Ifeoma Malo

Campaign Director | Power For All (Nigeria)

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOUR TEAM SUCCESSFUL?

With our core focus on energy access and climate change, our shared values, namely vision and vigour, are committed to tackling two critical issues across sub-Saharan Africa: energy poverty and climate change.

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

Innovation is achieved through constant ideation, which flows into how we solve problems. We have weekly team meetings on Mondays for project updates, while Friday meetings are for unpacking problems.

We ask ourselves; Are we solving the right problems? Are we using the right methods or approach? Are we winning new converts? Are we applying imagination and initiative in our approach? How are we adapting to the environment as a team? How are we making sure we are looking at issues differently to unlock the barriers that others do not see? It’s not just about making an impact or the metrics and numbers.

Knowledge and knowledge sharing should be democratised; there is something to learn from everyone.

HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE OTHERS TO DO THE SAME?

Knowledge and knowledge sharing should be democratised; there is something to learn from everyone. I have a young and diverse team between the ages of 23–40 departments – two years. These are bright, innovative and forward thinking people who are excited to be challenged and to take on new, bold, seemingly intractable problems and finding ways to unlock those problems. Everyone on the team is encouraged to attend conferences and workshops and present their ideas at public forums – this empowers and contributes to the company culture and shared vision.

WHAT ARE YOUR TEAM’S GREATEST BLIND SPOTS?

Often we are bogged down by short to medium deadlines and get sidetracked from the bigger picture. To avoid this, the team created a vision board, where we write our vision and regularly revisit the board to see if we are still on track or if we have only achieved the bread and butter items.

We ask ourselves three questions when we have seen that we have shifted focus:

  1. What has happened?
  2. What is currently happening?
  3. And what should happen?

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

It comes down to ‘predicting the future’, a term we often use in our organisation.

When we see that our focus has shifted, we look at how best we can address the current situation and get back on track with a view to attaining our long-term goals. The organisation is only as good and steady as its team members.

HOW DO YOU SELECT WHO TO PARTNER WITH?

There are three pillars that we review:

First is credibility; we always do our due diligence. We want to know whether the person we are doing business with has something we can rely on. This is important because when we haven’t done this, we have had our fingers burned.

Secondly, consistency is key! Have these people been consistent? Is there a track record that we can look at? We want to make sure that the work of our partners are evident and also align with our values and vision as outlined earlier.

Third is clarity on the type, manner and specifics of the partnership. People often think that it is about financial viability, but it is not: we work with start-ups and other businesses that are not as big but we want to make sure that the things that they are trying to accomplish are achievable.

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

Patience! As a leader I have learned to breathe and occasionally step back and give people the chance to make mistakes and learn for themselves. I have learnt to accept that foibles and mistakes are part of learning and growing. I have accepted to let certain things be and not expect perfection – everyone has different growth stages.

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

That consistency is integral to success. One of the things we have to stop and ask ourselves is whether we are ready to go on to the next big stage. My generation is very aspirational and always in a hurry, so sometimes it’s about taking time to ask: Do we stay where we are and level ourselves, or do we jump onto the next stage? Are we ready for that next stage? That is one way to build consistency rather than leap frogging.

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

One of the biggest risks we have taken as a team is pushing our job specs into unfamiliar territory. When we started our climate change practice, it was a space that seemed crowded, political and not well defined. However, because of our experience within the renewables sector, we already had insights into many of the climate issues. Before a project commences, we unpack four big issues around energy access that have climate implications, and identify and define work-streams around them.

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

It is in the power of imagination – if we dream it we can achieve it.

We recently trained a group of medical personal in Nigeria on energy access – many of whom asked why energy had any connection with what they were doing. Speaking to medical personnel about renewable energy and energy access, many of them said they never quite saw the connection and thought it was training for engineers. However, after unpacking the importance of regular power supply to their daily functions, and ability to practise optimally, it became clear how often the surgical departments experienced issues with power and having to schedule surgeries around times when there was a connection. These were things that they were willing to think about. It’s all about how you help them make the connection and help them understand how this is impacting their work, and the lives in their care.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN THAT OTHERS DON’T?

For over eight years I have championed the need to bring more women into all levels of decision making in the electricity sector. This has been done in the renewable energy sector and we see the impact and results of that. I deliberately hired women – currently 75% of the team is female. This intentional act was to turn around a myth that there weren’t qualified women or that there weren’t women considered to work in what we traditionally would say is a male-dominated sector.

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

The more I travel, the more I see the world is not what it was 10 years ago. I was in the US two years ago and I was amazed by the number of solar plants that I had seen in my hometown of Massachusetts where I lived for many years. The global energy space has a new focus on cleaner energy, and even the utilities are buying into it. In Nigeria, many of the distribution companies are beginning to open up mini-grid departments – two years ago, this didn’t exist. This is the future.

WHAT INDUSTRY CHALLENGE KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?

  1. The slow uptake of investments and financing in the sector.
  2. Aligning all government policies and functionaries in the energy access space for optimisation and coordination.

On a personal note: wondering whether my children will ever live in a country or continent that has over 20 hours of electricity in a day. When you become a parent you think about these things and their potential impacts. The current power output in Nigeria is 5-6 hours a day.