COORDINATOR | POWER AFRICA

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOUR TEAM SUCCESSFUL?

The success of our team is due to its diversity. When we recruit we ask: “Is this individual smart, nice, hardworking and committed?” Technical expertise becomes less important. If an individual is smart and hardworking, they can learn anything and quickly. This has been the case with our team – within six months some are running circles around people who have been working in the sector for many years. The team sets high goals that are ambitious but achievable – we don’t set goals we know we can achieve. If you set goals a little higher and out of reach, the team is almost always able to achieve those goals or come very close to them.

HOW DO YOU INCLUDE INNOVATION INTO YOUR STRATEGY WITH THE HELP OF YOUR TEAM?

When there is an innovative breakthrough in a field, we dedicate team members to become subject matter experts. With their hardworking
attitude, they immerse themselves into that subject, which helps us cut through all of the hype of these innovations to see what is actually commercially viable and worth pursuing. Our team members like to take on challenges and push their boundaries.

HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE OTHERS TO DO THE SAME?

Adopting this type of approach with a team gives people new things to do,
empowers and motivates them, keeps them committed to the team, and the
vision, especially when working with a young and ambitious team.

WHAT ARE YOUR TEAM’S GREATEST BLIND SPOTS?

A shared blind spot among the team is prioritisation. A lot of individuals want to take on multiple tasks, or their supervisors overload them with tasks and people are often afraid to say “no” or can’t say no, making it difficult to prioritise what needs to be done. I regularly encourage my team
to approach me and their supervisors for help in prioritising tasks. I wish
more people on my team who are overwhelmed would communicate their workload with me.

HOW WOULD YOU SHIFT THAT LEARNING TO ADVICE FOR OTHERS IN THIS INDUSTRY?

As a leader, you should establish a culture among your team where they feel comfortable enough to approach you for help should they feel overwhelmed: Remind them that their mental health is your priority, with a focus on empowering them. If you want to retain a team member, you have to invest in that person and figure out what competing demands they have in their life and how you can provide them with enough flexibility to meet these demands while getting the job done.

HOW DO YOU SELECT WHO YOU PARTNER WITH?

We ask our partners for a firm commitment towards Power Africa’s goals, which we track and count towards our collective results.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?

Listening – it’s something I have always struggled with. Because I process information fairly quickly, I tend to jump into a conversation, often giving people the feeling that I have cut them off without listening to their point of view. I am continuously working on it as it’s critical for people to feel they have been heard. Secondly, not being the only person talking in the room. When you move into a leadership position, you can easily lose the system of checks and balances when you’re ‘running the show’ since there is no one to tell you to be quiet, and sometimes important opinions don’t get heard – often great ideas are missed if this isn’t managed.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

Understanding that not every member on your team is going to be an all-star and that that doesn’t mean they can’t be part of an all-star team. An all-star team is made up of different skillsets with a diverse mix of strengths and weaknesses – pair people and teams together strategically to elicit a desired outcome.

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

The job that I am in right now! I’ve been doing this for almost seven years – before that, I was living in Latin America with limited African and power sector experience. Therefore, to take on a job like this, which the former President of the United States was making a priority, was a tremendous risk and I was praying that I’d make it through. It was very difficult and a big learning curve. Years later, I am proud of everything that my team has accomplished in creating a model, not just for the US government but for how global development can be done in a way that brings together diverse partners in the private sector – government and multiple countries – to achieve a common goal.

WHAT IS YOUR ‘SECRET SAUCE’ FOR FOCUSING ON THE GOAL AMONGST THE NOISE?

Having high-level metrics – for us there are two goals that we need to achieve: megawatts (MW) and connections – and looking at everything that you’re doing and asking: “Is this going to help us achieve our high-level goals?”. At the end of the day, we are going to be judged on whether or not we achieved 30,000MW of new power generation and 60 million new electricity connections.

One thing we have achieved well at Power Africa is making sure that our partners feel valued, and helping our partners within the US government do more of what they already do well rather than trying to do it ourselves. We created the Opportunity Fund where if a partner presents an opportunity to advance our metrics, we can quickly respond. For example, the Kipeto wind project in Kenya was paused because of an issue involving a migratory bird species. We were able to quickly respond by doing a study to come up with a mitigation plan to let the project move forward.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN THAT OTHERS DON’T?

On a personal level: We have evolved to a point where people believe there is a cookie-cutter model to leadership. Within my organisation, I see this belief reflected in feedback surveys that ask if a person has a particular skillset. When I complete those forms on behalf of others, I often cringe, as I don’t embody all those skills that are valued. I tell young leaders, though, not to worry about these skillset lists. It takes a mix of skillsets to produce the all-star team.

Leaders come in all different shapes and sizes, with diverse skills and a mix of strengths and weaknesses. From a sectoral standpoint: I believe we will see a rapid transformation that will evolve around battery technology – not necessarily largescale. The future is going to include batteries as a commodity where people are using batteries to power their homes; using batteries for e-mobility; and using batteries to power cordless appliances. There will be an intersection between e-mobility and energy access, creating a wireless ecosystem. This new ecosystem will be the true leapfrog like mobile phones and I think it will start to happen within the next five years.

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK?

Falling battery storage prices. I think batteries are going to play a much greater role in the future. Both at the household level but also at the grid level. People need to latch onto this industry; there is a lot of investment. I still feel there will be a role for fossil fuels at least for the next 20 years, particularly in the area of cooking. Gas cooking solutions are needed so that people can live a modern lifestyle and stop walking, using biomass for cooking.

WHAT INDUSTRY CHALLENGE KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?

Countries changing the rules of the game. We work so hard to build capacity and get international investment and foreign direct investment into African countries, dedicating a lot of technical assistance to building government capacity. However, when a country suddenly says “We need to renegotiate all these deals that have been signed”, it creates a chilling effect that not only impacts the power sector, but all sectors. And when you have a global market like we have, where international investors can invest in Latin America or Asia instead of Africa, a “renegotiation” can cause decades of damage, in my opinion.