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Smart Power Lights up Africa’s Road to Pandemic Recovery

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Smart Power

Across Africa, access to power is hampered by the lack of access to competitive funding, the dire state of the continent’s utilities infrastructure and the need for energy policy and legislation to be adapted so that it can boost investment in the sector.

Post COVID-19, new solutions are urgently needed to address Africa’s power crisis and switch on a continent-wide strategy for its recovery and renewal. Such solutions must take into account the energy transition and in particular, the utilisation of renewable energy, the focus on smart power technologies and cost-effective solutions, estimating construction costs for such undertakings, as well as the global drive towards a decentralised, decarbonised and secure energy supply that addresses climate change and stimulates economic growth

To address urgent energy needs across Africa, the African Union (AU) Commission and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) agreed in May 2020 to work together to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 and ensure that Africa is able to meet its development goals.

According to the AU, the focus of this agreement was on supporting the development and adoption of innovative renewable energy technologies, improving access to energy, building more resilient energy systems, mobilising international support including the private sector, developing larger and more robust power markets, and encouraging cross-border trade of renewable power.

Africa has a role to play in innovating smart power solutions for a post-COVID-19 world and ensuring a sustainable and diversified energy mix. Within developing economies, there are growing opportunities to implement new technologies and localised energy generation systems that lead to innovation that will change how the world generates, stores and distributes power.

The combination of the rise of cost-effective renewable energy, the decentralisation of energy production, and improvements in energy storage, smart metering and other digital technology have the potential to revolutionize the way power is generated and consumed.

Across Africa, new systems and networks can be designed around future environmental stressors and energy demands, without having to consider the limitations of old infrastructure.

With advanced use of mobile technology in Africa and the lack of existing electricity transmission networks, these developments provide an opportunity for communities in Africa to gain access to power by leapfrogging the traditional model of centralised generation and transmission of power.

Long before COVID-19 shone a bright light on the continent’s energy crisis, investors in the energy sector in Africa were looking at opportunities to back innovative energy solutions that could address rapidly changing energy demands and environments.

According to a Baker McKenzie report, the Smart Power Revolution – Opportunities and Challenges (report), more than 40% of the global energy companies surveyed said smart power was a core part of their business, and 37% had established at least one business line related to smart power.

In Africa, the most noticeable trend has been the transition towards decentralised power solutions and solar home systems from being a niche sector dominated by NGOs to being considered a mainstream investment focus by the big players.

To name a few, Engie, EDF, Marubeni and Mitsui, which have traditionally focused on grid-scale generation, have all been investing in and buying or developing businesses in this area in Africa.

Instead of lack of scale being an obstacle to getting the market going, companies have been developing models to scale up the sector themselves and build businesses or portfolios. To date, these have largely been financed on corporate balance sheets, but bankers are also taking notice and looking at how to put in place bankable business structures.

There is a need to look at how to mitigate the short-term impact of COVID-19 on this sector – being consumer-facing it has been much more heavily impacted than a utility-scale generation. It is key to ensure that a sector that is essential to Africa’s post-COVID-19 recovery and renewal is not irrevocably damaged by the pandemic.

It is helpful that governments across Africa have acknowledged the need to adapt their legal and regulatory frameworks and introduced programmes and incentives to boost this investment in innovative projects in the power sector.

Multilateral and development finance institutions have been important allies in the development and mobilisation of funding in the renewable energy sector in Africa. Not only have they provided funding for projects, but they have structured successful programmes to address some of the political and credit risk issues that have hampered projects in many countries.

For example, Zambia was the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement the Scaling Solar programme, with support from the World Bank Group through the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The programme facilitates the development of privately owned, utility-scale solar PV projects and enables governments and utilities to procure solar power cheaply and efficiently. Zambia’s solar PV’s success led to the extension of the programme to Senegal.

The 2019 scaling solar PV tender in Senegal set a new price benchmark for the region and made solar energy Senegal’s cheapest energy source.

The extension of the programme to Ethiopia encountered obstacles around currency convertibility, but the IFC is extending the programme to Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar and Togo.

Similarly, the KfW-backed GET-FiT program has enabled a number of projects (in particular run of the river hydropower projects) to be developed in Uganda and Zambia to date, with extension to Mozambique and other countries under consideration.

These DFI/multilateral programmes, however, take time and resources to implement and are dependent on particular structures that cannot easily be implemented without the involvement of these institutions.  There remains a need for more local-led development of the sector, supported by appropriate tools and resources.

One example of this would be Kenya’s National Electrification Strategy, launched by the Government of Kenya and the World Bank and which uses a geospatial tool to identify least-cost options for securing the delivery of electricity to houses and businesses in Kenya. It also outlines the important role of private sector investment in providing off-grid solutions to remote areas.

If the continent can build on these initiatives and is successfully able to address its power crisis through the widespread use of renewable energy solutions and smart power technologies, it will ensure that all who call it home can plug in to clean, sustainable and cost-effective electricity in the years to come, powering up Africa’s post-pandemic recovery in the process.

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5 Tips for Tackling Imposter Syndrome

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Aisha Pandor CEO SweepSouth Imposter Syndrome

By Aisha Pandor

Imposter syndrome is something that most of us have felt at one time or another. Even if you know you have all the right qualifications and experience to be in a position, it can be all too easy to feel like you don’t belong.

Whether it’s someone dismissing your work or even just casually telling you about something you’ve never heard of as if it’s common knowledge, it can be an incredibly difficult space to climb out of.

Imposter syndrome can be especially insidious among entrepreneurs, who already have to deal with ecstatic highs and crippling lows. In fact, a 2020 study found that 84% of entrepreneurs and small business owners experience imposter syndrome. Many also worry that they’ll be “found out” for their lack of knowledge and ability.

That chimes with my own experiences as an entrepreneur and investor. When Alen (my husband) and I first started SweepSouth back in 2013, I had no experience as an entrepreneur. I’d come from an academic background and everyone at the various startup events and pitching competitions we attended seemed so much calmer and more confident. I couldn’t help wondering what I was doing there and why I’d sacrificed a potentially comfortable life for something I was certain everyone else was doing better at.

While that feeling occasionally rears its head again, I’ve learned a number of strategies over the years to effectively tackle it. Here are five of them.

Remember that your journey is your own

For entrepreneurs especially, imposter syndrome can be fuelled by comparing yourself to others. It can strike when a business that started at the same time as you gets a batch of great write-ups in the press or when they raise a massive funding round. At times like that, it’s important to remember that you’re on your own business journey, no one else’s. By trying to match someone else’s success because it makes you feel inadequate, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Remember, if you’re making progress, you’re doing the right thing. Many of the entrepreneurs who seemed so confident at the early events I went to have seen their businesses not perform as well as they’d hoped. The same is true of those who raised headline-grabbing early funding rounds. If I’d let comparisons to them cause me to waiver from my focus, SweepSouth would be in a very different place today.

Address your weaknesses

Sometimes the feelings associated with imposter syndrome come about because someone brings up a legitimate issue that your business needs to address. It might, for instance, be something that a potential investor brings up. The trick is not to take it as a sign that you don’t belong, but as something fixable that you can address. Every person and every business has weaknesses. That doesn’t mean they don’t belong or shouldn’t exist.

Remember your accomplishments

Write them down if you have to. Chances are you’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get where you are. This is especially important if you don’t look like everyone else in the room. If you’re a woman, for instance, nothing about your male peers’ maleness makes them any more suited to their jobs or running a business.

Have a support network

Remember that stat from the beginning of the article about 84% of entrepreneurs suffering from imposter syndrome? That’s not an indictment on entrepreneurs but an opportunity. By joining a local, regional, or even international entrepreneurs’ organisation, you expose yourself to people who’ve been through the same things as you (including imposter syndrome) and who can guide you through any issues you might face.

Turn it on its head

Finally, remember that real imposters are unlikely to feel imposter syndrome. Being a successful imposter depends on outsized levels of confidence. So, if you’re feeling like an imposter, you can take it as a sign that you’re probably on the right track.

Aisha Pandor is the CEO of SweepSouth

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Reminiscing on the Loss of a Friend, Dreams Deferred, and Bold New Beginnings

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Chris Ihidero loss of a friend

By Chris Ihidero

One evening some eight years ago, my good friend Steve Babaeko walked into a mutual friend’s office looking a little less than his usual uber-confident self.

You won’t find many people who can claim to have seen Steve looking any less than assured: He consistently cuts the picture of a supremely confident man and his achievements are a testament to how that confidence has been well earned. But that evening in 2012, Steve had just put in his resignation as Creative Director of 141 Worldwide, the advertising agency he helped build from scratch and made a market leader. He would have to start all over again and the future held no guarantees. We broke out a bottle of cognac and toasted to new possibilities. As our mutual friend said that evening, “What’s the worst that can happen? You may fail, but at least you would have tried.”

When Amaka Igwe passed on in 2014 just as we were about to launch the TV channel we had been working on for about four years, it soon became clear to me that if I was going to have any shot at realizing the dream we shared, I would have to say goodbye to Amaka Igwe Studios. AIS was my home for eight years. I started out as an apprentice TV director and rose to become Chief Operating Officer. It was the place that built me. On the day I made the decision to leave, I stood in the building we had just furnished for the TV station, gazed at the transmission equipment we had installed and knew I was walking away to start all over again. Walking into a future with no guarantees.

Like Steve that evening, I was a lot less assured.

It’s been seven years since that decision and I have had an incredible run. It hasn’t been a sunset stroll in the park but I’m grateful for my contributions to the TV and film industry in Africa so far. While I worked for different TV networks, wrote, produced, directed and consulted on many film projects (and continue to do so), I started quietly building PinPoint Media. I knew what had to come next. I knew what I wanted to do with my life was to build a content delivery machinery that delivered excellence repeatedly.

In September 2019 we cranked on the content machinery we had been working on for a year and hit the set to deliver the first product off our production line, season one of Man Pikin, a family comedy series. Man Pikin is my nod to Fuji House of Commotion, Nigeria’s longest running and highly popular family comedy series I was privileged to direct for five years.

Man Pikin is the story of a man’s daily struggles with raising his kids after his wife’s passing. We shot 26 episodes for a first season and recently, IROKO TV acquired the rights for broadcast on their ROK Channels, as well as a french version for francophone Africa on NollywoodTV. It premieres on the 12th and 20th of December respectively.

In Q3 2021, we shot season two, another 26 episodes, and that’s not all we’re working on. But for COVID-19 actually, we would have rounded off the first year of our PinPoint Content Fund execution with 104 episodes of TV series in the bag. That target will now be met in 2022, starting with season three of Man Pikin and season one of a new series. Three feature films will also be shot in 2022, and we will also deliver a digital TV channel. Yeah, we have been very busy!

As I watched final edits of the episodes of Man Pikin before shipping off to our distributors in France recently, I reminisced on the loss of a friend and dreams deferred. This propels me forward as I focus on polishing and further knocking our content machinery into shape in order to deliver a five-year plan that culminates in the production of five thousand hours of content yearly from five production centres across Nigeria and Africa.

Scary, right? Well, that was the dream I once shared with an amazing woman and now I must trudge on scared, but confident that we will deliver the reference point for TV/film content excellence, whatever the challenges we will face, because, like the original soundtrack for Man Pikin says “Every day we keep moving forward ooh ooh ooh, ‘cos someday our dreams will come true ooh ohh ooh, man pikin go fall but will stand up ooh oooh ohhhh, for together we are strong and we’ll always have each other, ah ah.”

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Digital Agriculture as Panacea to Enhanced Food Production, Security

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Tolu Oyekan Inclusive Economic Recovery

By Tolu Oyekan

Recent studies on Africa’s agriculture market projects an estimated growth to $1 trillion by 2030.  This shows that the continent’s agriculture industry has huge potentials.  Informed suggestions have been made on how the full gains of this fast-emerging market will be achieved; one of which is through digital agriculture.

There is no doubt that modern farms and agricultural operations are carried out differently from how farming was done in the last 20 years.

This is mainly a result of advancements in technology. Like almost all spheres of life, technological advancements have made an in-road into agriculture to address such challenges as climate change – leading to increased temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, frequent extreme weather events and reduction in water availability.

Digital agriculture or agricultural technology benefits both farmers and end consumers by reducing the use of traditional/archaic farming methods and generating higher crop productivity. Digitizing agriculture also saves resources such as water, fertilizers and pesticides; reduces the impact on natural ecosystems; reduces chemicals getting into rivers and streams and increases the safety of farmworkers.

It is for this reason that the digitalization of agriculture should be part of the larger agricultural transformation agenda in Africa.

Over the years, there have been numerous digital agricultural initiatives and startups which by leveraging technologies, have led to improving farmer productivity, incomes, strengthening food security and enhancing the resilience of food systems in the continent.

Sadly, the impact on smallholder farmer incomes is still poor. This is not unconnected to the fact that access to technology in developing countries is an enabler of accelerated agricultural innovation.

In Nigeria today, some digital firms are focusing on ensuring that smallholder farmers benefit from the new technology revolution in agriculture. Platforms like Babban Gona, Thrive Agric and Agro Rite were created to give smallholder farmers access to resources critical to their work and the growth of the agricultural sector. But these solutions are still available to a meagre percentage of the hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers scattered across Nigeria; and these smallholder farmers still battle with the three-fold challenge of poor access to market, poor access to finance and inadequate knowledge of improved farming practices.

According to a recent report by BCG titled ‘The Digital Agriculture Revolution’, agricultural productivity will need more than innovation. Already, greater crop yields are required to feed Nigeria’s exploding population. The population of Nigeria has been forecasted to reach over 400 million people by 2050.

Estimations published in 2019 show that by that time, the consumption of farm produce such as eggs, milk, beef, cassava, maize, wheat and others will increase by almost 300 per cent! If not properly addressed, this scenario might lead to a full-blown food insecurity situation.

The truth is that lack of information and knowledge is most limiting to the growth of the sector. This presents a challenge to food security because access to the right information, education, and training enable farmers to make use of new farming knowledge and technologies.

This being the case, farmers’ knowledge and information must be constantly upgraded. Farmers must have access to information about sustainable farming practices to enable them to maintain natural resources to ensure that farmlands are productive for future generations. For Nigeria to have environmentally good food systems, farmers and other stakeholders need to have effective communication technologies coupled with relevant information.

Furthermore, the Nigerian agriculture sector must adopt climate-smart practices and technologies to increase productivity as food production demands increase. Presently, Nigeria like other countries in Africa still relies on rainfall to water farms.

With climate change and reduced rainfall as mentioned earlier, there is the need for intensified water management and alternative sources of rainwater to irrigate the farmlands.

In cities like Florida and California, USA and Beijing, China; farmers have used reclaimed water to irrigate their farms. Reclaimed water is wastewater that has been treated and transformed into a product that is clean, clear and odourless.

There is a need for stakeholders to keep investing in modern ways of farming. The emergence of integrated data sets combining satellite imagery, weather and soil data is a modern approach that can be leveraged by development partners. This will empower farmers with more affordable credit and insurance, better early warning of crop failures and improved farm management. Such practices will cushion the sector from the negative effects of climate change while adapting to sustainable food systems.

In addition to innovation, bridging capital, coupled with the right capabilities is pivotal in transforming the agricultural sector in the continent.

For farmers to benefit from a fully-functional market ecosystem, there is a need for players in the agricultural supply chain to prioritize efficient, transparent and innovative ways of connecting farmers to markets. This is where ICT enabled technologies comes into play. Mobile-phone-based services can ease farmers’ access to knowledge on extension services, market information, weather forecasts and agronomic advice.

Furthermore, they can offer price information services for inputs and outputs, enable demand, and supply aggregation, and facilitate e-marketplaces.

In fact, the Technical Centre of Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) estimates that market linkage solutions deliver, on average, a 73% improvement in farmer productivity (including through access to lower-cost seeds and fertilizer) versus just 23% for digital advisories. Our review of dozens of current market solutions revealed several successful alternatives, but no one-size-fits-all approach. This is a clear indication that agriculture is modernizing.

Unfortunately, domestic agriculture markets in many developing countries remain fragmented and inefficient, making it imperative for digital agricultural innovations to address such situations.

The beauty of digital agriculture is that it could help rural-urban migration and get young people to drive rural development because of the use of technology. The increased use of digital technology in farming and agricultural activities might actually attract and retain younger generations to live in rural communities.

For Nigerian farmers, the adoption of digital agriculture will wholly enable access to various information including information on inputs, weather and soil condition; processing and storage resources: markets and finance; and food monitoring and consumption requirements.

Hopefully, if Nigerian farmers and others in the food supply chain embrace this technology, digital agriculture could help to maximize production and reduce waste; reduce costs of production and increase yields; minimize environmental impact and maximize the quality of agriculture produce.

The cross-cutting nature of the digital solutions will continue to improve interconnectedness among stakeholders in the agricultural value and supply chains. This will improve efficiencies, productivity earnings in the sector while feeding the growing population sustainably and improving the livelihoods of Nigerian farmers.

It is important to note that to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of a world with zero hunger by 2030, more productive, efficient, sustainable, inclusive, transparent and resilient food systems are required – and this can largely be achieved with digital technologies and innovations in agriculture.

Tolu Oyekan is a Partner, BCG Lagos

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