By Chinenye Anuforo

Makena Ireri is the Director, Demand, Jobs, and Livelihoods,  Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) and an energy specialist with over 11 years of experience in energy production, energy access, and international development. With a strong foundation in engineering, Makena’s diverse work history includes nuclear energy generation , transitioning to renewable energy in international development (various), where she has spent over seven years working on energy access projects by organizations such as FCDO, the World Bank, IFC, IKEA foundation and others.

In this interview with Daily Sun in Lagos, she spoke about GEAPP and the need for women to be properly represented in the Clean Energy sector. Excerpts …

Can you tell us about GEAPP?

GEAPP, launched at COP26, is dedicated to addressing the defining challenge of our time – the transition to green energy in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

GEAPP takes cognisance of the fact that green energy is development, and without it, other form of progress is undermined. GEAPP therefore seeks to: avert 4 gigatons of carbon emissions, expand energy access for 1 billion people, and power 150 million new and improved jobs and sustainable livelihoods.

Acknowledging the slow pace of change and the uneven distribution of development needs, GEAPP operates with a fresh approach to partnership, collaborating with governments, communities, technology, policy, development finance, and private sector partners to accelerate the transition.

The organization focuses on two key areas: accelerating the uptake of Distributed Renewable Energy (DRE) and deploying Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS).

What is the place of women in the renewable energy sector?

The renewable energy sector is growing exponentially in Africa and provides many job opportunities for women and men in the industry.  However, women lag in leadership and technical jobs in the  sector. Women hold just 22 percent of jobs in energy production and distribution, according to the International Energy Agency, even though they make up 48 percent of the global workforce.  The number is even lower among senior managers: just 14 percent and GEAPP firmly believes that the provision of renewable energy must foster gender equity for the transition to yield full economic gains. Recognizing the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and the unique threats it poses to their livelihoods, health, and safety, GEAPP is actively involved in initiatives that empower women through sustainable and profitable renewable energy businesses.

Can you tell us some of the initiative by GEAPP to empower women in the sector?

Notable examples include the $2.5 million Solar Harnessed Entrepreneurs (SHE) pilot project implemented by CARE Sierra Leone, supported by GEAPP. This project targets over 6,000 women in Sierra Leone, providing them with low-interest loans for solar-powered appliances. These women receive training in financial literacy and business management, with a focus on enhancing market access to help their businesses grow. The project not only empowers women as entrepreneurs but significantly improves their livelihoods, as evidenced by a reported average 25% increase in their incomes. The SHE project ensures that the green energy transition not only empowers women but also contributes to tangible improvements in their lives.

Related News

Another  collaboration is between GEAPP and Shortlist in launching “Women for Green Jobs” (W4GJ), a programme aimed at supporting over 750 women transitioning into clean energy careers. In collaboration with Value for Women and other partners, the programme seeks to promote gender equity in clean energy workspaces and success on the job. The programme spans six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Malawi. This initiative aligns with GEAPP’s commitment to supporting women-led businesses, as exemplified by SOLAD implementing the Iponri Market Standalone Solar for Productive Use (SSPU).

The “Women for Green Jobs” programme, funded by GEAPP and implemented by Shortlist with support from Value for Women, is designed to help more women access and succeed in clean energy careers across Africa. Specifically targeting job placements, career support, and employer-level interventions, the comprehensive initiative collaborates with over forty clean energy companies to address equitable hiring challenges and support their growth.

How do you recruit the women?

Like I said, we work with Shortlist. Shortlist is a platform that is available online. A lot of women come through that platform. Otherwise we also go straight to the employers that have reach already in the communities, so they can advertise the job and then people can put their applications to the Shortlist platform, which is available online. GEAPP has funded shortlist to do this work but we care about not just  the jobs, we care about the whole change in the way that energy is being used across planet right. Moving to renewable energy and moving away from diesel, coal and fossil fuels. This is what we care about. We know that we need a workforce to do that. But, if we just leave the market to do its own thing, the workforce might just only represent certain parts of the population. In order to influence that and make sure that the workforce is very equitable, we then supported Shortlists, give them some grant funding to work with us, so that we can see if it’s a way that we can change the way the workforce is showing up.

So, what impact have you seen?

Bringing women into the sector  have brought a lot of changes. Companies now have better policies. Already, women are increasingly taking on leadership roles in the renewable energy sector, establishing businesses as energy producers, distributors and service providers. Women are also taking on an increasing number of roles at the entry level in clean energy companies across Africa – in fact, more women make up roles in renewable energy than the traditional energy sector. Companies are also paying more attention to gender in their policies and operations. Over the last five years, companies have adopted more inclusive practices such as flexible working hours, implementing more stringent safety measures and hiring women into traditionally male-dominated roles. Shortlist has sought to accelerate this trend, implementing a range of gender-lensed talent programs over the last six years, resulting in 66% female representation, well above the current industry benchmark of 32% female employees.

So, you encourage women taking in leadership position in organizations?

It’s a must, we must have women in leadership position. I don’t want to be too controversial. But, I think if you only have one section of the population represented, then you can only have the same outcomes. People who are the same, and from the same background will always produce the same results and you need to inject difference to get a different result. The current global leadership is mostly men. Energy leadership is mostly men and see where we are. We are not moving fast enough. So, it’s time to do something a little bit different, to see whether we can push that and I think part of that is having more diverse workforces, having more women and Africans in the leadership space. I think that’s really important because we know our context, we know our issues. And also we can bring a different perspective which is needed, because if we keep going with the usual way we are doing things, I don’t think we’re going fast enough and the climate is changing and the energy conditions in many countries are deteriorating. We need something different.

What is your advice to the women coming into the energy sector?

The clean energy sector is an incredible place to work. It is going to grow. Right at this point, the projections for the amount of jobs that are going to be in the sector are huge. So, this is a great place to be because you have a path to career development and that’s  where the future is kind of already been set. Everybody needs clean energy, so it’s a great place to come. And then, don’t worry too much about the skills you have to start with right. There are many options in the jobs, if you have legal skills, if your finance skills, all of those are needed. There is a place for you in the sector

Can you tell us about the report, you launched today?

The title of the report is ‘Empowering Women in Clean Energy: Advancing and Retaining an Equitable Workforce’,  it  highlighted persistent barriers hindering women’s advancement in the clean energy sector, including limited awareness, educational disparities, biased hiring processes, and unsupportive workplace cultures, leading to lower representation in leadership roles.

To further advance and retain women in the sector, the report emphasises the importance of comprehensive strategies including raising awareness, addressing biases in hiring processes, fostering supportive workplace cultures, challenging social norms, and implementing structured training, mentorship, and promotion policies to support women’s career growth and achieve greater gender equity in leadership roles.