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Energy Community touches upon gender issues with Women Entrepreneurs in Energy webinar

Energy Community gender Women Entrepreneurs Energy webinar

Photo: Energy Community

Published

March 6, 2024

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Published:

March 6, 2024

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Ahead of International Women’s Day on Friday, a webinar titled Women Entrepreneurs in Energy brought together 80 participants to tackle the underrepresentation of women in the clean energy sector. Hosted by Marta Schulte-Fischedick from the Energy Community Secretariat, the event shone a spotlight on major challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in the energy sector, while delving into strategic solutions to overcome these obstacles.

As we stand on the cusp of the energy transition, there is a vast potential to create new entrepreneurial opportunities and it is imperative to addressing existing challenges now. From structural barriers to financial constraints, technical complexities, and beyond, the webinar underscored the urgent need to cultivate an enabling environment that empowers women entrepreneurs to lead in this dynamic industry.

Energy Community Secretariat Director Artur Lorkowski opened the event. Despite a notable rise in awareness and existence of a political and strategic framework for supporting women entrepreneurship, effective implementation and monitoring are lacking, the organization pointed out.

“Women continue to be underrepresented as entrepreneurs in the Energy Community contracting parties, particularly across energy economies. They are disproportionately affected by major challenges of entering entrepreneurship. Closing these gender gaps can significantly increase the region’s growth prospects, as research around the world has shown the benefits of women-led enterprises,” Lorkowski stated.

Critical role of data

Konstantina Kalogianni, Data Analyst and Project Manager at the International Energy Agency (IEA), underscored the critical role of data for informed policy formulation and evidence-based decision making and ensuring that progress is monitored with precision.

“There is a long way to go to reach gender equality in energy employment, entrepreneurship, innovation, and senior management. The share of global startups with at least one female founder in the energy sector dropped for 2022 to 8% while in 2017 was at 13%. On the other hand, patent data show improvement over the years: women are more and more involved in patents related to clean energy, meaning that there is an active role of women in clean energy innovation,” she said.

Without precedent

The webinar was followed by two presentations of women pioneers in the energy sector: Ana Džokić, Co-Founder of Elektropionir energy cooperative, and Gentiana Alija, Founder and CEO of Alfa Solar and Co-Founder of the Kosovo Women in Energy and Mining network.

Although the challenges were strongly context-dependent, both women perceived challenges related to investors’ trust and reservation, which seems to be linked to complex factors such as the experience of the investors with similar projects, media presence, visibility and age. An incomplete legislative framework and targeted funding were perceived as another major challenge.

Džokić: Sharing experiences plays a vital role

“Since we are a pioneering cooperative, without precedent in local context, our main challenge is reservation or bewilderment from vested actors – institutions, market actors – towards a citizen-led energy organisation suddenly appearing on the scene. In this regard, sharing experiences plays a vital role,” Džokić underscored.

She pointed out that the legislative framework and financial and support mechanisms are incomplete.

Gentiana Alija said her young age was a significant hurdle in business, leading to initial skepticism from potential collaborators and investors.

“Overcoming this perception has been an ongoing challenge. Many women have innovative ideas but lack the knowledge to turn ideas into successful ventures. With training, the confidence of women and their knowledge on how to start a business could be boosted,” she said.

More responsive measures required

The following panel discussion was joined by Marija Risteska, Executive Director at Centre for Research and Policy Making, and Ankica Barbulov, Managing Director of Negawatt Solutions and Member of the Advisory Board of the WISE network. They both navigated the discourse into concrete solutions for addressing challenges at hand.

“By categorizing companies as women-led or women-owned, we can get data and detect the different needs, expectations and impacts policies have on them, which should be different, because women come from different starting points, they are historically disadvantaged by prevailing gender roles, and dominant stereotypes. By knowing what the situation of women-owned and women-led companies is, we can develop more responsive policy and financial measures to the specific needs of women entrepreneurs,” Risteska told the other participants.

Ankica Barbulov

Crucial role of women entrepreneurs in raising awareness

The significance of women’s networks was underscored as pivotal, not only for fostering collaboration, training, and mentorship, thus overcoming individual challenges, but also for achieving long-term improvements for future generations. Women in decision-making positions, and thus their networks, play a crucial role in raising awareness and shaping policy development.

Considering the significant impact of the energy sector on all aspects of life, it is essential to ensure that the value systems typically associated with women are embedded in decision-making processes within this sector.

Younger women do not know how the business environment works and thus they need support, according to Ankica Barbulov from Negawatt Solutions and the WISE women’s network

“Gathering different associations is important because networking and relationships between people are important for businesses in general and especially for women in energy entrepreneurship. We can help each other. In WISE, we are starting with a mentorship program. Younger women do not know how the business environment works and thus they need support. Senior colleagues should educate and support younger women in striving in this male-dominated business environment,” Ankica Barbulov said.

The webinar was concluded with a call to action for stakeholders to collaborate and implement tangible solutions to empower women entrepreneurs in the energy sector. All presentations and a solution paper, containing links and conclusions on the topic, will be published on the event homepage.

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