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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – As a girl, Agnes Kimweri would visit her village’s sole medical dispensary in Tanzania and see a steady stream of motorcycles emitting noxious fumes dropping off patients. When she grew up, “I realized that the dispensary received 400 patients per month, which equals 400 motorcycles producing an average of 500 kilograms of carbon emissions,” she explained.

“Most came with a problem that could easily be solved if reached in time without having to ride on the back of motorcycles on rough roads, which could lead to further complications.” An idea was born: Solar-powered motorcycles to reach pregnant women at home.

Women are drivers of change, and there cannot be any sustainable solution to the effects of climate change without them.

Hers was one of 111 applications from across east and southern Africa to UNFPA’s Climate HackLab, which narrowed the field to 11 entries to undergo a two-week intensive boot camp organized in partnership with AfriLabs, an Africa-based innovation business incubator/accelerator. Camp participants learned about product testing and branding, entrepreneurship and climate change adaptation among other topics before pitching their ideas to a panel of climate and business experts. 

Agnes Kimweri of Tanzania came up with the idea of solar-powered motorcycles for lab technicians to visit pregnant women at home. Photo courtesy of subject.

Win-win ideas

Two winners emerged: Agripa Maposa from Zambia, whose idea provides low- cost loans to women farmers to buy solar-powered irrigation equipment and other tools to improve crop yield, increase income and build community resilience to the effects of climate change. And Ms. Kimweri, whose solar-powered motorcycles transport lab technicians to connect hard-to-reach communities with medical lab services for pregnant women and children under five, eliminating the cost of transportation for the vulnerable and providing them with comprehensive reproductive health information and services while reducing the carbon footprint of personnel. 

The HackLab, which launched in May 2021, will support the projects with seed funding and a six-month incubation programme, during which the winners can further develop their ideas and meet with investors and other innovators. 

Women and girls and other vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by climate change but they need to participate in climate action – adaptation, mitigation and response. A community that is not gender equal cannot be a climate-resilient one. 

In adopting the decision of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation in November, the Conference of the Parties recognized “that the full, meaningful and equal participation and leadership of women in all aspects of the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] process and in national- and local-level climate policy and action is vital for achieving long-term climate goals.”

For Ms. Kimweri, the home visits have become more than health consultations. She has been instructing her mostly female patients – many of them rural farmers whose livelihoods have been affected by drought – climate issues related to health, such as the best foods to improve health, generating income, harmful chemicals in growing vegetables and debunking myths about reproductive health.  

“Women and youth are the most affected by climate change,” she said. “Incidentally, they form the fabric of our society and have amazing solutions to everyday problems. Women are drivers of change, and there cannot be any sustainable solution to the effects of climate change without them.”