scaling solar programme
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Andrew Skipper, Head of the Africa Practice.

Andrew Skipper, head of the Africa practice and Sohail Barkatali, projects partner-Dubai at law firm Hogan Lovells spoke with ESI Africa about their ground breaking global competition for solar innovation.

“HL is proud of the work we do in both the power and projects sector globally and in our contribution to social enterprises and pro bono which forms a core part of our global DNA and values.”

ESI Africa had the opportunity to chat with the officials from the law firm about this initiative, which culminated in an award ceremony in Pretoria, South Africa attended by businesses from across the world and Africa in particular.

The winner Village Energy from Uganda designs and installs customised solar installations for businesses, agriculture and community institutions that lead to improved livelihoods, job creation, and access to services. With its traveling academy, it trains rural youth and women as solar technicians to find opportunities within the solar industry.

Tell us about the background of the Hogan Lovells community solar awards

The innovation awards are part of Hogan Lovells’ global innovation awards programme, which aim to recognise and reward businesses and not-for-profit organisations in developing countries that use solar energy or solar technologies to benefit lives in poor communities. We looked for organisations around the world that:

  1. Are locally-led;
  2. Use solar energy or technology to improve the lives of poor communities, especially for women and girls;
  3. Create environmental and social benefits;
  4. Involve and meet the needs of local communities;
  5. Need financial and business support to meet their full potential; and
  6. Are based in a non-OECD or non-European Union member states.

Winning enterprises will receive a tailor-made business support package including: up to $30,000 pro bono legal advice; peer networking; one-on-one support and mentorship to develop business and financial plans; and support from SEED to replicate their business model in other regions around the world.

Hogan Lovells will also provide a $10,000 financial award to the overall winner to cover the organisation’s most pressing needs.

The awards also seek to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in September 2015 by 193 countries, which call for collaboration to end extreme poverty, tackle inequality and injustice, and safeguard the planet.

The awards have been implemented by Adelphi with outreach support managed by SEED and Barefoot College, our global charity, which inspirationally trains women in the skill of solar engineering.

What has the response been towards this scheme?

Sohail Barkatali, Projects Partner Dubai.

We had an extraordinary response. An independent international judging panel selected the winners from over 280 applicants across 53 countries, 54% of which were youth (the age of 35 or under 35 years of age) led enterprises, and 42% of which were female led.

Judges included Hogan Lovells Head of Energy and Natural Resources, Scot Anderson, Head of the Africa Practice, Andrew Skipper, Sohail Barkatali and representatives from the firms’ global client base.

The winner Abu Musuuza from Village Energy said: “This is a validation that our hard work over the years is finally being recognised globally. This prize will really help us to increase the vocational training we are providing to rural youth and women.”

“We want to develop rural businesses which continue to be neglected – we want to train them, finance them and really get them to be more productive,” explained Musuuza.

The Hogan Lovells’ executive added: “The range of projects , their impact and innovation which we have seen is  both inspiring and potentially game changing for the communities where they operate and hopefully beyond as the replicate and scale up, with the full support of HL and our fellow sponsors.”

As a legal firm – where would you say these start-ups require legal advice and why?

Start-ups need a model and proposition which is simple, replicable and impactful. So the business needs to be something which is easy to replicate but is nonetheless sufficiently identifiable to be “branded” rather than just copied.

Without a unique selling point (USP) this does not work (and most businesses do not work!). The USP can include – people (enthusiasm/drive and ambition), product (top quality and exclusive hardware or business model – eg micro financing/mobile payment technology), source of funding and package to deliver.

All our finalists have shown this in some form or other.

Anything scalable or replicable must be based on sound legal foundations from the start. This doesn’t mean highly complex arrangements but clear and common sense arrangements. It does mean careful management and control of areas including set up, ownership (including local content needs), exit and developments as well as regulatory issues, which can be challenging in this sector.

What are the future plans of this initiative?

We have worked with SEED for around eight years and this project has been long in the making. Solar is a key part of the solution to the power deficit in developing countries, and from it springs education, industry and commerce.

Power is the life-force of a developing nation and we are proud to be able to have some small part in delivering that. We remain committed to supporting projects like this, and we innovate every year.

Is there anything you would like to add?

We work in Africa on the basis of four pillars; we seek to understand Africa, operate and invest in it and finally and critically to respect Africa. This competition and our on-going relationship with Barefoot College are great examples of this in action and we are proud of our partnerships.