Our student ambassadors have carefully curated lists of professionals who have made a significant impact on sustainability in their industry.
From Finnish CEOs to entrepreneurs from Sri Lanka, the professionals hand-picked on this list come from a variety of professions and countries.
We continue adding people on the lists that deserve to be noticed for the good they have done for nature.
Please give feedback and suggest more names on the lists. We want more people who are utilizing their business skills for nature!
Top Entrepreneurs in Off-grid Solar, East Africa
In this list we have included a final selection of entrepreneurs and innovators scaling up solar energy opportunities in East Africa through off-grid systems. All these individuals have something in common: they are not only relieving pressure on natural landscapes by spearheading solar energy; but rather, they are also enhancing well-being and opening up new opportunities for locals.
Ranging from solar roof tiles (even before Tesla) to mobile charging kiosks, micro-grids and beyond, these initiatives heavily involve citizens in countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda. As a result, they boost regional economies, generate new jobs, and provide much needed energy in rural and semi-urban areas, which are often underserved.
- Being an off-grid solar entrepreneur in East Africa.
- Having a positive impact on the environment.
- Being a local, or working alongside locals in their enterprises.
- Having come up with an innovative idea or solution.
- Generating a substantial impact on broader sustainable development, in regards to society and the welfare of semi-urban and rural communities.
Henri Nyakarundi, Rwanda
“Innovation and entrepreneurship have become an inspiration to a new generation that are exploring for ways to live a fulfilled life, make money and be in harmony with nature.”—Henri Nyakarundi
Henri Nyakarundi is a native Rwandan who moved to the US to study Computer Science in 1996. After graduating from Georgia State University, he realized a 9-5 job was not his calling, and became an entrepreneur. He spent 10 years between the US and Burundi, and founded businesses in the construction and trucking sectors. Eventually, he decided to pull the trigger on his passion for the green industry, and returned to Rwanda in 2013, where he founded a game-changing company: African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED), a decentralized network offering different solar-based solutions in Rwanda and Uganda.
ARED’s flagship Mobile Solar Kiosks (MSKs) have transformed how people charge their phones, but also, how they access job opportunities and content online. These charging stations come with built-in solar panels that can generate energy to charge up to a dozen phones at a time. And since MSKs can be deployed in markets, parks and streets, they are easily accessible to anyone and everyone.
Henri has a strong mission of alleviating poverty and creating opportunities through entrepreneurship and business schemes in Africa; indeed, ARED’s micro-franchise model opens up opportunities for ordinary people to use MSKs to supplement their income or even earn a living.
His work and commitment have earned him international recognition, and he has received over 10 international awards (Siemens Empowerment Award, Energy Global Award, African Forum 100 Innovation for Sustainable Development Award, among others). As an author, he has published the book My African Dream: One Man’s Journey Back Home, and contributed to multiple social impact research books, as well as industry-leading publications.
- Tage Kene-Okafor, Techpoint Africa. (09.01.2020). Meet ARED, the Rwandan company revolutionising how people charge phones and access digital content in Africa. https://bit.ly/2YOhCU1.
- CNBC Africa. (05.04.2019). Entrepreneur shares his African dream in new book . Youtube. https://bit.ly/30WpKo4.
- Smallstarter. (29.2.2016). Let There Be Light! Meet The Top 11 Solar Businesses Lighting Up Africa. https://bit.ly/2AImmmh.
- Emmanuel Ntirenganya, The New Times. (16.09.2018). Rwandan nominated for Rwf160m Innovation Prize. https://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/rwandan-nominated-rwf160m-innovation-prize
- Temmy Balogun (2019), Espact. Henri Nyakarundi’s Smart Kiosk Solves Mobile Charging and Connectivity Problems In Rwanda. https://espact.com/henri-nyakarundis-smart-kiosk-solves-mobile-charging-and-connectivity-problems-in-rwanda/
Charity Wanjiku, Kenya
“We cannot just be women. We are fifty percent of the world’s population. We don’t want to reach just half the potential of the world. We must reach one hundred. It is necessary for all of us to craft successful climate change solutions for the benefit of the global community. “—Charity Wanjiku
Charity Wanjiku is the COO and of Kenyan Strauss Energy, which she co-founded with her brother Tony Nyagah in 2007. Strauss Energy is a pioneer company producing the Stima Tiles; patented solar tiles which are powering communities in off-grid Kenya. Most surprisingly, the siblings’ noteworthy innovation came way before Tesla started taking orders in the U.S. and UK for their solar tiles in 2017.
Strauss Energy’s solar cell roofing tiles reduce installation costs and actually produce close to three times the energy one might need for their own home, as remarked by Charity in a presentation for the 2016 GIST Tech-I Pitch competition (which Strauss Energy won!). This is particularly important because the company’s model allows owners to earn a passive income, as they can send their excess energy back to the national grid and get paid for it.
The mission of Strauss Energy is to alleviate energy poverty in Kenya and Africa at large, which is the main reason why Charity says she became an entrepreneur. Today, she focuses on making solar cells an integrated part of construction, and thus, on bringing reliable and affordable power to all through green energy.
Charity is an alumna of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, holding a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and a Masters of Science in Project Management in Construction, which are just the tip of the iceberg in her long list of accolades.
She made the Forbes World’s Top 50 Women in Tech 2018 list because of her achievements, and has been very active in top-tier international events such as the World Economic Forum—an institution which awarded her as one of six “African female tech entrepreneurs” in 2017—, the World Web Forum. and the Women in Tech Forum 2019 in at Finlandia Hall, Helsinki.
- Thomas, Coel. (19.12.2019). Charity Wanjiku on Aurinkovoimayrittäjä Keniasta. Blogs Of The Finnish Foreign Ministry. https://blogit.ulkoministerio.fi/nykyafrikka/charity-wanjiku-on-aurinkovoimayrittaja-keniasta/
- Charity Wanjiku. Keynote: Solving the challenge of sustainable energy. Women in Tech Forum 2019. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zujruTkVUKc
- Forbes. Charity Wanjiku: COO and Co-founder, Strauss Energy. https://www.forbes.com/profile/charity-wanjiku/#7ee9c74e6b07.
- Shapsak, Toby. (12.12.2018). How Kenyan Siblings Beat Elon Musk To Market With Solar Tiles. Forbes. https://bit.ly/3da8Nck
- Discover JKUAT. (21.04.2016). Alumni of the Week- Strauss Energy Founders, Tony Nyagah and Charity Wanjiku. https://bit.ly/313UJPj
- World Web Forum. Charity Wanjiku: Co-Founder & COO, Strauss Energy Ltd., Nairobi, Kenya. https://worldwebforum.com/speakers/charity-wanjiku/.
- Responsible Business. Speaker Bio, Charity Wanjiku. https://www.responsiblebusiness.com/speakers/charity-wanjiku/
Yariv Cohen, Rwanda
“We’ve never in history been in a position where we have everything we need to solve our problems. Now, we have the technology and the tools to do just that.”—Yariv Cohen
Yariv Cohen is the co-founder and chief executive of Rwandan-based company Ignite Power, which is a distributor, developer and financier of solar solutions.
Ignite Power is based on the values of affordability, scalability, sustainability, and community. Inclusive payment systems and local government engagement have been important in empowering communities, but they are also the main factor behind the massive success story of Ignite Power. To date, the company has connected more than 1.1 million people in Africa to solar power.
Although Ignite Power is undoubtedly Yariv’s biggest achievement in the field of solar energy, there is much more to him.
A London Business School alumnus, he holds an MBA and a master’s in negotiations, and he has produced many publications on the environment, development and tech innovation. Moreover, Yariv has been recognised with the title of Environmental Markets Winner and the Africa Top Innovator Award.
- Matt Munday. London Business School. (07.10.2019). Changemakers: Yariv Cohen. https://www.london.edu/think/changemakers-yariv-cohen.
- Crunchbase. Yariv Cohen. https://bit.ly/2YSk9MS.
- The New Times. Yariv Cohen Publications. https://bit.ly/2AQtlJM.
Jeff Schnurr, Tanzania
“The solution to climate change is simple. Not easy but simple.”—Jeff Schnurr
Jeff Schnurr is the co-founder and CEO of Jaza Energy, a company building a network of renewable energy hubs beyond the electrical grid in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Tanzania, the company has developed a country-wide network of regional offices and rural community hubs, which allows the company to maintain close relationships with customers and to offer operational and technological solutions that are adapted to local markets.
A Jaza hub works as small energy shop where customers are able to charge battery packs. Then, they can bring them back to their homes to power lights and cellphones, for instance. In this way, communities that are not connected to wired infrastructure can have reliable access to electricity, and offer an affordable alternative to kerosene (while cleaner burning than other fossil fuels, kerosene use can potentially pose environmental and health risks; for a critical overview of the latter in developing countries, please see Lam, N. L. et al).
Jeff believes that entrepreneurship and innovation can solve our planet’s biggest challenges, and through his business he believes he can make an impact that lasts. Alongside his work as a solar entrepreneur, Jeff is the founder and chair of Community Forests International, which aims to empower rural communities in Tanzania to plant over a million and a half trees, grow food and harvest rainwater.
- CIX Canadian Innovation Exchange. 2018 Speakers: Jeff Schnurr: CEO Jaza Energy. https://www.cixsummit.com/2018/speakers/916627/jeffschnurr/.
- Jaza Energy (2018). Team. https://jazaenergy.com/#section–team.
- Lam, N. L., Smith, K. R., Gauthier, A., & Bates, M. N. (2012). Kerosene: a review of household uses and their hazards in low- and middle-income countries. Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part B, Critical reviews, 15(6), 396–432. https://doi.org/10.1080/10937404.2012.710134
- Jaza energy uses particle to help deliver clean energy to communities in tanzania. Alex Schab. Particle Customer Stories. (09.05.2019). https://blog.particle.io/jaza-energy-uses-particle-to-help-deliver-clean-energy-to-communities-in-tanzania/
- Jaza Energy. Operation Team. https://jazaenergy.com/#section–team
Katherine Lucey, Uganda and Tanzania
“We’ve helped 3,000 women start business. It started in Uganda, but now we’re in Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria. So, we have 3,000 businesses; local, very rural businesses, that are self-sustaining and they can [now] go on and on.”
“[…] Our entire organization in Tanzania is Tanzanian. Our entire organization in Nigeria is Nigerian. We are completely committed to that.”—Katherine Lucey
Katherine Lucey is the co-founder (along with clean energy expert Neha Misra) and Chief Executive Officer of Solar Sister, a not-for-profit social enterprise that addresses energy poverty, women’s empowerment, and climate change issues in sub-Saharan Africa. Their core target is the rural last mile customer.
Katherine comes from a long career of 20 years in investment banking for the energy sector; and along with her prior experience as a non-profit leader, this background really shows in her current role as a social entrepreneur. In fact, it seems to have affected what is being valued at Solar Sister, which is first and foremost an impact-driven organization, where results do matter.
In an interview for CleanTechnica in September 2018, Lucey reported that Solar Sister had reached over 1 million customers in Tanzania. On top of this, Solar Sister takes pride in being an active employer of local talent in Uganda, Tanzania and now also in West Africa (Nigeria), which means they are generating economic opportunities both directly and indirectly for the countries they are based in.
Katherine has garnered plenty of international recognition and awards, such as the C3E Advancements for the Developing World Award, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) Champion of Change Award, or the Social Venture Network 2011 Innovation Award. She currently serves on the UN Foundation initiative the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and is a co-chair of the Supply Chain and Entrepreneurship Committee of the Sustainable Energy for All Practitioner Network.
- Draper Richard Kaplan Foundation. Solar Sister: Meet Katherine Lucey. https://www.drkfoundation.org/organization/solar-sister/#:~:text=Katherine%20Lucey%2C%20founder%20and%20CEO,her%20role%20as%20social%20entrepreneur.
- Board of Directors. Solar Sister. https://solarsister.org/our-team/?type=board-of-directors&team=katherine-lucey
- Cynthia Shahan, CleanTechnica.. (24.09.2018). Katherine Lucey — CEO & Founder of Solar Sister — Talks Last-Mile Solar Revolution (#CleanTechnica Video). https://cleantechnica.com/2018/09/24/katherine-lucey-ceo-founder-of-solar-sister-talks-last-mile-solar-revolution-cleantechnica-video/
- Vicki Ekstrom. MITEI (MIT Energy Initiative). (25.09.2013). Event Highlights Need for Women in Clean Energy. http://energy.mit.edu/news/event-highlights-need-for-women-in-clean-energy/
Derrick Hosea Opio, Uganda
“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”—Derrick Hosea Opio
Derrick is the founder and CEO of OneLamp. OneLamp’s mission is to replace kerosene lanterns with solar lights in one million households in East Africa by 2020.
Through OneLamp, Derrick has impacted over 5,000 lives by facilitating access to affordable clean energy, increasing household savings, and reducing carbon emissions from dangerous kerosene lanterns.
Derrick holds a BSc in law and accounting and financial management. What made him start an enterprise in the field of green energy was his childhood experience with kerosene, which almost got him killed while he used it as a source of light for reading—he believes no African child should have to go through the same experience.
As a young entrepreneur, he has realised that he can not solve energy poverty alone, and so he believes in the power of professional communities and collaboration.
- Halcyon. Derrick Hosea. https://halcyonhouse.org/derrick-hosea.
- World Summit Awards. Derrick Hosea Opio. https://www.worldsummitawards.org/person/derrick-hosea-opio/.
- Empowering People Network. (07.12.2015). Interview with Derrick Hosea, OneLamp. https://www.empowering-people-network.siemens-stiftung.org/en/service/press/article-interview/interview-with-derrick-hosea-onelamp/.
- SE Forum. (06.06.2016). “Solving a social problem is not a one-man activity”. https://se-forum.se/interviews/solving-a-social-problem-is-not-a-one-man-activity/.
- Derrick Hosea Opio. SE Forum. https://se-forum.se/entrepreneur/derrick-hosea-opio/
Lois Gicheru, Kenya
“I [stay] in energy because this industry allows for innovation, it is continually changing as it is yet to mature.
This means that I will always be challenged. It is also one industry that will allow me to contribute to the growth of economy and the well being of the society.”—Lois Gicheru
Lois is the founder and CEO of Solafrique.
Lois has a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and Accounting in Strathmore University in Nairobi, and she also holds a Certificate in Supply Chain Sustainability from Rutgers University.
Her company, Solafrique, provides micro grids to businesses in the rural areas, through metering solar power electricity to the businesses.
According to Lois, the goal of her entrepreneurship is to catalyze the growth of the green economy in Kenya.
She has won the Best Entrepreneurs Award in the Young Scientist and Entrepreneurs competition hosted by the Africa EU Energy Partnership (AEEP).
- Lois Gicheru. (23.08.2019). Policy reform for energy transition in Kenya. Member Views, World Energy Council. https://www.worldenergy.org/news-views/entry/member-views-policy-reform-for-energy-transition-in-kenya
- International Finance Corporation. (2018). Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2018.
- Karjalainen, Joni & Ruotsalainen, Juho & Heinonen, Sirkka & Byrne, Rob. (12.2018). Radical Solar Energy Startups in Kenya and Tanzania. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.18148.83841
- Mutulu, Frank. (23.09.2013). How One Entrepreneur Is Moving Kenya Toward Renewable Energy. https://moguldom.com/21688/penetrating-african-market-difficult-impossible-says-entrepreneur/.
- Strathmore University. Alumni Spotlight; Lois Gicheru Wins Best Entrepreneurs Award, Africa EU Energy Partnership. https://www.strathmore.edu/news/alumni-spotlight-lois-gicheru-wins-best-entrepreneurs-award-africa-eu-energy-partnership/.
Mansoor Hamayun, Rwanda and Kenya
“I began to see [lack of electricity] as a moral injustice. So many lives could be transformed when people go from darkness to electricity. I became so intrigued that I wanted to seek a fundamental solution. It’s a transformative impact that can happen over such a short period of time.”
“Electricity is the blood of the modern economy. Energy access is the starting point not only to solve poverty but improve education, health care and job growth.”—Mansoor Hamayun.
Mansoor is the CEO & co-founder of BBOXX, a company that provides clean and affordable solar energy solutions in Rwanda, Kenya, Democratic Republic Congo and Togo. To date, BBOXX has installed more that 150,000 solar home systems, making an impact on hundreds of thousands of African homes outside the central electricity grids in their countries.
Born in Pakistan, Mansoor was raised in Sweden and studied electrical engineering in the UK. In fact, the idea of BBOXX came from E.quinox, a charity that Mansoor and his classmates founded while studying at London Imperial College. Back then, Mansoon and his friends were using E.quinox to send hand-made solar battery boxes to rural communities in Uganda. Eventually, they realized that there was a greater demand for solar energy than what they could cover with E.quinox; and so, Mansoon and his two friends, Christopher Baker-Brian and Laurent Van Houcke, decided to found BBOXX in 2010.
The most important reason for Mansoor to do business in off-grid solar in Africa is the fundamental need there is for energy. He is aware of the serious problems caused by the lack of electricity, and by providing accessible and affordable clean energy solutions, he feels like he can help tackle this shortage.
- Sigmond, Mary. (2020). Mansoor Hamayun Redefines What A Next-Generation Energy Company Looks Like. YPO. https://www.ypo.org/2019/08/mansoor-hamayun-redefines-what-a-next-generation-energy-company-looks-like/
- Crunchbase. (2020). BBOXX. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/bboxx#section-current-team
Gathu Kirubi, Kenya
“When I look at our success I see three important factors. The first one is impact. Changing the lives of people living in rural communities. The second is the employment we’re creating… And the last factor is, of course, financial sustainability. Because without it it’s really hard to scale up your business.”—Gathu Kirubi
Gathu is the co-founder and managing director of SunTransfer Kenya Ltd, a company that has a mission to make quality solar energy accessible and affordable to over 6 million off-grid households—that is, 60% of off-grid households in Kenya. Gathu is an expert in the solar energy sector, and holds a Ph.D in Energy and Resources. He is also a lecturer of Energy & Climate Science at Kenyatta University.
SunTransfer provides specific solar systems, modules and micro-grids for farming, homes, small or medium-sized enterprises, and larger corporate users. Gathu’s mission is to come up with innovative business models to bring solar energy to rural communities and micro-enterprises in Kenya; in fact, the reason he is an entrepreneur in off-grid solar is the big difference SunTransfer can make to its customers, and especially the children.
In 2001, Gathu was awarded the Ashden Award in recognition of “leadership and innovation in pioneering the start-up of a revolving fund credit scheme that supports schools and micro-enterprises with energy efficient wood stoves in Kenya”. He has also published important publications on energy access, and has worked as a consultant with the ILO, UNDP, and Arc Finance (US), among other relevant international stakeholders.
- Linkedin: Gathu Kirubi
- Website: suntransferkenya.com
- Kirubi, C., et al. (2009). “Community-Based Electric Micro-Grids Can Contribute to Rural Development: Evidence from Kenya; World Development, 37 (7): 1208–1221.
- SunTransfer. About Us. http://www.suntransferkenya.com/about-suntransfer-kenya
- Indra Heerkens & Thijs Looijenga. Sun-Connect: Off-Grid News. (29.03.2019). Gathu Kirubi: “The work we are doing gives me a reason to wake up in the morning”. https://www.sun-connect-news.org/de/articles/market/details/gathu-kirubi-the-work-we-are-doing-gives-me-a-reason-to-wake-up-in-the-morning/
Jesse Moore, Kenya
“There is no reason to say that Nairobi or Kenya or Africa can’t build the next generation of Fortune 500 companies.”—Jesse Moore
Jesse holds a MBA from Oxford University and he is the CEO and managing director of M-KOPA Solar, a company that provides “pay-as-you-go” renewable energy products for off-grid households in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria.
Today, M-KOPA provides solar energy, technology, information and finance for over 600,000 African homes and businesses.
In an interview for How We Made It In Africa – Africa Business Insight (12/10/2015), Jesse said that empathy is the biggest reason behind his success: being able to understand his customers’ needs and helping them is what really gives a purpose to M-KOPA.
Additionally, this innovative leader was selected by the World Economic Forum as one of 100 Young Global Leaders in 2017.
- How We Made It In Africa. (12.10.2015). Meet the Boss: Jesse Moore, MD, M-KOPA.https://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/meet-the-boss-jesse-moore-md-m-kopa/52258/
- Smallstarter. (29.2.2016). Let There Be Light! Meet The Top 11 Solar Businesses Lighting Up Africa. https://www.smallstarter.com/get-inspired/the-top-11-solar-businesses-that-are-lighting-up-africa/
- Management Sample. M-KOPA Solar. http://solar.m-kopa.com/management-sample/
- GOGLA. (2018). Powering Opportunity The Economic Impact of Off-Grid Solar.
- International Finance Corporation. (2018). Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2018.
- Karjalainen, Joni & Ruotsalainen, Juho & Heinonen, Sirkka & Byrne, Rob. (2018). Radical Solar Energy Startups in Kenya and Tanzania.
- SmartSolar Tanzania: The Information Platform For Solar In Tanzania. http://www.smartsolar-tanzania.com/solar-sector-information/solar-companies-in-tanzania/.
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