Meet Waringa Matindi, the CEO of the solar company Village Energy in Uganda. Village Energy sells and installs productive use solar energy systems at institutions and small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in Uganda and herewith services a niche market. There are around 200 solar companies in Uganda, of which the large majority focuses on home systems and minigrids. Village Energy currently has 22 employees, of which 10 female. Special about Village Energy is that the complete management team, consisting of five, is female!
The energy sector, including solar energy, is definitely a male dominated sector. As far as Waringa knows, she is one of the few female CEO heading a solar company in Uganda. She guesses the reason is that most solar companies are established by engineers and these tend to be male. Admittedly, the Village Energy co-founders were also men. According to Waringa, a company should make a deliberate choice to hire women for top positions, and this is what Village Energy did. They recently even managed to attract a female Chief Technical Officer (CTO), completing the all-female management team. Not all of the staff appreciated from the beginning to be managed by a woman. Now, both old and new employees are used to it.
Waringa is Kenyan and has a background in gender and development. She worked for 13 years for local and international NGOs in East Africa. In these jobs she concluded that many problems would be solved if marginalized and vulnerable people had access to money. She decided that she wanted to work for a company that does exactly that: generating income. When a small business has access to energy, they can do more and better business. This income increase has a positive ripple effect for the community.
One of Village Energy’s clients, a health clinic, is a perfect example of how solar power can create wealth. Village Energy started with installing a small solar system in order to generate light in the maternity department of the clinic. Pregnant women feel safer and more comfortable and the number of clients increased. Thereafter the clinic installed a bigger solar system, making it possible to increase the number of laboratory services and to have a fridge with vaccines for children. The profit of the clinic doubled. The impact is more employment and a client base for the clinic that is sure of good and reliable health services.
Waringa distinguishes three main challenges for her company. The first is to get financing for their customers. Village Energy for a while offered pre-financing.However, when clients pay late – which happened a lot, especially in the Covid crisis – this has a very negative effect on the cashflow, leading to an unsustainable business. Currently, they are working with two local banks to offer solar loans.
The second challenge concerns trust. There are and have been many cheap and low quality solar systems on the Ugandan market. These often break down beyond repair, resulting in potential clients no longer believing in solar power.
The last challenge is finding employees with the right skills and attitude. Getting and building a good team is an ongoing process that takes a lot of time.
Brilliant Entrepreneur is currently investigating the market for the development of aTalent-in-Business program specifically aiming at female sustainable and renewable energy entrepreneurs. This includes solar entrepreneurs, but also biogas entrepreneurs, cooking stoves, training institutes for solar technicians, etc.Waringa would love to participate in such a program about self-development in connection with business development, and some of her female managers as well. Are you a woman in the renewable and sustainable energy and also interested? Let us know and we will connect with you.