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The theme of this year’s Global Infrastructure Forum was delivering sustainable and inclusive infrastructure. As a woman who works in the world of infrastructure, I was invited to join a panel at the forum made up solely of women to address gender inclusivity and was asked to provide a specific example of a project beneficial to women. The first thing that came to mind was our solar project in Senegal, which has not only opened up the country to solar for the first time, but has also empowered local women through training in business skills through an organization called Empow’Her that was linked to the project.
Although I was delighted by the opportunity to participate on the panel and share our work on the Senergy solar project, I found myself wishing that every single panel at the Forum had a similar question rather than addressing this topic by making women into an exclusive group. If there was an equal level of discussion about how we include women in infrastructure projects on each panel at this type of gathering then infrastructure could indeed be more inclusive.
I work for Meridiam, an investment firm that develops, finances and manages long-term and sustainable public infrastructure. Our mission is to deliver, together with our investors and partners, sustainable infrastructure that improves the quality of peoples’ lives. That’s why we try, whenever feasible, to involve local communities and provide them shared benefits.
Meridiam led in the development of Senergy, a 30 MW solar plant 125 km northeast of Dakar. It is the largest utility scale project in West Africa and the first solar PV project in Africa eligible for the UN Clean Development Mechanism, and is also being Gold Standard certified. The 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) was signed in June 2014 with the national utility (Senelec), backed by the Government of Senegal. We were able to bring the project to close within 15 months, and are on target for a completion date for next month (July 2017). Meridiam has also just completed the financing for a second solar power plant in Senegal.
Not only will this project provide cleaner and cheaper electricity, but it will also include, as shared benefits, a new borehole to access drinking water, upgrades to the local school, the funding of a microcredit association to promote women’s businesses in the local area, premises for a maternity unit, and will ensure long-term local support.
Meridiam set up a foundation called Archery, which joined forces with the organization Empow’Her, led by Soazig Barthelemy, to help women in this region in Senegal build sustainable livelihoods through the development of entrepreneurial skills.
Working with Empow’Her to develop the solar plant, we made sure there were always equal numbers of men and women in the room, and equal employment of men and women on the site. The tendency when building infrastructure projects is that men will do the heavy lifting and take the higher paying jobs and women will continue “working in the fields.” About 50 women benefitted directly or indirectly through this project.
. Their mission is to invest in women by enabling female leadership, teaching skills, self-confidence, and providing access to networks.
Women create twice as many businesses as men, and represent more than half of the businesses in developing countries. However, many disparities and inequalities prevent women from thriving in their entrepreneurial role, often because few opportunities exist to leave the informal sector or activities that are generally unprofitable, unrewarding, and irregular.
Rather than talk in a general sense about inclusivity and bringing women into both the field of infrastructure, and tying infrastructure benefits to women, let’s help form a paradigm going forward so this becomes the norm.
If you have more examples to share of how infrastructure or Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) you are involved with innovatively benefit women, or how to make infrastructure more gender inclusive, I would love to hear about them. Please share your comments below.
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