Empower ME: A Tale of Women’s Empowerment through Clean Cooking
Hoang Thi To is 37 years old and lives in a rural area of Vietnam that is home to the Tay ethnic minority group. Her family of four earns a living on 0.15 hectares of sugar cane farms and by selling pork meat in front of her house. She usually cooks over an open fire, but sometimes also uses a gas stove.
In January 2017, she purchased a more fuel-efficient wood-burning cookstove through a network of women sales agents supported by CARE International Vietnam’s “Empower ME” project. Before purchasing the stove from GreenGeneration, a Vietnamese supplier, she used to cook, process, and sell pork meat in the morning and do housework in the afternoon while her husband tended to the fields. Each month, she and her husband spent at least six hours collecting and transporting more than 300 kg of firewood for cooking from the forest, which is 9 km away from her home.
She found that using GreenGen’s cookstove is more convenient and time efficient than cooking over an open fire, and is easy for any member in the household to use. Her daily workload and schedule has changed significantly. The new stove doesn’t require constant attention or refueling, making it easier for her to multitask while cooking; she can spend more time selling meat while she cooks. The stove’s efficiency has opened up two additional hours in the afternoon for her for to spend time on other productive activities, such as farming with her husband. Since she and her husband can harvest more sugar cane when they work together, she expects increased production this year. She also uses her free time in the afternoon to identify new business opportunities. This includes planting 30 new grape trees in her family’s garden, which was previously left unused, in response to community demand for more fruit products. Additionally, the new stove requires half the firewood as cooking over an open fire, and she saves money each month on fuel costs.
CARE Vietnam’s “Empower ME” pilot project, funded by the Women’s Empowerment Fund at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, was designed to promote the economic empowerment of ethnic minority women through micro-enterprises selling more efficient cookstoves. The project leveraged CARE’s Village Saving and Loan Associations network, identifying female members who were trained to become cookstove sales agents, and formed a sales and distribution system to deliver GreenGen cookstoves to the last mile. Some of the key lessons learned from the project include:
- Women entrepreneurs require more specific technical training and coaching, in addition to basic business skills, to support their clean energy businesses
- Bundled product offerings help improve sales agent performance and income – combine clean cookstoves with fast moving consumer goods and other energy products, such as LED energy saving light bulbs
- Begin with a smaller number of sales agents to test out the appropriate market size per entrepreneur
- Sales agents and entrepreneurs need broader institutional support to generate demand for clean energy products
- Allow sales agents to set their own prices and profit margins
Photo Credit: Care International, Vietnam
CARE’s pilot project provided evidence for the long-term promotion of women as sales agents and entrepreneurs in the clean cooking value chain. CARE will broaden its partnership with different private sector players who can engage with women as producers, distributors, or consumers in their supply chain through innovative business solutions. This will enable CARE to more effectively support women entrepreneurs to effectively engage in the clean energy value chain through capacity building, in an effort to increase women’s income and economic empowerment.