Exclusive interview: Getty Kasole

FOUNDER | SOLAFRICA CORP.
SENIOR TECHNICAL ADVISOR | POWER AFRICA OFF-GRID PROJECT

Getty Kasole grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Getty has been living in the USA for over 10 years and received her degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Driven by her passion for the African continent and anything technical, she founded the startup SolAfrica Corp, a project financing and monitoring platform for rural and urban electrification in Africa. She is combining this work with her position as a senior technical advisor for Power Africa Off-grid Project DRC.

WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU THE MOST IN LIFE?

My mother’s work ethic was a consistent example of hard work, excellence, and work life balance. That has been an inspiration as I navigate through my career. My mom owned a law firm in Kinshasa, DRC, before passing away, and it has continued to function over the years. When I returned to Kinshasa, I decided to build a startup, SolAfrica, and opened our office in the same office suite as my mom’s firm. This challenged me to be excellent because every day I saw her legacy displayed. Hard work does pay off and creates a legacy. I sometimes work 15 hours a day but I never feel discouraged or that my work is meaningless. Providing access to energy in the country I was born and raised in is very fulfilling.

WHAT’S THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ THIS YEAR AND WHAT WAS YOUR KEY TAKEAWAY?

Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall stood out for me this year. The book is a call for solidarity and inclusivity for a movement that has not included everyone. Issues such as gun violence, hunger, poverty, education, housing and reproductive justice are all feminist issues that need to be at the forefront of conversations.

I consider myself a Congolese American woman, a feminist, and a proud immigrant. I believe all humans have the right to life, education, freedom from persecution, and equitable opportunity. And with that in mind, I try to venture beyond my professional sector to understand the world that I live in and how my work can positively impact my environment.

WHEN MEETING OTHER LEADERS WHAT DO YOU ASK THEM?

Unlike most people, I’m a night owl and a firm believer that working late can be just as productive as working early in the morning. Therefore, I always ask leaders about their night time routine. I also ask about what they’re currently investing in, I’ve learned about many different sectors this way. I’ve also learned that leadership comes in many forms and there isn’t only one way to do things. I have yet to meet two leaders with the same exact routine or the same investment portfolio.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE AND WHAT LESSON LEARNED DO YOU CONTINUE TO PRACTISE TODAY?

My first leadership experience was in high school. As vice president of my class, high expectations were placed on my conduct and decorum both inside and outside of school. Back then, I didn’t speak English as well as I do today, given that I had just transferred from a school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a school in Chicago, Illinois, US. The main lesson I learned is to dare. I dared to step up as a leader despite the language barrier and today I’m better for it. I doubt this will always be present but I use that to do more research, educate myself and improve. To this day, I continue to dare and venture into the unknown. I never make a mistake; I either succeed or learn something.

IS A LEADER BORN OR MADE?

Life experiences and opportunities make a leader. Being a leader takes determination, self-drive and a desire to constantly learn. This can be fostered since childhood or learned as an adult. As leaders, we never “arrive”, we must constantly challenge ourselves, get up to date and modify based on the team we are working with. More than being made, leaders are maintained.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A SUCCESSFUL LEADER?

A successful leader is one that knows their shortfalls and recruits people on the team to fill those gaps. Leadership is not about knowing everything, but rather it is knowing how to create a cohesive team that is able to work together.

I do not know everything. I have had to build up a team to fill the gaps in my expertise such as marketing, supply chain management and human resources. A successful leader must be able to identify people they can trust and give them leeway to be leaders themselves.

WHAT INDUSTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE POWER AND ENERGY SECTOR ARE YOU LOOKING AT FOR INSPIRATION?

I’ve been working on entering the culinary space as an investor. Elevating African food to the world stage is a challenge I’m looking forward to. Working in the restaurant industry has exposed me to many people and situations I could have never experienced otherwise. Working in the energy sector, I’ve learned to write guidance documents on just about anything and that has proven to be beneficial in the culinary industry.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?

Using my savings to create my startup and moving back to Kinshasa. Creating SolAfrica was a calculated risk. The precautious access to energy on the African continent is a well-known issue and I believe the private sector is the most sustainable way to address the lack of access to energy.

Using my savings instead of waiting to raise a first seed round was a calculated risk but a risk nonetheless. I believe it paid off because of the huge demand. It was not hard to find clients and start installation within the first three months. In the US, I lived in San Francisco, California, in a comfortable set-up with a stable income. Building my startup forced me to downsize and be a lot more careful with my finances in order to be able to afford adding people to my team. More than the financial gain, I’ve learned many lessons on how to be a better leader, awaiting data before making decisions and being patient.

IF YOU COULD WISH AWAY A CHALLENGE TO YOUR BUSINESS OR THE INDUSTRY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I challenge the energy donor sector to work through private companies instead of negatively impacting the sector by offering free systems instead of subsidised systems.

For decades, international NGOs have been trying in various ways to increase access to energy by giving out free solar items such as lamps but we can’t ignore the effect it has on the private sector. As solar is becoming cheaper, supporting private companies by subsidising systems is the way to support the sector without taking away potential customers. Donors do not provide technical support for these systems after they’re given whereas private companies do. This makes these solutions sustainable.

WHAT TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES DO YOU USE FOR KEEPING A TEAM MOTIVATED?

Within my team, I always create a sense of trust and openness to allow for mistakes. When the team feels as if they can rely on each other for support, it keeps them motivated. And something else that I’ve learned is that giving positive feedback is better than giving negative feedback. Congratulate your team when they deserve it. For every point of critical feedback I give a team member, I try to find multiple positives, which I think is important and more productive.

HOW DO YOU MEASURE YOUR AND YOUR TEAM’S PERFORMANCE?

My team’s performance depends on the numbers. I often rely on numbers to make decisions as they tend to be more consistent in their judgement. In order to be objective, we create clear quarterly and monthly goals with different values where everyone is able to track their performance. Additionally, we use client retention, sales numbers, etc. to measure the overall team progress.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH UNCERTAINTY AS A LEADER IN A TIME WHERE LEADERSHIP IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER?

It’s rare for me to feel certain as a leader. But it’s not necessary to be certain to make leadership decisions. I make decisions based on the team, the structure that we have, and the ability to follow through with the decision. And acknowledging uncertainty does not taint one’s leadership.

WHAT ROLE DO YOU SEE YOUR TEAM PLAYING IN THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY OF THE 2020 GLOBAL PANDEMIC?

Given that SolAfrica offers financing for solar solutions, we would like to help companies recover from the economic damage by helping them become energy independent. Through our partnerships with our investors, we identify companies that are using diesel generators as their main source of energy and convert them to solar. This usually results in a cheaper monthly cost.

HOW IMPORTANT IS SCENARIO PLANNING WHEN IMPLEMENTING ANNUAL STRATEGIES?

We create annual strategies based on the data we collect from the previous years, and make projections based on worse and best case scenarios.

WHEN WE TALK ABOUT DIGITALISATION, THE COMPLEXITIES AND INTRICACIES, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS AROUND THIS AND HOW IT WILL CHANGE THE SHAPE OF THE POWER AND ENERGY SECTOR AFRICA?

Digitalisation has made information much more accessible and digestible. But without access to energy, it is nearly impossible to join the digital age. Digitalisation is helping the power sector to flourish in areas where there is access to energy; but in areas where there is no access to energy, digitalisation isn’t playing as big a role.

WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR LEGACY TO BE?

I’d like my legacy to be elevating young Africans. I believe the world is truly missing out on the African youth’s creativity and genius. Beyond providing access to energy, I hope to provide access to opportunities to the youth in the DRC and across the African continent.

Access the full digital publication

Request a copy of the print publication