Women Lead the Drive for Solar Lighting Products in Papua New Guinea

 

Papua New Guinean women are driving the take-up of off-grid solar lighting products according to the CEO of Origin Energy PNG, Lesieli Taviri.

It’s a move primarily driven by women’s desire to start up small businesses, and be able to cook safely and light up their homes so their children could study, she said.

“It also means they can reduce the burden of going out to look for firewood,” Taviri said.

“There’s a cost that comes with finding firewood because a lot of the forests around the villages are depleted so they’ve got to go inland and that means hiring a vehicle or hiring extra help to carry firewood.”

It is a factor that matters in a country like Papua New Guinea, PNG, where 90 percent of the population of about eight million people live in remote mountainous areas. The Pacific nation has one of the lowest rates of energy access in the world – with just 13 percent of people connected to a grid.

Speaking in recognition of International Women’s Day, Taviri, also reflected her role as CEO of Origin Energy for the past eight years.

She was born in Tonga and moved to PNG as a teenager. She was educated at PNG’s University of Technology and joined Origin Energy in 2008 as corporate services manager and later moved into sales and business development positions before being appointed CEO in 2012.

“It can be a lonely place being a woman CEO in Papua New Guinea,” she said. “But I don’t think the challenge is any different from any other country.”

Taviri said early in her career it was pretty intimidating. “At business meetings there would only be men there and they didn’t want to talk to you,” she said.

“I tried different things to build my confidence and one of them was to focus more on my networking skills so I joined a professional networking group with many influential men and I built my network that way.”

“Now when I walk into a business meeting, it’s a great feeling to walk in comfortably because other women are there.”

Taviri said PNG like all countries needed women like her as role models.

“They need more women to be role models so younger girls can look up to them and know that there is opportunity to grow and eventually become a CEO or a leader in their own right” she said.

Taviri said the energy industry was predominantly dominated by men. “One of our strategies is to try and build our women in the workplace and move them into management roles by funding their studies.

She said about 30-percent of Origin’s front line supervisory staff were women.

“A lot of them don’t have tertiary qualifications, they’ve completed year 10 and have been working from the bottom up. One of our girls is about to graduate with her degree. We have three others doing certificate level, diploma or degree level” she said.

In 2014 Taviri won the Westpac Outstanding Woman of the year award in Papua New Guinea. She is also chair of the Business Coalition for Women in PNG, which was set up by IFC and now runs as an entity in its own right, focused on driving positive change for women and businesses in PNG.

Origin Energy PNG is a key partner with IFC’s Lighting PNG program, launched in 2013, which has already helped 1.6 million people or 20-percent of the population gain access to mobile phone charging and basic solar lighting for the first time.

IFC’s Lighting PNG program and Origin Energy PNG have been working together to trial a pilot Pay-As-You-Go project to help people in off-grid communities buy solar products.

The user friendly innovative system allows customers to contribute over a number of months via mobile money payments. This model allows customers to pay at their convenience and from almost anywhere, avoiding initial investment hurdles for customers who previously could not afford a high quality solar home system.

Trials have been conducted in Hsiu, Rigo and Kupiano, setting up an operational system, hiring and training local agents and working to use the most effective and affordable payment solutions.

Under the trials, agents sign up people up for a monthly repayment system, after customers pay a 20 percent deposit for a solar system of their choosing. The solar system comes complete with a screen, which is activated with the first payment, alerting people to pay when future payments are due.

The roving sales agents are paid a commission on the sale of each unit. The whole process is seen as a “grassroots product” a way of sharing the wealth in PNG’s poorer areas. IFC worked on the business model and strategy and during the trial process has been supporting trials and putting the numbers to test. This trial is designed to meet people’s aspiration to move to the next step in the energy ladder.

IFC’s Lighting PNG program is funded by Australia and New Zealand.

 

May 2019