Hilaria Paschal, the Tanzanian farmer making fortune as Solar Entrepreneur
London, Sep 28, 2019 (AltAfrica)- Hilaria Paschal is a talented weaving artist, producing colourful woven baskets and jewelry. She also runs a small business, marketing and selling her own wares and those made by her women’s group. That’s aside being a farmer, the traditional occupation for most women in her age group
The southern highlands of Tanzania are blessed with fertile soil and good weather. But some areas are also known for extreme poverty and a lack of infrastructure.
Solar power has the potential to change that, offering people in remote areas access to safe, clean energy and giving them an alternative to the kerosene they rely on for lighting and cooking.
With more than 1.2 billion people in the world lacking access to electricity and most of them living in Asia or sub-Saharan African countries, solar can also offer a pathway out of energy poverty and, for some, the potential for a thriving business.
Hilaria has embraced the business side of solar energy and become a clean energy entrepreneur in 2013, after hearing about Solar Sister. The social enterprise offers training to women in Tanzania and other parts of rural Africa to distribute clean energy, which leaves them with an electricity source and a business to boot
I decided to become an entrepreneur because there is no electricity in this area or in neighboring villages. I learned about Solar Sister and then got training from them. And my husband helped me start with some capital.
As with many entrepreneurs, Hilaria needed to figure out for herself whether this new solar thing was a good idea, so she bought a light for herself to test it out. She was impressed and arranged with her husband to put in the capital needed to kickstart a clean energy business with Solar Sister.
Hilaria started out by buying a dozen solar lights, a mix of small portable lights and the larger phone charging lights. In her first month, she sold 25 products, and hasn’t looked back! To date Hilaria has sold almost 400 products, reaching over 2,000 people with affordable and safe ways to cook and power their lives.
In 2015, Hilaria organized her fellow basketweavers into a Sisterhood group called Mshikamano (meaning solidarity in Swahili), so more women could learn about solar technology, business skills and the Solar Sister opportunity. Basilia is a fellow basketweaver and Solar Sister entrepreneur appreciates how the impact of clean energy access in their communities reflects on the women entrepreneurs themselves.
The community prays for us because we have brought a different lifestyle to their homes. — Basilia
Hilaria is still up against the challenges of doing business in a very challenging environment. She lives in a rural community a stone’s throw from the edge of Tarangire, one of Tanzania’s famous wildlife parks.
Despite the huge amount of foreign tourism here, many of the villages in this region are still waiting for power, and for decent roads and good transport options. All of this impacts on running a sustainable small business. This is also one reason why getting clean energy to last-mile communities is so difficult.
And yet, local women entrepreneurs like Hilaria are pushing forward, making it happen. Her success is due in part to her energy and creativity, and also due to her intimate knowledge of local people and their energy needs.
Despite our best efforts, sometimes life intervenes. In 2016, Hilaria’s biggest challenge was caring for her sick child. It took an emotional toll and also took up her time and income, forcing her to dip into her savings and business capital. It was a set back for her businesses, but she brought her characteristic resilience and some wisdom from Solar Sister’s ongoing coaching.
Solar Sister training helped me know that in business there are times for growth and times for challenges. There are times that you fail. I would like to tell my fellow entrepreneurs, first of all take risks. They should try and they will succeed.
In June 2017, Hilaria’s hard work was recognized by the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy (ENERGIA), who awarded her Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. She travelled to New York to accept her €1,000 prize and speak at the 2017 Sustainable Energy for All Forum.
Hilaria decided to invest a little of her prize money in her businesses and put the bulk of it towards her daughters’ education. Theresia, 18 years old, is studying accounting and 15-year-old Gladness is a secondary school student.
For Hilaria Paschal, educating her daughters is one of her most important goals: “If I had studied I would have had so many opportunities. I went to primary school only. I don’t want my children to be like me.”