Solar Mamas

Equipping communities with solar powered electricity

Image supplied by Solar Mamas
Energy: Solar power

Marina Akra Affoua was trained as a “Solar Mama” by the Indian NGO ‘Barefoot College’, which trains rural women across the world to implement and maintain solar mini grids. In 2018, Akra Affoua confronted French president Emmanuel Macron at the first summit of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), seeking support for the electrification and the economic development of her village. Soon thereafter, the French Development Agency (AFD) partnered with Schneider Electric and the European Institute for Cooperation and Development (IECD). Later that year, Marina Akra Affoua and her village received basic solar infrastructure equipment.


By upskilling women to train their communities across the globe, the “Solar Mama” initiative not only provides unparalleled access to solar energy in disconnected towns and villages, but it importantly contributes to the emancipation and independence of women as community leaders. Women enrol in six-month training courses at the ‘Barefoot College’ to become solar energy and maintenance technicians, allowing them to instal and ensure the sustainable maintenance of solar mini-grids. This specific case study in Donvagne demonstrates the potential of the “Solar Mama” stories and the impact these can have if they are supported by powerful decisionmakers.

Social Impact

Prior to this initiative, the 6,000 residents of Donvagne only had access to electricity for one hour a day. The “Solar Mama” project prioritized disadvantaged households in Donvagne and provided the village with a clean source of electricity. By partnering up with LiFi-LED (an Ivorian enterprise, also featured on, the distribution of solar home systems and portable lamps has also provided internet connectivity to the village. Both lighting and internet access offer significant benefits for child education, public safety and health services.

Environmental Impact

Given that “Solar Mama” initiatives are focused on the distribution of solar energy, they are a source of environmentally sustainable electricity. They replace less sustainable and more dangerous sources of lighting like kerosene (which is derived from fossil fuels). Therefore, the tools and infrastructure distributed in Donvagne have less negative impacts on the natural environment and climate than those that might otherwise be used.

Success Factors

The confrontation between Marina Akra Affoua and French president Emmanuel Macron brought international attention and considerable media coverage to this initiative. After Macron made public promises to support the “Solar Mama” cause, the institutional commitment by the AFD, the IECD and Schneider Electric, ensured that it received the necessary political and financial support to succeed. The project eventually partnered up with LiFi-LED, an Ivorian business that provides access to the internet via solar-powered LED lighting.


This initiative led to the distribution of around 100 solar kits and 100 portable lamps, prioritising the most disadvantaged households of Donvagne. In addition to the equipment provided, IECD deployed a support program for this women’s cooperative and approximately twenty village entrepreneurs.


Generally, ‘Barefoot College’ has trained an increasing amount of “Solar Mamas” across the African continent, with other successful initiatives emerging in Tanzania, Malawi, Senegal and Kenya.


It is important to emphasise that the case of Donvagne emerged as local women took initiative to be trained as “Solar Mamas” by the Barefoot College NGO. While this gained a lot of traction and support from foreign actors and investors that have sought to expand the impact of this project, their involvement has transformed its implementation. The biggest challenge to the continuity of some of the positive impacts of this initiative is ensuring that local communities – and women in particular – continue to be trained on how to build, implement and maintain solar mini-grids, to ensure their independence and capacity building.

Founded in


Project type
Founded by

Agence Française de Développement (AFD)

Development agency
Founding Organisation Two

European Institute for Cooperation and Development (IECD)

Development aid agency
Founding Organisation Three

Schneider Electric (Foundation)

Development agency
Operated by

Barefoot College International

Households reached
UN Sustainable Development Goal(s)
Last edited on:
January 2, 2024
Shared on:
January 2, 2024

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A female technician from DC-GO working on a solar-powered unit
Image courtesy of DC Go.