DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH | POWER FOR ALL

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

WHO WERE YOUR ROLE MODELS DURING THE PIVOTAL STAGES OF YOUR LIFE?
Growing up in the Caribbean, I was challenged to find guidance and mentorship on my own; however, I found inspiration in my parents and my grandparents who were all teachers. My paternal grandparents who lived in Jamaica gave their lives to education and public service, and both my parents are lecturers in their respective countries – Jamaica and Trinidad. Their purity of purposes and understanding of how important education is, and that it is the key to unlocking potential, was a huge inspiration to me and why I decided to choose the current path that I am on.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A SUCCESSFUL LEADER?
A successful leader should lead by intention and by having a vision. More than just the task oriented nature of management, a good leader is concerned about growing people and their vision.
So they must both direct and support. Learning to do both well – and at the same time – is part of the road to success.

WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST STRENGTHS?
I have a genuine sincerity in the goals that I am trying to accomplish through education and knowledge. At Power for All, one of our goals is to build a research engine for the energy access space that uses local African research capacity in order to analyse key data, to understand the issues and to identify solutions.

WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST BLIND SPOTS?
I am always challenging myself to dream bigger and focus on the big picture rather than the limitations and obstacles that may occur along the way. Because of this scope of interests, I am very wary of spreading myself too thin. I am learning to focus on doing a few things well rather than multiple things that don’t get my full effort.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING IN YOUR OPINION THAT PEOPLE COMMONLY MISCONCEIVE ABOUT YOU?
Although I work hard I also play hard! As a young woman making her way in the energy sector I am determined and focused, which makes me come across as serious. Culturally in the Caribbean we are very playful, friendly and comical. That’s a big part of me.

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR KEEPING A TEAM MOTIVATED?
There needs to be a strong almost tangible connection between the team efforts and the end goal, which is continuously kept front of mind. The big end goal should be broken up into modular milestones, making the tasks manageable and attainable. As a leader, you need to have your sleeves rolled up and be involved with the team.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?
I made a very personal decision to come to Nairobi, Kenya to build our research team,expanding opportunities for and access to local analysis in the energy space. I didn’t have a network of connections, there was very little funding and few academic colleagues to partner with. This was a big change compared to when I was in California, which had established foundations and support systems. I couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out. We can seethe research network growing in real time and our findings are far more nuanced drawing from local expertise.

WHEN CONSIDERING A NEW PARTNERSHIP, WHAT FACTORS ARE
DEAL-BREAKERS FOR YOU?

What I am really trying to steer clear of is‘talk shop’. Our efforts are focused on making tangible differences in East Africa with rigorous research as a foundation. So that’s the kind of energy that we want to be partnering with.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WERE THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?
As a leader it is your responsibility to motivate and encourage. Meeting your team’s needs across different personalities, stages of development,different cultures and even different geographies takes flexibility and courage! Developing these traits is an ongoing and intentional exercise for me.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LEADERSHIP LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED?
I have learned that if you take an interest in the personal development of your team, the growth that they can experience can be exponential.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER?
My PhD was all about finding sustainable alternatives to the usual overbuild of large scale energy projects in the developing world. I focused my research on Borneo, a major island in the Malay Archipelago, Southeast Asia. My work explored opportunities for integrated energy planning by building simulation models using local data. We found a lot of potential for small-scale and utility-scale solar and biomass generation, particularly from palm oil wastes. We were also able to understand the ecological and social footprint of different energy plans. These findings were promoted to local communities through various media across Southeast Asia, educating and creating awareness about alternatives. This played a major role in the cancelling of one of Borneo’s biggest planned dams that would have flooded over 2,400 km2 of forest and many indigenous communities. This showed me the power of science communication.

HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE?
I keep balance by focusing on things that are important to me. Outside of work, priority is spending time with friends and family, and being in the outdoors away from the ‘urban jungle’ in Nairobi. On a day-to-day level, I have improved drastically on my time management by making priority lists of what needs to be achieved within a workable time frame. Moreover, my best friend in the Caribbean and I do yearly reviews with each other where we unpack our goals set out for the year and identify what was achieved, what wasn’t achieved and why. Having a partner to do this exercise with makes it fun but also assures that someone else is invested in your trajectory and big-picture plan.

WHAT’S THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ THIS YEAR?
This year I have been reading The History of Africa by Kevin Shillington.

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK, AND WHAT TREND WILL FADE?
In Africa, you can’t talk about energy without bringing in the important role that decentralised technologies are going to play in increasing energy access rates. Electricity access rates are increasing slowly everywhere else except in sub-Saharan Africa. As so many people are too far removed from traditional grid infrastructure,new technologies – like solar plus storage –that are smart, modular, low-cost and easily deployable are becoming more mainstream.
Something that may evolve is the purely centralised approach to the governance of energy with a move towards more integrated systems.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.