Empowered and trained illiterate grandmothers to implement the solar electrification system on their own, off-grid and inaccessible communities

June 14, 2017

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Empowered and trained illiterate grandmothers to implement the solar electrification system on their own, off-grid and inaccessible communities

About the Implementing organization

Name: Sabah Women Entrepreneurs & Professionals Association (SWEPA)

Country: Malaysia

Year of establishment: 1993

Type of organization: Women’s association or organization


The SBSP initiative is unique and innovative because:
i. Only Illiterate women – grandmothers from the off-grid and inaccessible areas were selected and trained under this project instead of the norm where literate young women from urban cities. Provide access to sustainable electrification in the villages will provide access to other opportunities to develop the livelihoods of the communities.
ii. Create solutions that work at the village level with a combination of traditional skills and experiential learning iii. Women are able to earn the whole village community’s respect, be equal and as outstanding as the men in all aspects.
iv. It provides the off-grid and inaccessible communities with clean energy and air with the use of natural resources i.e. the sun.
v. Use of sophisticated technology in the hands and in control of the poor communities so that they are not dependent or exploited.
vi. First, use the knowledge skills and wisdom found in villages for its development before employing skills from outside.
vii. Provide better and enhanced education environment and experience for children and adults of the rural communities.
viii. Empower illiterate women to be leaders in the community in solar technology and to become the role model to the other illiterate or semi-illiterate women community in the rural villages in the whole of Malaysia.
ix. It is breaking down the barrier of sustainability by introducing solar technology whereby solar power is a form of renewable energy

Nature Element


Type of Action

Sustainable use / Access and benefit sharing / Awareness and education

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Renewable energy / Climate action

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)


Environmental Impacts

With the SBSP initiative,
- there are saving of 24,000 litres of kerosene per year by 200 households;
- there are 200 solar lanterns and lights that have replaced kerosene lamps used by the villages in past.
- toxic fumes from kerosene will no longer poison the families, especially the children, and clean light at night will enable the children to do homework or schoolwork.
- There are increased awareness amongst the 200 households for clean air and sustainable energy for better health and longer mortal lifespan as well as preservation of the virgin jungles;
- minimised the risk of fire and pollution and health issues from inhaling the fumes from the fire
- minimised the use of batteries and reduced soil pollution due to improper disposal of large quantities of batteries
- the 1100 people from four villages are now breathing kerosene-free air, which is healthier for the poor villagers; everyone has the right to clean air;

Sustainable Development Impacts

Collaboration with key partner Barefoot College whose criteria in the selection of grandmothers has assured the sustainable and continuity of the solar electrification projects. These women were selected on the criteria of loyalty, not prone to urban migration and with strong family bonds with children, husband and grandchildren’s.
SWEPA and partner PACOS continuous support in the follow-up phase of the project on socio-economic empowerment programmes:-
i)To improve the organisational and leadership skills of the committee to administer the overall solar electrification system.
ii)to train the solar grandmothers to pass on their newly developed skills to other villagers and to tackle challenges.
iii) to teach new skills like handicraft, innovate products and other income-generating activities to increase income.
The solar-powered communities are more productive and united which will sustain them for climate change and economic impacts. There is more cohesiveness.


Through the successful implementation of the SBSP initiative, SWEPA hopes to convince the Sabah State Government to build and operate a proposed Barefoot College in Sabah like the Barefoot headquarters in Tilonia in India, so that more rural villages in the can enjoy lights at night and live a better lives. In the long term, SWEPA’s objective is to work with the national governments to sustainably fund the centres through allocation in their national rural electrification budgets. This partnership between centre and governments will institutionalize decentralised, community managed clean energy initiatives that empower rural women economically and as environmental stewards. The centre will have the local leadership, capacity, programs, partnerships, and funding to be successful and sustainable .With Barefoot professionals and partners on the ground, we will replicate Barefoot's Solar Program, training other women to solar electrify their villages.


SWEPA started with the solar rural electrification for 1 village of 100 homes with 1 grandmother in 2013.We have since replicated the same project to 3 other villages of 100 homes with 2 grandmothers.We have successfully empowered 3 marginalised and illiterate women – grandmothers. Four villages with 1100 residents are enjoying the solar-power energy. We are in the process of replicating this project to the fifth off-grid poor rural village of another 100 homes of about 750 people.Through our fundraising efforts and sharing through the media with many organisations both public, private and internationally, many people have come to know about our initiative and have a request for partnership with us to replicate this same solution in the poor, off-grid and inaccessible rural communities.Having Sabah Barefoot College can help to replicate the solar electrification to other parts of Malaysia and neighbouring countries and provide all other poor off-grid communities to sustainable energy.

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