total of 15 other small-scale entrepreneurs in her neighbourhood followed suit, finding it a cost-effective solution.
Not only Renu and her neighbours, but the percentage of women adopting Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE) solutions in rural Bihar is on the rise, as revealed by a survey report from Bolega Bihar, an initiative in the state dedicated to implementing solar energy solutions at the grassroots level. 
The study indicates a significant increase in awareness of renewable energy among the targeted group, rising from 25 per cent at the baseline to 76 per cent at the end-line study. This surge reflects that 50 per cent of rural women entrepreneurs are informed and aware of DRE solutions and understand the impact it can have on their entrepreneurial and household requirements.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy for most parts is an abstract concept for rural communities and must be simplified and communicated in a demonstrable manner. Bolega Bihar's solar-related events attempt to do just that and this is why over 71 per cent of visitors now recognise the benefits of LED lights. 
Around 61 per cent are aware of the advantages of using solar lamps/bulbs while 11 per cent are aware of solar food processors. The leadership training undertaken by Bolega Bihar has further bridged the awareness and knowledge gaps and a majority of surveyed respondents (61%) stated they had gained confidence in discussing solar (RE/DRE) products knowledgeably. The training has also empowered women and around 66% found it to be very relevant to their role as entrepreneurs. 
Interestingly, the majority of the respondents, falling in the age group of 26-45, are primarily engaged in activities such as cattle rearing, goat rearing, and tailoring. This is not a demographic that has easy access to information about renewable energy but is now gaining insights into potentially life-changing information.
“The primary goal of the end-line study was to assess changes in rural women entrepreneurs' knowledge of DRE solutions, their leadership skills, awareness of available schemes and subsidies post Bolega Bihar’s intervention, and the identification of barriers to adopting energy-efficient solutions. Bolega Bihar worked with women in Nalanda and Gaya, enhancing their interest in solar adoption by facilitating dialogue with stakeholders through training programs and on ground events,” says Deepti Ojha, spokesperson, Bolega Bihar.
Meanwhile, 66 per cent of the trained women found the training conducted by Bolega Bihar highly relevant to their roles as women entrepreneurs. More than 1,200 women were reached for the training, and they mentioned their ability to engage their peers in self-help groups and share their learnings from the leadership training.
“After participating in the Solar Sabha, we now feel empowered and believe we can venture into businesses like tailoring or the production of moringa leaf and tomato seed powders using solar-powered machinery. In regions where livelihood options are primarily farming and animal husbandry, the introduction of solar appliances has opened doors to explore other business opportunities,” says a Self-Help Group (SHG) member from Ghutiya, Gaya.
It was reported that by 2030, India is expected to have 30 million women-owned micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) employing around 150 million people (India Brand Equity Foundation). DRE livelihood technologies have the potential to transform rural livelihoods, with women at the core of this transition. 
Bolega Bihar’s successful implementation is also a testament to the strength of its partners joining hands -- World Resources Institute (WRI), Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), Eco Warriors and SAKHI. This project is a step in the right direction given how DRE livelihood technologies have the potential to transform rural livelihoods, with women at the core of this transition.
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*With StudioTalk

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