By Makena Ireri
The first time I looked at the GVEP International website I was struck by their mission, accelerating access to energy and particularly by the first word…. not “providing” or “delivering” but ACCELERATING! It seemed to me an interesting choice a differentiator and recognition that there are others doing the providing and the delivering and they will eventually triumph but there is dire need for acceleration, because those most in need of clean, modern energy do not have the luxury of time. I thought “I can definitely get behind that!”
So, I set up my sabbatical from Atkins (where I work as a civil engineer), made my arrangements with Engineers Without Borders (who are partnering with GVEP to make my work here possible) and hopped onto a plane. I arrived at GVEP two months ago… bright eyed, bushy tailed, ready to get my teeth stuck in development work and especially in the energy arena (something I feel passionately about). The aim? To add my technical and consultancy skills to the diverse GVEP skill mix and in the process learn a few things as I participate in the acceleration of energy access process.
I am mainly working with the Advisory Team which undertakes business consulting and other tailored projects for SMEs. The work has cross over with the country teams who support micro-entrepreneurs and run various regional projects to support the overall mission. From day one I realised that this was going to be an exciting and taxing six months. My first task at GVEP was to familiarise myself with some of our clients and present back to the team (the people who knew them best!). The task: Tell us something new! I deep dived into the Internet and racked my brain and in the end had a few new insights. This task impressed on me the thoroughness and diligence with which the team works as well as their impressive knowledge of the very many clients they have.
Fresh off that I was asked to help out with the Moving Energy Initiative (MEI), an energy project that is led by GVEP and is implemented in partnership with Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs), Practical Action, Norwegian Refugee Council and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This is a mammoth project that will extend over several years. It seeks to identify how innovation in policy and practice within the humanitarian sector can improve access to sustainable energy among displaced populations and camp operators. MEI specifically aims to generate knowledge and evidence to be used to design and test new approaches to providing energy in displaced populations’ situations, with innovations relating to institutional arrangements, modes of private sector engagement and technologies/products/systems. Together with the other MEI team members, I worked on the technology review component which aimed to summarise the various renewable energy technology options appropriate for displaced people in various settings. Here again, a thorough deep dive of various literature to find relevant information and fit it to the context of displaced people. I then moved on to examining the potential for involving private sector actors in energy provision. This was a very interesting and, for me, a new angle to the humanitarian sector. From countless discussions with my colleague Lindsay to bouncing ideas that were growing from our research and her knowledge of the private sector, a report was born. The report, among others, in the pipeline for release, whilst we work on the next evolutions of the project; the ideas being generated feel fresh, out-of-the box but also well thought out. As the project develops, I can’t wait to see them being published, tried, tested and hopefully lead to the acceleration of access to energy for the displaced.
As I continue to be involved in MEI, I have also begun working with some of our clients. This has been varied and has constantly kept me on my toes. My first client involvement was with Potential Energy, a cook stove manufacturer, who has come up with a new design integrating solar phone charging and lighting into a cookstove. They are running a pilot in Uganda. We had a look at their business plan and based on this, advised on the specific objective that the pilot study should cover. This will help them answer fundamental questions about their business model and streamline it so that they have every chance of successfully scaling up. In the process, as more improved cookstoves enter the market, less charcoal will be burnt, there will be fewer smoke related health issues and less of Uganda’s already depleted forest cover will be sacrificed for cooking – Accelerating access to clean energy!
My next client was SunTransfer, a solar homes systems company that has already sold more than 2, 000 systems in remote areas of Kenya. Their products are high quality and getting a lot of positive reinforcement from their customers. They now want to understand what regions they should expand to and how their product range should evolve. We had several meetings
over which we analysed the business plan, did some financial analysis and evaluated feedback from their customers and sales people on the ground. Several exciting ideas emerged and we made recommendations to the company. Our last meeting ended with broad smiles and firm handshakes all round! The kind you give when you realise that you have just worked together to start something exciting, to chart an exciting way forward that mutually benefits everyone – more sales of solar systems with affordable financing will mean reaching more marginalised people with clean energy; there we were again accelerating access to modern energy.
I’m really enjoying my time here at GVEP. I’m enjoying working on projects and with people that are constantly living their missions; whose actions seem to be always routed in the goal of increasing energy access. I know this because sometimes I have discussions with my colleagues where the constant refrain is “yes, but what we are really trying to do here is accelerate….” Well you know the rest.
Makena Ireri is a civil engineer at Atkins . She is currently on internship with the GVEP SME Advisory Team at the Regional Offices in Nairobi, Kenya under the banner of Engineers Without Borders UK (EWB-UK).