0n a chilly morning recently, a group of 33 women from eight African countries gathered at a venue in Westlands, a mere 10 minute drive from Nairobi’s central business district.  For most of them, the distance covered was akin to an entire lifetime of struggle and achievement.  Without exception, all 33 are leaders in their respective companies in the renewable energy sector, either as CEOs or as women in senior management positions.

The  women are the first cohort of the AECF Women in Leadership (WIL) initiative, hosted within the broader Nkwanzi program that will unlock the entrepreneurial capacity of women-owned/led enterprises and women in leadership positions.  It is designed to address the needs of women in leadership to enable them become effective leaders in their teams, organizations and in their personal lives.  The AECF’s  Renewable Energy and Climate Technologies sub-Saharan Africa (REACT SSA) portfolio supports the capacity of women in business and leadership through targeted approaches that are centered on leadership development, including  coaching, learning and exchange.

The AECF’s engagement in the energy sector under the REACT SSA is designed to catalyse the private sector to increase the supply of cleaner fuels, raise awareness of the dangers from indoor air pollution, demonstrate how new knowledge in renewable energy technologies can be put into practice in ways that benefit the poor, especially women, and provide evidence on challenges in policy formulation and implementation.

Nkwanzi is a Ugandan word meaning ‘pearl’. Indeed, the women are true pearls; people of great rarity and worth, that challenge the gender biases in the renewable energy space. Nkwanzi also supports female entrepreneurs to become investor ready and attract financing to scale their businesses. This is WIL’s first programme, with a focus on building the leadership skills of women CEOs and those in senior management in the AECF’s investee companies in the renewable energy sector in Africa. Indeed, these women are a true representation of the 2022 International Women’s Day theme, ‘Break The Bias’, in recreating a gender equal world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.

The coaching and mentorship at Nkwanzi is spread out over a four-month period through peer-to-peer group interactions and one-on-one sessions with professional coaches. The women will be taught to identify and deal with saboteurs (acquired from years of negative gender stereotyping), increase their visibility on social media, as well as how to pitch and network with investors.  The AECF’s Nkwanzi programme is determined to contribute towards dismantling gender biases and scaling the operations of women-owned/led businesses in Africa. The design is hinged to an analysis of the needs of AECF’s women-led/owned businesses.  Here, innovative ideas that stimulate ‘next generation’ approaches in the renewable energy sector are at the top of the agenda.

Participants for the WIL programme are selected following a rigorous nomination process in their organisations, having demonstrated their leadership potential. Using the tenets of Positive Intelligence, the women are taught shown how to process negative thoughts and build their mental endurance, thus, making the transition from ‘Saboteur’ to ‘Sage’.

“I have been able to identify my sources of energy,” noted one of the participants, “and I have also identified my sources of weakness and how they impact how I lead.”

The AECF funds renewable energy technologies such as hydro-power, solar energy, biomass and wind energy.  At the household level, small solar home systems for basic lighting, phone charging systems and radios are made available to larger numbers of households through pay-as-you-go (PAYGo) systems.  The larger solar power stand-alone systems for productive use are targeted at small scale rural based businesses.  Other interventions include the centralised renewable power systems comprising mini-grids and micro-grids as well as utility models that meet the full range of household and business needs and are still affordable for low-income individuals.  The AECF’s grantees are also involved in the production and distribution of cleaner fuels such as ethanol and energy efficient cook stoves.  Within this vibrant ecosystem, distribution models that support local entrepreneurship and SME growth in the context of renewable energy product demand and supply are highly encouraged.

Hadley Muchela, Gender lens Investing officer ,AECF.