From the CEO’S Desk: August 2019

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Electricity has become a basic unit of business. Particularly in the hyperconnected world we live in today, a business without access to power will struggle to survive, much less succeed and grow. It is the most basic requirement to develop the African economy and drive our continent to become the economic powerhouse of this century. At our 2019/20 SVAI Strategy Session at the beginning of the year, our steering committee identified this as a key focus area for our business network, as not only is there immense opportunity, investment here can also become a catalyst for exponential growth and development. The ‘why’ is thus clear, making the big question how business can contribute to the electrification of Africa.

We worked with a team of researchers to develop our understanding of the current energy landscape in Africa and create insight into what is needed to electrify Africa – the outcome of which we have shared in this month’s newsletter. Our continent faces many challenges when it comes to access to reliable, safe electricity. From aging or non-existent infrastructure to mismanagement and outright corruption, there are many factors that are holding our continent back from truly making the leap to economic and social success.

Where governments may have failed, or are hampered by bureaucracy, there is an immense business opportunity. By bringing power to those who have been excluded – as of 2017, over half of sub-Saharan Africa (55.4%) was still in total darkness, according to the World Bank – business not only creates new markets but enables millions of people to connect to opportunity and better standards of living.

One way in which Africa can turn our energy situation around is by embracing the potential of renewable energy sources. Our continent is so rich in natural energy resources, and by tapping into these new ways of generating energy we can also relieve the pressure on more traditional power sources. Lessening our dependence on fossil fuels by diversifying into solar, wind, hydro and gas power sources will improve the sustainability of our energy supply for the long term and, of course, leave a much lighter footprint on the environment. Renewable energy technologies are improving and becoming less expensive all the time, and the low level of infrastructure required to implement them is another strong motivator for their suitability for the African context. Mini-grids, which serve a single region, suburb or community, enable businesses to provide communities with electricity that is adaptable to their context, location and available resources.

Already, businesses across the continent have recognised the value of creating power utilities, investing in developing energy solutions, and building the infrastructure of the ecosystems in which they operate. Not only can access to electricity, and especially renewable energy, reduce operating costs and strengthen a business’s entire value chain, it also opens up new markets and avenues of business. Electrifying Africa is one of the most important building blocks for unlocking our continent’s potential – empowering communities to lift themselves out of poverty and become active consumers, enabling businesses to operate and communicate effectively and easily, and lessening our collective impact on the environment.

There’s no better time than right now to re-evaluate how you and your business engage with power, operationally, from an investment standpoint, and in terms of delivering your products and services to your target market. By committing ourselves to the electrification of Africa, we can collectively create change at the scale required to take our continent forward into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and an inclusive, stable and prosperous future.

Onwards and upwards!
Tiekie Barnard
CEO, Shared Value Africa Initiative