CHIEF FINANCIAL ANALYST & TECHNICAL ASSISTANT TO CORPORATE & REGULATORY SERVICES DIRECTOR | KENGEN

Joan Chahenza is a Renewable Energy Finance Professional with her main areas of expertise in Power Purchase Agreements development and negotiation, financial modelling, and project structuring both on a project and corporate finance basis. She has been involved in tariff setting and PPA negotiation of major renewable energy projects in Kenya whose total project cost is over $1 billion. She is a Future Energy Leader at the World Energy Council, a Young African Leader Initiative (YALI) Power Africa, Women in Africa Power 2019 fellow and a fellow of the Open Africa 2020 programme.

WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU THE MOST IN LIFE?

Seasoned women leaders in the energy sector inspire me. Women who have chartered new pathways and are now breaking the glass ceiling keep me focused on achieving my goals. Someone noteworthy is KenGen’s Managing Director & CEO, Rebecca Miano. She is the first female CEO in KenGen since the company’s inception in 1954.

Additionally, I continue to draw inspiration from my mother: she sacrificed a lot to ensure that I achieved the best in life. She is resilient, a hard worker and has a persistent spirit. Her mantra when we were growing up was that you could be anything you wanted to be as long as you worked hard and had faith in God. She continues to inspire me to be the best version of myself and to strive for greatness

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

Promised Land by Barack Obama. This book is a memoir of his political and personal life while in office. This inspirational book and review of Obama’s leadership and family life is a must-read book for leaders. It provides a candid look at the life of one of the greatest leaders in America and how he handled his term in office, shedding light on some of the decisions he took and also giving us an opportunity to view his family life.

WHEN MEETING OTHER LEADERS WHAT DO YOU ASK THEM?

How did you get to where you are today? Being on the periphery, we often only see the outcome and not the journey that leaders have taken to get to where they are. I’m interested to know a leader’s value system, as it creates a leader’s character. It is said that your talent will get you to places of preeminence but it’s your character that will keep you rooted in that position.

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

My earliest leadership experience was in leading a small church group of young ladies. The opportunity to mentor female youth with different personalities and backgrounds provided me with valuable experience and foundational leadership knowledge, which I have continued to apply in my professional journey. In 2016, I was elected as the Secretary for KenGen’s Pink Energy Ladies Forum, which had over 500 women – a post that I served in for two years (2016 – 2018). This forum encourages women participation in key activities in the company and is anchored on the following pillars: Personal development and empowerment; striving for a conducive working environment for women while promoting gender awareness in the workplace. As part of the founding leadership team, I celebrate the success that the Forum has achieved. The key leadership lesson here is that you do not get far unless you ask or create the path to achieve success.

IS A LEADER BORN OR MADE?

There have been many leaders who have been born into powerful leadership family dynasties and have taken on the leadership mantra from their lineage; however, I believe that leaders are made and not born. Anyone seeking to lead, inspire and motivate a team can acquire the skillsets needed for effective leadership.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A SUCCESSFUL LEADER?

A successful leader is one who is self-aware, emotionally intelligent and effective in managing themselves. Effective communication and strategic thinking are other critical traits for leaders in addition to managing complex situations in complex environments. Having a futurefocused outlook looking at trends and innovation are other important aspects of successful leadership.

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

The African banking and finance sector is an interesting space that is evolving. This sector plays an important role as financial intermediary and in capital formation, which is critical in to embrace innovative and change. I believe business leaders need to learn how to manage complexities and craft contingency plans. I will single out one business challenge in the industry sector, i.e offtaker risk. Most power markets in Africa are single buyer models, where bulk electricity is sold to a single offtaker. In most cases, these offtakers are state-owned utilities often perceived as not being creditworthy, so governments are required to guarantee investments which puts pressure on African governments. An uncreditworthy offtaker situation in most African countries is further compounded by the fact that only two countries in Africa have a financially viable electricity sector, i.e. Seychelles and Uganda.

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

Changing my career eight years ago from a thriving career in mainstream consultancy doing audit and risk to Energy Finance. This was a radical move; the transition was informed by my desire to move into the renewable energy space. I had not fully appreciated the challenges involved in delivering bankable projects. Project structuring that delivers bankable projects takes a lot of predevelopment time and effort. It takes resilience and patience to see a project move from origination to financial close and implementation.

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

Business challenges are necessary in enhancing an innovative culture. Businesses that are in comfortable operating environments are not compelled to embrace innovative and change. I believe business leaders need to learn how to manage complexities and craft contingency plans. I will single out one business challenge in the industry sector, i.e offtaker risk. Most power markets in Africa are single buyer models, where bulk electricity is sold to a single offtaker. In most cases, these offtakers are state-owned utilities often perceived as not being creditworthy, so governments are required to guarantee investments which puts pressure on African governments. An uncreditworthy offtaker situation in most African countries is further compounded by the fact that only two countries in Africa have a financially viable electricity sector, i.e. Seychelles and Uganda.

WHAT TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES DO YOU USE TO KEEP A TEAM MOTIVATED?

I believe that celebrating success and milestones – career milestones and personal successes – keeps teams motivated. In addition, celebrating and giving recognition where it’s due helps in creating an environment where each employee feels appreciated. These practices, I believe, will lead teams to bring out their best in every task that they undertake.

YOUR AND YOUR TEAM’S PERFORMANCE?

A team’s performance should be measured by performance measurement tools that transform an organisational strategy into executable actions. Team performance should be measured against financial targets, internal business processes, customer satisfaction and learning and growth which includes innovation. A well-crafted performance management tool is useful in determining the impact of a team. I am glad that the efforts of my team go a long way in ensuring the provision of clean, reliable and competitively priced electricity towards the realisation of SDG 7 in sub-Saharan Africa.

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

I believe that business resilience and continuity has been tested during the COVID-19 pandemic. In moments of disruption, crisis and uncertainty the true spirit of a leader is tested and proven, and the foundational values of a leader are exposed. It is in these times that leaders need to be anchored on strong business fundamentals. It is during times of disruption, chaos and crisis that leadership is needed the most. I believe that leaders should clearly communicate their vision and action plans, ask for help where possible as it is not expected that a leader will have all the answers, and be positive that the situation will change. Remaining an authentic leader during this period and building confidence in teams enhances trust.

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many sectors in the African economy. Governments that restricted the movement of its citizens and instituted lockdowns were faced with a significant reduction in demand for electricity due to the slowdown in economic activities.

Power demand in many countries, including Kenya, is now on a recovery path with many industries recovering from the slowdown effects of the virus on the economy. We are in the decade of action for the delivery of the sustainable development goals, despite the fact that 2020 started off on a different trajectory due to COVID-19. I am confident that my team will continue to provide energy solutions that ensure access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services, towards the realisation of SDG 7 by 2030, therefore catalysing the economic growth of Africa.

HOW IMPORTANT IS SCENARIO PLANNING WHEN IMPLEMENTING ANNUAL STRATEGIES?

Scenario planning is all about addressing the ‘What if?’ Resilient businesses should be able to have contingency planning to cater for unforeseen circumstances. Companies need to be adaptable, resilient and flexible due to the uncertainty of the future. It is important for businesses to craft strategies that are flexible, given that business environments evolve with time and even the best forecasting tools have a degree of uncertainty.

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?

In achieving the energy transition in Africa, Africa has the opportunity of taking a clean development path by embracing renewable energy in meeting universal access by the year 2030. Digitalisation will play a crucial role in driving the energy transition.

Energy leaders in Africa should embrace new frontiers in supply and demand energy ecosystems. In achieving new frontiers energy leaders should explore the rollout of e-mobility, Pay As You Go (PAYGO), Internet of Things, smart grids, decentralised and captive power, and blockchain.

WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR LEGACY TO BE?

I want to be remembered as a leader who impacted the lives of people especially those who are less privileged. I want to be remembered as a leader who raised the next generation of women leaders through mentorship and inspiring young ladies to build on their competencies and confidence. I want to make a lasting change on the energy landscape of Africa through the creation of progressive policies that create stable regulatory frameworks which facilitate financial flows into energy infrastructure development.

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