The all-female u.lab Hub at GIZ/EnDev Liberia
Moving towards gender equality is essential for sustainable development. In Liberia, there are only few female energy professionals, especially in the technical areas, and there is no women-led solar installation business.
Goals and Objectives
To get to gender equality, women in the renewable energy sector need to be strengthened in their confidence and leadership skills. When they are visible role models, it will be easier for girls and young women to choose a career with Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) and work with renewable energies.
To move into this direction, we from EnDev Liberia decided to dedicate time and efforts to
– increase confidence and empower the women within Renewable Energy, building up a peer-support network
– learn and gain a better understanding, which challenges women in RE face
– possibly also develop or strengthen collaborative activities to empower women and strengthen the renewable energy sector.
– experience how online-learning can be brought to an audience with little experience in the internet, exploring this as opportunity for increasing skills and knowledge in the sector.
U.Lab Hub: Space and Time for women to connect, reflect, learn
GIZ/EnDev has invited women interested and/or involved with Renewable Energy Technologies to participate in an off-line hub of u.lab, an international online course (offered from MIT and presencing institute) to build leadership capacities.
From September to December 2019, every Thursday, participants meet in the 100% solar powered EnDev office to watch and discuss videos, and practice the tools and skills that are taught in this course.
The u.lab sessions
We, Friederike Feuchte and Youngor Flomo with support of Fannie Urey prepared, facilitated and hosted the u.lab sessions every Thursday from 10am to 3pm or 4pm, from September to December 2019.
The u.lab online course material were brought to the Liberian context. Women could learn leadership skills (e.g., deep listening, mindfulness, stakeholder interviews), practice a peer support structure (“Case clinic”) and most importantly take time and space to connect with themselves, their wishes, needs, ideas and how they want to “lead from the emerging future”.
What emerged as next steps
The u.lab course led to the possibility that women could come up with their own ideas to start doing something that would be useful for them. They developed two interrelated projects that they want to put into reality also within u.lab2x starting in February:
WiRE Liberia: setting up an All-female Renewable Energy organisation
The women in the hub decided to set up structures and register as organization called “Women in Renewable Energies (WiRE) Liberia” to empower women, create peer support structures, and to promote Renewable Energies and environmental protection.
1-minute video about WiRE Liberia: https://youtu.be/MUjMXnoEIQ0
BridgeLearning: community-based e-learning approach for West Africa
How to address the gap between online courses and people in Liberia? This group developed the idea that an app will allow people to join a learn group and regularly meet online or offline, to learn together and produce learning material that will help West African Learners to better understand and relate with the contents. This project fits well with the GIZ-EDev objective to expand their ICT4Renewables toolset with an e-learning component. The WiRE E-Learning team will collaborate with EnDev staff and ICT consultants to further develop, test and implement a feasible e-learning approach.
1-minute video about BridgeLearning https://youtu.be/CyFmUJJ9mtA
With both of these ideas and videos they have applied as teams to the online course u.lab2x which will guide them to apply the tools they have learned to develop, test, adapt and expand prototypes. We will continue to closely collaborate with the women and once registered their organization WiRE Liberia, especially for the collaboration on e-learning they will provide valuable insights that will help to create a useful tool that the target group will enjoy.
Features of our approach and lessons learned
1. We Strengthen women to promote gender equality
There is huge gender inequality within the renewable energy sector. The number of women is very small, especially in the technical and more skilled professions. To get towards equality, we thus put specific focus on strengthening women, making them more visible and collaborate with them. This u.lab hub for women is an example of how we dedicate time and effort to strengthen women and learn from and with them towards truly sustainable activities. A comparable but somehow different approach is being pursued by our project in Sierra Leone through support of women formal and on-the-job training, and there is well a group of female RE professionals meeting on a regular basis.
2. We live and communicate gender as a quality feature of our work
In some technical trainings, we have a quota of how many female participants have to be included. In our e-learning material we want to show many female technicians.
Our gender-differentiated approach that strengthens women can be perceived as unfair by male technicians. We strive to clearly communicate the reasons for our approach and also include men to advocate for gender equality.
3. We cooperate towards gender equality
All participants in the u.lab Hub work with businesses or organizations involved in Renewable Energy or environmental protection, or are engineering students involved in the Liberian Society for women engineers (L-SWE).
The lessons learned from this experience will be shared with stakeholders in the renewable energy sector in meetings and on the www.renewables-liberia.info platform. We will continue to collaborate with the u.lab participants, especially since they will develop into a not-for-profit organization WiRE Liberia with aims that are in line with our mandate.
4. Learning, result-based monitoring and evaluations including gender aspects
Every six months, we report in our regular monitoring within EnDev-structures how we have contributed towards sustainable energy access. The numbers are disaggregated by sex, and we highlight additional activities that we have done, including those that were focused on promoting women. This u.lab Hub is just one example, other activities include solar technology trainings for women only, scholarships for women, production of video to showcase life as a female solar installer (on first page of www.renewables-Liberia.info).
There will still be more in depth-interviews to distill how the participating women benefitted from this u.lab experience and what we can learn for further activities. Many have repeatedly expressed their appreciation and how they observed themselves to behave differently because of what they had learned in the sessions. These anecdotes point to more empathy, patience and deeper listening to others; more awareness and reflections about own needs and wishes; as well as increased confidence, assertiveness and decisiveness including finding ways how to get rid of obligations to free energy for what really matters.
Offering this u.lab hub included challenges. For instance, women have many obligations and burdens and could not always come each week, or arrived late. Technical challenges made it difficult to fully attend two of the live sessions.
Key success factors were
– Adapting to the needs of participants, discussing videos and “translating” the content to the context here focus on what really matters for participants as individuals, humans, women
– Creating a “holding space” with trust, acceptance, and open-ness allowing participants to feel free and find what matters to them (even if this might
lead to no feasible project results in the end).
– Good preparation, patience, allocating plenty of time, humor and trust in the process, overcoming logistical and technical challenges, late arrivals.
Submitted by Friederike Feuchte and Youngor T. Flomo