Focus on skills to power up African enterprise in every African village

Tuesday May 17 2022
Power pic

By Chhavi Sharma


Worldwide, 940 million people go without electricity – many in rural Africa. There and elsewhere, a training and jobs drought stifles the spread of renewable power, and the economic opportunities it brings.  


But the continent’s grassroots innovators are creating skills and opportunities in the most remote locations – pointing the way forward for universal electrification across the continent. They are achieving stunning results by backing on-the-job learning and forging strong partnerships across the public and private sectors. 


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Skills and jobs will be on the agenda at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, 17-19 May. It is vital that policymakers, funders, investors and other change-makers at this important global gathering focus on supporting and replicating the grassroots innovation making waves across Africa.


Today’s pioneers include Energy Generation, an organisation training up Togo’s clean energy entrepreneurs and technicians with in-person and virtual support. Its two-year courses marry business skills with help developing new clean energy products. Their inventions have included new wind-powered irrigation systems and sustainable cooking fuels. Energy Generation actively addresses the gender imbalance found in technology sectors around the world – two thirds of its current training cohort are women. 


Meanwhile, Community Energy Malawi has put skills at the heart of the Sitolo mini-grid in the country’s rural Mchinji district. This brings power to more than 600 households and 30 businesses, from maize mills to barber shops. The creation of dozens of internships for local young people have helped them to find work, including setting up their own clean energy businesses. 


But upskilling must reach further than the leaders and employees of energy companies. In rural Uganda, Energrowprovides customers loans and bookkeeping and financial literacy training foraffordable income-generating devices like sewing machines, carpentry equipment and fridges for bars and cafes.


 It even plans to develop a learning app for customers to download and use on their phones. 

The lesson from these innovators is that only wide-ranging partnerships can bring effective skills and training to every corner of the continent. Community Energy Malawi has partnered with universities and colleges in the country and beyond to create its high-impact internships, while Energy Generation works with leading clean energy companies, such as BBoxx to make sure its courses meet industry needs and standards. 


Co-ordination with local and central government is needed as well, to make sure that skills innovation fits with ambitious national electrification plans, and targets the most marginalised communities.


Such national plans are gaining momentum across Africa. Early pioneers included the Beyond The Grid Fund for Zambia, a public-private collaboration that brought affordable clean energy to more than one million people, including many in the country’s most remote villages.


Recently the government of Nigeria, in collaboration with a range of international partners, has committed to bringing electricity to 25 million people by 2023. Its effort will involve using solar home systems and mini-grids to power five million homes, schools, hospitals and other public utilities. 


This welcome move could potentially generate 250,000 new jobs – but we know such initiatives will founder if the skills shortfall is not addressed.


Following the forum in Kigali, the COP27 climate talks take place in Egypt in November. This is a golden opportunity to raise the profile of access to clean, a major concern for African policymakers, on the global stage. Dialoguearound energy access should not overlook the importance of skills and training.


A practical approach to the issue – one that supports the most senior and junior staff at Africa’s clean energy companies, and their customers too – can unlock progress in even the most remote villages.


Ashden is a climate solutions charity. The winner of the 2022 Ashden Award for Energy Access Skills will be announced in Autumn.

Chhavi Sharma is International Climate Solutions Manager at Ashden