Why hasn’t off-grid solar solved the energy crisis in Africa? The Enable view from the Unlocking Solar Capital conference

Dakar, Senegal was the setting for the latest GOGLA and SolarPlaza conference, Unlocking Solar Capital. This event saw Enable join over 300 attendees from across the on- and off- grid energy market to hear expert panels discuss a diverse range of topics, from how to create a path to profitability, to how the sector can better support local African entrepreneurs.

A conference set up with multiple tables where different organisations were showcasing what they could offer
Distributors, manufacturers, NGOs and investors were all present during the 2 day conference in Dakar

The solar industry continues to hold a key position in addressing challenges in the energy market, but the majority of organisations in this field struggle with finding the right technology that allows them to grow, service those last mile customers and be financially sustainable. Enable’s mission is to provide technology solutions to companies addressing impact challenges across emerging markets, and so we were excited to engage with the whole spectrum of people attending — from distributors to manufacturers, NGOs to investors.

At Enable, we are acutely aware of the financing challenges of early stage businesses and of those scaling in this market. Later on in our blog series we will take a dive into the services we offer and how our approach not only provides a deep, insightful business-based review of organisations, but also provides invaluable information that investors are looking for before committing to a company. Enable has tailored our offering to provide the expertise of established global consultancy firms but at a fair and affordable market rate, and we can deliver in a way that suits our clients’ financial situation.

Another key discussion point at the conference was the still low number of African entrepreneurs founding and taking businesses to scale in the off-energy sector, and how this issue continues to stymie the development of the ecosystem. Lack of investment in local entrepreneurs means the sector misses out on the deep knowledge and human connections that local leaders bring to both business model innovation and in scaling to new geographies. It can also mean that wealth is not distributed locally at the point of exit, which is important for startup ecosystems to thrive i.e., the recycling of wealth and business building experience locally. Not investing in African founders, alongside Western founders, within the energy sector compounds the idea of white privilege and does not serve the sector well in the long-term.

As part of Enable’s growth plan we are building our team all across the world (we currently operate across four continents), but with a strong focus on the ground within Africa. We are currently in the process of opening our newest office in Kampala, Uganda and plan to grow the team there aggressively in 2020. A greater local presence will mean we can better support local entrepreneurs both within the energy sector, and across the wider technology industry.

For us at Enable, these types of events provide a dual route for learning: firstly, the panel discussions provide us with experts in the field and entrepreneurs who share their hands-on experience; and the second, arguably more valuable aspect for us, is the in-person discussions with sector stakeholders on the ground in the continent where our technology solutions are being deployed. Whilst Enable’s expertise is in the implementation of business-improving processes and technologies, these are simply the tools we use to make improvements to our clients’ businesses and their customers’ experiences. The most important part of our work is the people — and it is a people-focused IT strategy that we look to bring.

Agustina and Andrew, two Solution Consultants, sitting in the conference hall
Agustina and Andrew, two Solution Consultants, sitting in the conference hall
Solutions Consultant Lead, Agustina, and myself at the start of the conference

Within Enable I’m part of the Solutions Consultant Team, and I’ve always thought the best Consultants have a similar skill-set to therapists — for both professions, the majority of their time is spent listening and understanding, which allows them to deconstruct the pain points, delve into the fundamental issues, and ultimately provide a structured path for growth. The conference gave us a great opportunity to further understand the needs of the market, and proved to us that there is a willing market ready for what we provide — technology solutions that solve their problems, based not on monolithic one-size-fits-all software, but on flexible, future-proof and data-driven solutions.

One of the best things about working with tech start-ups and SMEs that are addressing impact challenges is the energy they return with when we discuss how we can help them to achieve their goals — it is inspiring to know our work facilitates the great work they are doing. If you are interested in hearing more about what we do, visit us at enable.digital, and feel free to reach out to me at andrew@enable.digital.

Exploring the world of technology innovation in Emerging Markets — trends, insights and working practices across sectors & within Enable https://enable.digital/

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