Since 2012, as a part of the Clean Energy Education & Empowerment Initiative (C3E) initiative, I have been honored to serve as one of some 37 “Clean Energy Ambassadors” – both women and men – who are supporting greater engagement by women in the clean energy sector in the U.S. and, through new international affiliates, increasingly around the world.

As a part of C3E’s suite of activities to support women in clean energy, the annual C3E Awards recognize mid-career American women who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and accomplishments in the sector.  Among this year’s eight highly accomplished awardees are two whose international efforts particularly resonate with my own work at the United Nations Foundation, leading our global engagement on energy access.

The UN General Assembly recently adopted a new global goal, one of the new Sustainable Development Goals, specifically focused on ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy services by 2030.  Electricity powering our homes, our communities and our businesses fosters improvements in health, education, environment, gender equity and economic opportunity.  

Erica Mackey and Anya Cherneff are two of the leading U.S. women entrepreneurs who are helping to make it happen around the world.

Erica Mackey, the winner of the 2015 C3E “Entrepreneurial Leadership” award, is the co-founder and COO of Off Grid Electric. This fast-growing company based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Arusha, Tanzania, provides renewable energy services to Tanzanian households without grid power.

Launched in 2012, Off Grid reports reaching 10,000 new households and businesses per month with their “pay as you go” solar leasing technology, and just last month announced they are expanding their work into Rwanda.  Erica, her co-founder and their team have already raised tens of millions of dollars of venture capital and institutional debt from DBL, IFC, Solar City, Vulcan Capital, and Zouk Capital to grow their business and address the energy access issues still so prevalent in countries like Tanzania, where only 2% of the rural population have access to grid electricity.

I am driven by social justice and feel it is incredibly unfair that the world’s poorest people are paying more than anyone in the West for unhealthy and inefficient energy while poisoning themselves and their families with kerosene fumes.  As a woman, the opportunity to impact how households could both save essential money and improve their family's health motivated me to launch a business in the energy access sector.” 

~ Erica Mackey, Off Grid Electric Ltd. Co-Founder and COO

Erica has already been recognized extensively for her achievements including as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs. She has been highlighted in Fast Company, Lifestyles Magazine and PV Insider, and has won an Ashden Award for Financial Innovation. She can now include the C3E award in this impressive list of commendations.

Anya Cherneff is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Empower Generation, a not-for-profit social enterprise that connects women in Nepal with global suppliers of solar technology, creating new distribution channels for clean energy solutions in their rural Himalayan communities.

After fighting human trafficking and modern slavery for over five years and founding the Human Trafficking Center at the University of Denver, Anya decided to try a market-based approach to gender and development. Empower Generation has so far launched 15 women-led solar businesses in Nepal that collectively employ and train over 200 sales agents bringing the benefits of solar power to the most rural communities in Nepal. Anya and her team have distributed nearly 50,000 solar products, bringing clean, safe power and light to more than 250,000 people, including 72,343 survivors of the devastating earthquakes in Nepal earlier this year. At the C3E Symposium, Anya was presented with the International Leadership Award for her impressive work.

“I realized clean energy distribution represents a new opportunity for women to create gender paradigm shifts and improve the lives of millions of people. Women are the strongest catalysts for change and the best business investment. They suffer the most from energy poverty and stand to gain the most from the transition to a clean energy future.” 

~Anya Cherneff, Empower Generation Co-Founder and Executive Director

In her many talks at global energy companies, women-in-energy networks, human trafficking conferences, and TEDxZurich, Anya has inspired others to join the global clean energy economy. Her entrepreneurial approach catalyzes engagement with energy companies and large international development agencies, fostering a supportive environment for local solutions.

Congratulations to both of these inspiring American women clean energy leaders for their C3E award, and their ongoing work powering the shift to a global clean energy economy and a bright future for all.

The Clean Energy Education & Empowerment Initiative (C3E), focused on the recruitment, retention and advancement of women professionals in the clean energy sector, is working hard to address this. Part of the Clean Energy Ministerial, a global forum promoting policies and programs that encourage and facilitate the transition to a global clean energy economy, C3E is led in the U.S. by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative (MITEI).

This is a guest post by Richenda Van Leeuwen, Executive Director, Energy Access, United Nations Foundation and C3E Ambassador.