Including women in infrastructure: from Washington to Senegal


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Photo by Adam Gregor/

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.

Empow’Her supports women entrepreneurs around the world through support and mentorship. 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.

Related Posts:

Global Infrastructure Forum maps out route towards delivering sustainable infrastructure
5 ways public-private partnerships can promote gender equality
Examining public-private partnership projects through a gender lens


Julia Prescot

Partner and Chief Strategy Officer, Meridiam Infrastructure

Join the Conversation

abdurrazaq kabir
June 15, 2017

how can we africa middle east progressive initiative be part of this wonderful effort thou we have a similar program call youth light up Nigeria project that we have been doing for about three years now

Dr. Mohamed Taher Abdelrazik Hamada,Ph.D
June 15, 2017

Delivery of sustainable and inclusive infrastructure such as the case mentioned in Africa , in Senegal ,this project empowered women women through excessive training. Empow her is a clear is an illustration that women should be included in
infrastructure to play a major role that that can not be denied at all.
Women can play a major role because of their ultimate capacity to control projectswith great patience.
They can make a team of production with the other partners through their attractive smiles on their faces which really empower the ability of their coworkers.
Local communities are greatly affected by the participation of women because of their ultimate abilty to run business and discussions without raising that may occur as a result of some men's arrogance ,and pride.
Women are the right choice for long term projects of infrastructure ,because of their ability to befair as a result of their patience and filling the surrounding
environment with smiles on their faces that are very positive to the local communities of women empowered by other women from the native areas ,all thes women can can play a major role by heping each other and sharing benefits and outcomes which can be reflected on family relations and help to empower the social development of the whole society .
The solar power plant in Senegal , in Africa is an example that raises healthy
competition among women for the benefit of the society.
This paradigm that encourages women's participation helps socially and economically and also psychologically to solve not only the productive trends of the society ,but also helps to soften the relations between men and women in a better understadable way.
yours Very Respectfully,
Dr. Mohamed Taher Abdelrazik Hamada,Ph.D
Retired Professor at Strayer University,USA
Address [redacted]

Papa SY
July 18, 2017

This is an excellent project. In the same vein we would suggest to your company to look into Solar Pumping Systems in rural Senegal for villages with inhabitants ranging between 500 to 1000 people.
This would be a win win project for women as they spend hours fetching for water. During construction they can be incorporated in the teams. After implementation they can be trained for the maintenance activities and be part of the Water Committee.
Best regards,

July 19, 2017

Wonderful initiative indeed, generally the women in rural Sahel Area do most of the manual work and solar energy will help them a lot: doing thing efficently and more important, having time to take care of themselves and their children.
The next big thing will be to integrate smart grid into every renewable energy project in Africa.