Tosin George: "We need to adopt innovative approaches that will encourage and provide adequate support for women and young girls in sustainable chemistry."

ISC3 – International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre

Gender and Sustainable Chemistry

Women play a particularly important role in establishing sustainable chemistry. They act as "agents of change" promoting sustainable development at a local, regional and global level. In all sectors and regions of the world, are making their voices heard, demanding and driving gender justice in the chemicals sector and beyond. Moreover, investing in women's education also pays off well in the sustainability sector, as they are sources of knowledge for the coming generations and pass on their skills. 

As in other disciplines, women face challenges in the field of sustainable chemistry: Although the proportion of women studying chemistry is continuously rising, they are still underrepresented in chemical companies - particularly in management positions and as founders. Another relevant aspect concerning women and chemistry is the critical role that women play as consumers of chemical products. They are among the most vulnerable and often poorly protected groups, both at work and in daily life.

The ISC3 initiative "Gender and Sustainable Chemistry" aims to discuss the challenges and barriers woman are facing in this field. It will make the potentials of women visible and highlight their engagement in chemistry and chemical management.

As a thought-starter, see also the blog article Gender and Sustainable Chemistry: How women can benefit from sustainable chemistry …and sustainable chemistry from them, by Creta Gambillara, ISC3 Policy Manager initially published in the Blog Series “Together for a gender-just healthy planet” by the MSP-Institute.

In the series of articles below, the ISC3 presents women active in sustainable chemistry from various fields such as politics, innovation, NGOs, research and education and describes their achievements, experience and perspectives.

Tosin George is a renewable energy professional from Nigeria, with experience in Business Operations, Project Management, Data and Business Analysis, particularly in the Solar Energy sector. Her varied excellent studies not only earned her several honors and scholarships, but also made her, in her own words, an artsy scientist. Having first worked as a lecturer, Tosin then followed her passion to work in the energy sector. She strongly believes that access to reliable energy is key to prosperity for the African continent.

Therefore, Tosin co-founded Shobab Energy in December 2020. Shobab Energy uses waste from palm oil production as biomass resource in combination with a Solar Photovoltaic system to ensure access to modern energy systems, providing access for 1.776 million people across oil palm communities in southern Nigeria.

Tosin George, co-founder Shobab Energy

Could you elaborate a little on your background, and your education? How did you get into chemistry? What kicked off your passion?
Access to reliable electricity is a struggle for millions of Nigerians, including myself. As a result of this experience, I was quite keen on working in the renewable energy space, particularly as it concerned production of electricity and new materials from biomass and municipal waste. So much so that I dedicated my entire undergraduate project to the synthesis of bioplastics from Cassava Starch as a way of addressing the growing menace of plastic pollution. After completing my studies in Pure and Applied Botany, I went on a 6-months Songhai Leadership Academy program for young African leaders at the Songhai Regional Centre, Republic of Benin, in a quest for deeper learning on biofuel technologies. At Songhai, where zero waste is practiced, I became deeply involved in the production of bioenergy (biogas) from organic waste. My experience at Songhai, was a bright revelation of how waste can indeed be valorized to meet energy needs and improve environmental protection as well. And that was how I started my journey in the renewable energy industry.

Did you ever feel it was unusual for a woman to proceed in your area? What made you move forward?
No. I never felt that way. I was more concerned about what I could do to contribute to the development of the renewable energy industry. I was actively involved in groups and initiatives that supported sustainable energy programs, education and awareness. I, however, thought there weren’t many women in the Nigerian renewable energy industry at the time but that did not deter me from pushing forward. I drew a lot of motivation and encouragement from my environment and a strong network of amazing lecturers and friends.

You have volunteered as a Committee Member for the Energy Institute, Young Professionals Network (YPN), where you co-organized a networking event for young women professionals in the energy sector. During this event were there any specific areas the energy (specifically the renewable energy) sector must improve, to encourage young women to pursue a career in the field?
The EI YPN Nigeria is a strong supporter for creating opportunities for women in the energy industry. To empower more women, we provided a platform for young female professionals to connect and engage senior female executives in the energy industry. The platform brought together women from various disciplines in energy, to discuss important topics and issues that pertained to women in the area of leadership, career advancement, investment opportunities and entrepreneurship. As the current Vice President, Projects, I am definitely looking forward to creating bigger and better platforms, with the support of EI YPN and key stakeholders, that will introduce more women into exciting and rewarding careers in the energy industry. We need more women to be involved in these spaces. It is equally important to provide these opportunities for women at the grass root levels, starting from primary and secondary schools, rural community outreaches, local and state government sensitization programmes.

On a global scale, statistics show that women hold less than 25% of the workforce in the energy industry and only 6% of these women occupy technical and executive positions. We cannot achieve energy access without participation from women. More women, I believe, in the energy sector will spell a quicker transition into the era that we seek.

Looking at your career, how did you get the idea of founding “Shobab Energy” and how does it improve women’s lives?

The word “Shobab” means to renew, to give a new life and that’s what we are doing by turning oil palm biomass waste into electricity. Shobab Energy started as an interest shared by my two co-founders and I to clean the enormous waste generated by palm oil processing whilst providing 24 hours on demand electricity that is reliable, affordable and circular economy centred. Rural communities are characterized with no access to national grid or unreliable power supply which leaves them with no other option but to settle for ineffective energy sources such as lantern (kerosene), candle, cost ineffective diesel/pms generator sets. Via our services, we would be providing access to clean, affordable and reliable electricity supply to households, small-scale businesses and primary health-care centres. This will improve business productivity by 50% and users’ per capita income by 39 percent. Electricity generated from our plants will be used for cooking, lighting, irrigation and other purposes. Women will be able to save time and effort spent fetching fuel and water, including exposure to open fires during cooking. Time and effort saved from these chores can be invested into other productive activities such child education and income generation. This will boost the education prowess and reduce risk to eye defect of children in households, 14% reduction in the child-mother mortality rate in rural communities saving an average of 82 under 5 children from death.

As a co-founder of Shobab Energy, was it important to you to ensure the presence of women in the top management level positions?
We are appreciative of gender diversity. This clearly shows with our current team gender ratio. We have four women and three men on the team. However, we are careful not to choose team members based on just gender but rather by the value, diversity and expertise that they add to the team.

As we progress and grow as a team, we are making sure that gender diversity is apparent, appreciated and valued across all our processes and activities.

How can you envision the future of sustainable chemistry and the gender topic?
I would like to see communities, where women are part of the processes involved in the production, consumption and efficiency of sustainable energy systems. We must challenge the status quo as it concerns gender diversity. We need to adopt innovative approaches that will encourage and provide adequate support for women and young girls in sustainable chemistry.