HomeRegional NewsAfricaInitiate! accelerates talent in Africa’s innovation eco-system

Initiate! accelerates talent in Africa’s innovation eco-system

As the utility industry moves to modernise and transform, so too comes the opportunity for the next generation of tech and young talent to play a major role in facilitating innovation and change.

The article appeared in ESI Africa Issue 1-2021.
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The Initiate programme is committed to bringing the innovation community to a wider audience through knowledge-sharing and insights 365 days a year. Speaking to Initiate director, Sietske Jacobs, it’s clear that the next generation of technology and talent has proven to be resilient. It is not easy having to navigate your way into the complex energy industry, while in some instances having to adjust and even pivot.

Although our programmes have mainly focused on live programmes taking place at various global events, we have continued to support and gather our community online. Through diverse project research, collaboration with partners, innovation and invention we will continue to show the strength of our community’s ability to bounce back and come back stronger than ever. Next generation technology is here to stay and to make a difference.

Nazlee Fredericks, Initiate project lead, explains that 2020 was still a year to be proud of: “We managed to disrupt the African energy industry by providing a platform that if anything assisted both young talents and SMMEs to navigate through these unprecedented times.”

Nazlee adds: “We are passionate about making a dent in the energy sector and providing Africa with the knowledge and opportunities it needs. Industry thrives only when it embraces disruption. The silver lining truly came with Initiate’s pivot to digital, allowing it to expand our reach into Africa. We also saw Initiate rebrand with a new look and feel truly encompassing the energy of new ideas rippling out from Initiate to spark and inspire fresh thinking across the energy sector. Echoing the sentiments shared by Initiate director, Sietske Jacobs: Together we can and will bounce back beyond tomorrow and make a difference.”

Reflecting on 2019 and 2020

The Initiate 2019 Young Talent Challenge awarded first prize to a team of young thought leaders and disruptors who continued to claim titles in challenges across the globe in 2020, securing 3rd Place in the virtual Efficiency for Access design challenge. Economist Fredrick Amariati, Cyber Specialist and IT Genius Alex Osunga, Renewable Energy Experts Raymond Kiyegga and Ignatius Maranga, have developed a solar-powered container for rural communities, dubbed ‘Kijiji’.

Ignatius Maranga, 2019 Initiate Young Talent Winner, shared his experiences, pointing out that 2020 was an interesting year: one that influenced a change towards digitalisation of some sectors. “For me, it was more of a retreat year, where I stood back and self-evaluated where I was, where I came from and where I was heading to, guided by the goals that I had set at the beginning of the year. It was a year of self-reflection,” he said, while admitting that moving to a digital way of doing almost everything was challenging at the beginning. “We put in a lot of effort and struggled with virtual meeting fatigue while still trying to offer the best solution to the challenge regardless. We learnt that perseverance always wins through!”

Having overcome a myriad of challenges in the 2019 Initiate Young Talent Challenge and the Design for Access challenge, this team’s ability to conquer every obstacle thrown in their path has afforded them many opportunities. After winning the Initiate Young Talent Challenge in 2019, the team received an all-expenses-paid trip to Russia’s first nuclear plant.

They met with other like-minded disruptors and thought leaders from across the globe where they shared knowledge and experiences while forging friendships and business connections. This truly harnessing what Initiate stands for and hopes to continue to build on for the future, giving young talents a platform to shine and showcase what Africa has to offer and more. Connecting the current industry with the future of the industry to move the energy sector forward.

“We are in the process of carrying out a feasibility study of our solution in one of the agricultural areas in Meru. Our goal is to ensure that our solution reaches the market and solves the problems that we intend to solve,” added Maranga. While for Raymond Kiyegga, fellow 2019 Initiate Young Talent Winner, the struggle never stops: “All these are learning opportunities and we take it all in with one stride. I am conducting plenty of research and applications to see the reality of the project.”

Nazlee had the opportunity to catch up digitally with these four young disruptors to find out exactly how they found competing in a Global Challenge within a digital world. The feedback on competing digitally was very positive as nothing will stand in their way from harnessing every opportunity to aid their concept in becoming a reality.

The road ahead for innovative minds

Not forgetting the SMME arm of Initiate, Nazlee shares that the team hosted a three-part webinar as a toolkit to assist both young talents and SMMEs within the energy industry. The series included a line-up of serial entrepreneurs and motivational business coaches in legal, digital, power and energy markets. Initiate tackled a few business and career challenges by presenting key strategic webinars such as: A masterclass in personal branding to nurture business relationships and career growth; Scaling up – how to create an expandable and sustainable business framework; and the season finale designed to inspire, educate and give hope to students wanting to know How to kick start their career in the African power and energy industry? “This series surely did upskill and aid entrepreneurs and young talents to navigate through 2020 through knowledge-sharing and insights. Never fear when Initiate is near!” said Nazlee.

In addition to the 3-part series, Initiate collaborated with GreenCape, in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), in unpacking the newly formed open source Green Business Support Services Directory. The ability to take real-life challenges within their communities and find sustainable solutions will stand these individuals in good stead in their efforts to transform the African power and energy sector.

Cecelia Kok, head of research and advocacy projects at FNF South Africa, said: “GreenCape and FNF’s collaboration seeks to support the growth of the green economy by linking innovators and entrepreneurs to the kind of support these require to promote their green and market-driven products and solutions. The ability to take real-life challenges within their communities and find sustainable solutions will stand these individuals in good stead in their efforts to transform the African power and energy sector.”

The success of the African Initiate programme would not exist without the support and credibility of its association partners: Divaine Growth, Enel Foundation, CGBW, WOESA, BRICS YOUTH ENERGY AGENCY, UCT, Stellenbosch University, CPUT South African Renewable Energy Agency, Sasol, GreenCape, Summit, Hatch Communications Diana Swartz Attorneys, Hoorah Digital, The Green Outcomes Fund, The Bertha Center for Innovation and Technology. “We are inspired by our partners and aim to share this inspiration with others as we navigate through 2021,” said Nazlee.

Plans are already underway to continue to position Initiate as the connector of the energy sector while maintaining key brand values, such as creating opportunities, innovating, upskilling and disrupting the African energy sector with young bright minds and innovative entrepreneurs.

Working with key partners will ensure that this and more are achieved. These exciting plans will be revealed soon, as the Initiate Africa team work with passion and vigour to make this a reality. This year, Initiate will open this challenge up to more students across the continent, working with universities and student associations. The best four students/young talents will be selected from each university and placed into working groups of four with an assigned mentor.

Each group will present its solution digitally in the presence of the Advisory Board from the supporting associations on the judging panel. Students will be judged on their solution, presentation and creativity. Initiate will also stretch their creative minds by asking them for a short and concise business plan including a marketing strategy. The 2021 Initiate programme will give teams a platform to be able to think outside of the box and expand their horizons while working in uncertain times. ESI

Get innovative with Initiate!
Initiate spotlights talent, fosters innovation and empowers entrepreneurs and next-gen talent within the power and energy space. The initiative connects start-ups with established players to drive the industry to deliver a just and fair energy transition for all.