Social enterprises in the solar industry: what are effects on women’s empowerment in Tanzania?

Start date: 29 February, 2016 End date: 31 March, 2016 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A29203 Countries: Tanzania Institutions: Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Denmark Grant recipient: Hannah Leupold and Linn Engvall Total grant: 35,000 DKK



This thesis investigates the empowering and disempowering impacts of the social enterprises Little Sun and Mobisol on their female sales agents. Moreover, the paper seeks to find out explanatory mechanisms that may explain the impact of the enterprises. To identify the impact and possible explanatory mechanisms, the paper combines and discusses the literature themes of business for development, the context of the bottom of the pyramid (BoP), and the concept of women’s empowerment. Regarding the first theme concerning business for development, the thesis examines how the business models of the two social enterprises may influence their impact, by assessing their relation to the social enterprise definition as well as Blowfield’s and Dolan’s (2014) development agent concept. Regarding the second literature theme concerning the context of the BoP, the paper studies the context of the two social enterprises that are active in the solar light industry in Tanzania, to find out how the context of the BoP influences the interaction and its outcomes of the social enterprises and the female sales agents. Regarding the third literature theme, we use a modified version of Malhotra’s and Schuler’s (2005) framework to analyse the empowering and disempowering impacts on the female sales agents. We study this impact on the economic, psychological, social and cultural dimensions of the women’s lives and at both a household and community level. 


The paper is inspired by critical realism and aims to find explanatory mechanisms that may explain the enterprises’ impact on their female sales agents. The data is analysed through an intensive comparative case study of the two social enterprises Little Sun and Mobisol. Interviews were conducted with 18 female sales agents from both companies, through a mixed approach of in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. Interviews were also conducted with management representatives of both Mobisol and Little Sun. The interviews were held during a month-long field trip in Tanzania and conducted in Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Moshi, and surrounding villages. An analytical framework structures the data analysis with regards to the three literature themes discussed. The paper concludes that the business models of the social enterprises have an important and observable impact on the empowerment and disempowerment of the female sales agents. Mostly empowering impacts were found for the female sales agents of both Little Sun and Mobisol, although disempowering effects were identified as well. The paper establishes many similarities related to the impact of the female sales agents, with a few differences regarding the extent of the enterprises’ willingness and ability to invest in addressing developmental issues of the women. The differences can partly be explained by the business models of the enterprises, in particular with regards to the vision, segment targeting and use of profits, and partly due to the context of the BoP. The paper acknowledges that there are many mechanisms occurring simultaneously in the same context that have not been investigated in this study. Thus, more research is needed to find other underlying mechanisms generating the empowerment and disempowerment of female sales agents. However, the paper outlines some of the possible explanatory mechanisms that may explain the interaction and outcomes in this particular context of the two cases of the study.