Can you do me a favour? Take your mobile phone, laptop, and wifi router, put them in the car and drive them to a field. Now dump them on the grass and tell me, how are you going to power them now? How are you going to run your business if you can’t find a power source?
Who are you going to call when your ability to pay the bills is threatened assuming your phone isn’t dead too? By Kate Bendix
If you live in Africa, you call Africa Power and ask to speak to its founder, MDHUB member Dr Alastair Livesey and he
will tailor-make an electricity system bespoke to you. I kid you not.
Africa Power was set up ten years ago to provide “African solutions to African problems”.
In this instance how do you run a household or small business and make money without electricity? You can’t afford to buy the infrastructure and there is no Western-style power grid.
It’s impossible to grow crops for the market if you can’t irrigate them, power your clippers if you’re a barber or charge your phone without power. So you stay poor, and underfed and your prospects remain diminished.
Alastair says “Africans aren’t interested in tapping into a power network, most of them wouldn’t have the equipment to make use of it. They want the services electricity can supply; irrigation, refrigeration, and something so simple – phone charging. Women want to recharge their torches so they can see where they’re stepping in the dark and fishermen want to haul in their catch without drowning. They want a useful, mobile outcome.
“So, we lease them that outcome, a renewable energy source and the necessary tools to go with it.”
Alastair and his team developed the Business in a Box aimed at micro-businesses, smallholders, and store owners, for example, and it is, in my humble opinion, downright genius. It works thusly.
Say I want to sell locally produced milk, fish and meat, cold drinks to thirsty customers and rent out my electrical socket to power hungry mobile phone users. There’s only one snag, I don’t have electricity. Africa Power leases me a Business in a Box which includes solar power, storage batteries, power sockets, lights and a fridge. The genius bit, I also get trained on
how to use and maintain this window into my future prospects, with energy saving advice, business training and support.
So, I get my profit margins right, I’m now ‘solar savvy’ and sell my spare electricity to mobile users raising my profits further. Now I can prosper.
Alastair again, “It’s in my interest for my customers to succeed. As the shop gets busier they’re going to need more fridges. We advise on which products to stock and how to negotiate with big brands. If a business fails I’m left with second hand equipment and unimpressed investors. So we take every business and then lease them precisely what they need.
We don’t sell kilowatt hours, we lease the equipment which allows small businesses to flourish. And sometimes we save lives.
“Research by the RNLI shows more fishermen on Lake Victoria (half the size of the North Sea) die by drowning than from HIV/Aids, malaria and TB combined. They fish using rudimentary floats with kerosene lights on top to attract the fish and haul in their catch. We’ve replaced the floats with lifebuoys with a rechargeable light attached saving them $35 a month on kerosene and increasing the catch by up to 100%. Feeding the family, making a profit and saving a third of their income.”
Alastair’s background is in renewable energy and efficiency from as far back as the 1980s working for Shell. He was approached by a company that built cell phone towers to sell renewable energy in Africa and realised selling wouldn’t work but leasing would. Africa Power was born and set up with grant funding. “I believe that providing services such as this are best done by businesses for profit. NGOs do a great job but creating opportunity and wealth is our strength”.
Alastair was first introduced to the MDHUB when he joined the Coast To Capital Peer Networks programme in March 2020 and then went on to become a member in 2021.
MDHUB’s support is invaluable to Alastair. “I get a lot out of my peer group, but enormous support from MDHUB as a whole. There’s so much knowledge and advice from other members and a wealth of experience. They’re helping me tap into grants and look for loans, and another member is now doing my marketing. She’s brilliant. MDHUB is also great at what I call ‘soft support’, during Covid they helped us to hang in there, for two years! We all kept each other’s heads above water. Membership aside you can’t buy that kind of support.