I was raised in a small town called Hornsea on England’s east coast, a magnificent place that attracts tourists but is eroding faster than the rest of Europe. Some of the impressive, clay cliffs are literally crumbling. Local roads and the old settlement and have fallen into the sea. More than once, forward-planning residents have demolished and rebuilt their houses from salvaged materials as their coast recedes.
In East Africa and West Africa, about 300 million people living in dryland areas rely on natural, resource-based activities for their livelihood. By 2030, this number could increase to 540 million. At the same time, climate change could result in an expansion of Africa’s drylands by as much as 20%.
Much of West Africa’s population lives along its coastline, where many of its capital cities are located. But though rising seawaters erode it, a study says the “sand river” they create can also protect it.
Sinah Legong and her team meet at Raeketsetsa, a program that encourages young women in South Africa to get involved in information and communications technologies. © Mutoni Karasanyi/World Bank
Olou Koucoi founded Focus Energy, a company that brings light, news and entertainment to people living off-grid in his country, Benin. Its spinoff program ElleAllume hopes to train more than 1,000 women to bring power to 100,000 Beninois homes this year. “At the end of the day, [inclusive hiring] is not a gender decision, it’s a business decision,” he says.
Over the past few months, I interviewed a number of incubator and accelerator programs to compile best practices for the World Bank Group’s Climate Technology Program. The research spanned 150 programs in 39 countries, ranging from relatively new to seasoned veterans of the clean tech incubation space. The consensus regarding gender diversity and inclusion was almost unanimous; all but one program echoed Koucoi’s sentiments – in principle.
In practice, however, encouraging more women into the clean energy sector and related programs has proved challenging. Below are some of the most popular explanations for the low levels of female representation:
“We can’t find them.”
Many clean energy incubation programs said they had difficulty recruiting due to a lack of women in the industry and strong women’s networks to tap into. While there is no shortage of women in clean energy (with industry-specific examples such as clean cookstoves serving as a good example) there are few women-led businesses. This lack of visible leadership translates into lower rates of participation.
“We would love to focus on bringing more women into the program, but we have limited resources.”
Incubation programs are often lean, with little time and few resources to expand on offerings and create targeted programs for women. Instead, to create quick wins and draw in additional funds, programs often take a “low-hanging fruit” approach, seeking out the most visible companies to recruit and invest in, which tend to have male co-founders.
“Does it really matter at the end of the day?”
Many programs are pro-gender-diversity in principle, but gender-agnostic in practice. This stems from a disconnect between the “gendered-lens” approach discussed when fundraising for incubation programs and the results frameworks which judge their success. Such factors as the number of companies exited are still weighed much more heavily than gender balance.
Below are some of the best ways I have found to create more gender-diverse and inclusive programs:
Quality education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality; yet it remains elusive in many parts of the world. The Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC), which is designed to assess student abilities in mathematics and reading in French, has for the first time delivered an internationally comparable measure around which policy dialogue and international cooperation can aspire to improve. The PASEC 2014 international student assessment was administered in 10 countries in Francophone West Africa (Cameroon, Burundi, Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Chad, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger).
Togolese families often place talismans, thought to contain magical or spiritual properties, outside their homes facing the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of protecting their dwellings from encroaching tides.
Unfortunately, dozens of villages have been devoured since the mid-1990s, leaving behind shells of houses, livelihoods and memories in the wake of a coast receding as much as 5-10 meters per year. When expatriates return to Togo’s coast to visit their childhood homes, they are astonished to see that communities have literally washed out to sea.
Following a long tradition of economists, the newly-elected government in Benin can gain inspiration from geography. For economist Jeffrey Sachs, university professor at New York’s Columbia University, many tropical countries have failed to grow because their hot climate facilitated the propagation of epidemic diseases. Economist Paul Collier, professor of economics and public policy in the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxfod, has argued that Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is lagging because of its disproportionate number of people living far from the ocean and thus from global markets. Similarly, French historian Fernand Braudel’s work reminds us that many urban centers only became “true” drivers of growth when they were able to host processing industries, which are usually absent in Africa.