South Pole is a sustainable solution and service provider and the world’s most prominent developer of emission reduction projects with proven impact and substantial experience on the ground.
MPower has long been supported in its early stage by South Pole in a rather informal manner. On a nonbinding and non-financial basis, the young Startup was hosted at South Pole’s headquarter in Zurich, received marketing advice, IT support and got access to South Pole’s network mainly through its employees.
Following MPower’s rapid growth, South Pole then became our lead investor in early 2020 and we are glad to announce that we have further intensified our collaboration with South Pole in the last few months. 🔆🔆
Unlocking the potential of solar energy in Africa brings countless opportunities for the local population: access to energy, creation of new income opportunities, direct jobs and many more. To sum up, solar energy positively impacts almost all development areas. However, in the course of our activities, we encountered one question again and again: How does access to energy promote gender equality?
The facts show that the solar energy sector worldwide has created 4.57 million jobs. However, on average, women only account for 35% of the workforce in renewable energy companies. They face multiple barriers when entering jobs in this sector such as social and cultural norms, unequal asset ownership or insufficient skills due to a lack of gender specific training. Thus, it is not only important to hire women, but also to encourage them by offering more inclusive training and working environments.
In order to approach this complex, but important subject, we met with Hellen Mulenga, our head instructor for marketing and sales in Zambia:
How does the lack of energy affect women and their daily lives in rural Zambia?
Well, women in rural areas are the ones responsible for food. This means that they have to wake up at 4 AM to go to the fields and bring home big logs of firewood to cook for the family. Also, by the time an African woman has finished preparing the meal, washing the dishes and putting the kids to sleep, it’s already dark. Solar lighting Systems combined with clean cookstoves will therefore help them to save a lot of effort and time that they can then invest in other things. And once they have reliable energy, they can also develop their own business and generate income allowing them to become more independent.
You have been working in solar over the past years. How do you experience working in this sector, also in terms of gender equality?
The energy sector is considered to be more of a men’s job because of the technical part of it.
Here in Africa, we see men as superior to women. Even at home, girls have to do the dirty work because boys are considered to be the “kings of the house”. The same mentality is often taken to the workplace, where men behave as if they were better at the job than women. Men wish to overshadow women and make them look like they don’t have the required skills.
How do you think that these barriers could be eliminated?
One way to work against this situation is to put an emphasis on training women and provide them with the required skills to fulfill their tasks. Training amongst women gives them also self-confidence and provides for a room to exchange and network. This is important so that men and women start working together as equals.
Where do you see the opportunity for off-grid solar solutions to promote gender equality?
It’s so amazing when I walk in the streets of Lusaka (or Zambia more generally), and I increasingly see street lights, traffic lights, security lights at shopping malls or government offices powered by solar. In rural areas, access to solar products is still difficult. However, the impact there is amazing: Energy and especially paired with productive use appliances, will help relieve women from the drudgery of hard manual labour, provide more security through lightning at night, and support them in finding new income opportunities.
Of all the renewable energy businesses in Zambia, solar is expected to grow the fastest until 2030. This provides THE opportunity for a lot of women to be trained and employed.
The topics of gender equality and women empowerment occupy a central place in MPower – from an internal perspective as well as with regards to our customers. Activities MPower and its partners conduct around the topic include:
Analysis of the energy demands involved in the types of activities in which women are highly engaged and provide innovative solutions.
Awareness raising on gender and energy issues.
Training of women in entrepreneurship, leadership and gender equality.
Access to finance for women, as entrepreneurs or consumers.
Incorporate women as agents in energy supply delivery, repairs and maintenance of technology.
It is still a long way to go, but MPower and its partners have made the Promotion of Gender Equality one of their priorities!
As part of a Cameroonian government program to modernize street lighting, MPower won a project to install solar street lights. In September and October 2020, 46 solar-powered street lights were installed for this purpose in Bafia, a city north of Yaoundé. In this project, MPower with was responsible for the local manufacturing of the poles and the procurement, financing and installation of the street lights. The aim of this project is not only to strengthen the economic development but also the security of the area.
The trigger for this government program is the inadequate power supply in Cameroon. Due to overloads of the power grid at peak times, the whole country regularly experiences power outages. In order to keep community buildings running, the government provides diesel-powered emergency generators, which are, however, very costly and harmful to the environment. To ease the burden on the power grid, the Cameroonian government has launched a program to modernize street lighting. This project has been pushed forward by different public and private groups. In addition to the efforts to replace the old street lights and to operate them with solar energy, streets also in rural areas are now to be illuminated. This is also the case in the rural area of Bafia, where the MPower lights are illuminating Cameroon’s streets.
In order to continue to realize such projects, the MPower is currently conducting a “crowd lending” round onCrowd4Climate. MPower’s vision is to provide renewable and decentralized energy to as many households and SMEs as possible. The crowdlending campaign enables the financing of more than 1000 solar systems: A milestone on the way to fulfill MPower’s vision.
The proposed CSR strategy uses decentralized solar solutions combined with an innovative financing scheme to empower local communities, reduce forest degradation and deforestation practices as well as carbon emissions.
Proof of Conecpt
MPower kicked off a pilot project with Barry-Callebaut, the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa, in January 2019. The project targets 600 cocoa farmers in four cooperatives in Cameroon and distributes, together with MPower’s local partner, a set of cost-effective solar kits focusing on lighting, mobile phone charging and larger systems for productive use. The project demonstrates how a successful collaboration between a multinational company, an innovative facilitator and local distributors can lead to a sustainable, fully commercial and profitable project with large-scale potential to empower African farmers.
Gains for the Community & the Multinational
There are numerous benefits of the collaboration.
Main benefits for the community:
Access to clean and reliable energy
Icreased productivity through smart agricultural tools and other powered electric devices
First-ever credit histroy
Yearly savings for households from USD 60 upwards depending on system size
Empowering local communities and entrepreneurs by providing an opportunity for income
Main benefits for the cooperation
Very effective way to implement company’s CSR concept and vision
Significantly reduce the company’s carbon footprint
Improve employees / supplier’s loyalty vis-à-vis the company
Increase productivity e.d. through smart sprayer, solar pumps, headlights)
No technical risk for the company
Here you find a short report about our activities in Cameroon:
The fishing village of Nsombo, in Northern Zambia, is a typical village in sub-Sahran Africa: access to energy is limited and continuously interrupted. The only infrastructures which have electricity are the local school and the houses for students and teachers, which are powered by diesel generators to provide at least some lighting at night. As Nsombo is a five hours bus drive (or one day with a bycicle), the provision of diesel for the generator is expensive and scarce, leaving the village with almost no power at all.
In May 2019, MPower Ventures deployed in Nsombo its first containerized solution: the EnergyHUB. The HUB is a fully connected, mobile, Plug&Play solar container acting as charging station for small solar generators.
The batteries provide lighting, enable the charging of mobile phones and power TVs and other energy-efficient appliances. There, the local villagers can come and rent out these batteries for a small fee, as well as purchase MPower’s energy-efficient appliances. The HUB provides 10kW of photovoltaic power, and other than charging solar batteries, it is also a meeting center for the community, where they can enjoy a refreshing drink or using the printing station installed in the container.
The HUB in Zambia is the first of many more: MPower has already deployed its second village hub in Bodze in Togo, which was assembled locally, ensuring further job creation.
The HUB is part of an Innovation Project with REPIC, the Swiss institution for the promotion of renewable energy in emerging markets. Furthermore, the company was recently granted with a federal loan guarantee from the Technology Fund, which supports Swiss companies whose products or processes enable a sustainable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and is supported by InnoEnergy, among others.
Renat is an entrepreneur and pioneer in the field of sustainability, climate change and renewable energies. Graduated from Harvard and ETH Zürich, he is the CEO of South Pole, member of Climate-KIC and WEF’s Global Agenda Council on Climate Change and has been elected “Social Entrepreneur of Switzerland” by the World Economic Forum in 2011.
Michael is a dedicated professional with a passion for impact investing. Also a Johns Hopkins SAIS alumni, he worked for different NGOs and international organizations (FS-UNEP, CAF, Perspectives) before joining MPower. Michael is an expert in sustainable finance, business development, fundraising and Africa.
Manuel is an entrepreneur and renewable energy enthusiast. After an M.A at Johns Hopkins SAIS, Manuel worked extensively in the solar sector (Yingli Solar, Q-Cells), as well as for Deutsche Bank. Together with Michael and Greg, he decided to found MPower in 2017. His expertise includes solar, strategy, business development and Africa.
Gregor is a driven business and finance expert. After pursuing an MBA at the IE Business School in Madrid, he worked as a partner at a boutique auditing and international tax advisory, before deciding to found MPower. Gregor has expertise in finance, accounting & tax, Latin America.
Dieter is a South African senior executive for DMCM Advisors. Previously, Dieter was Chief Executive and Financial Officer for SABMiller. His expertise includes management, sustainable finance and he strives to support and contribute to the growth of the African economy.
Alejandro is a serial entrepreneur. After completing his degree in Computer Science at the Universidad Militar Nueva Grenada (Colombia) and participating at Y Combinator, he co-founded multiple app-based or educational video games related start-ups. Alejandro is an expert in IT and Software Development (front-end and back-end).