What follows is my personal review of the year. I would like to take you with me in my personal review of the year.
Many not yet published pictures and information
I began last year full of energy. In January 2020, two very experienced journalists, Henner Frankenfeld and Jürgen Schneider, accompanied Aida and I on our work in the villages in Sahelin.
The end result is an exciting and authentic documentary about the electrification of villages in Mali, which millions of people have already been able to profit from.
The Deutsche Welle documentary is now available in three languages. Here the English version:
While we were shooting in February 2020, the first news about a virus from China arrived in Mali.
On March 15, 2020, I caught one of the last planes from Bamako to Germany and then had to fight hard, not only for the preservation of our company and the jobs of more than 100 people, but also for the continuation of our operating companies, which now supply more than 100,000 people with clean electricity.
I vividly remember the words of a friend who, in April 2020, suggested that we should “give up”, that we should “shut everything down”. Instead, we decided to fight, not only for ourselves, but for others.
I sat in front of the computer every day and every night, watching as we gained supporters. We went on to break records as the largest ever German self-funding round of its kind, attracting more than 500 investors. By the end of June 2020, we had raised more than €500,000.
In July 2020, on the 80th birthday of our mentor Muhammed Yunus, we were able to be part of a small group of 50 people who, in sync with hundreds of thousands worldwide, held the first “digital event” at Messe München. Yunus charges us with positive energy every year and encourages us in our mission.
On stage, I took the opportunity to draw attention to the difficult situation of other German social enterprises during the coronavirus pandemic.
In August 2020, there was a military putsch in Mali. At first, we thought that was it for Africa GreenTec. In the end, had all the critics and worriers been proved right? Was it madness to electrify villages in the “most dangerous country on earth”, to invest in young people like Nassou Oumar? So often, these were the reactions of people we told about our work in the Sahel.
Fortunately for us, most of the soldiers and officers in Mali know well and personally appreciate and support us, simply because we operate in villages where many of the families of the Malian army live. Since 2014, they also take care of my security and are very grateful for what Aida and I have built in Mali. So we have had the Malian military “behind us” for many years now, sometimes literally:)
The villages in Mali with solar containers from Africa GreenTec continued to run independently, despite the coup d’état, despite the pandemic, and despite a national political and economic crisis.
We had to negotiate with our partners and investors to put our financing on a more stable footing, but there was no expropriation and no collapse of the project. On the contrary, the villages in which we provide a more secure, decentralized power supply did well during the pandemic. Sustainable and reliable access to electricity – independent of the political events in the capital – has proven to be a good protection for the people and thus underpins one of the core theses of our work: the meaningful and effective fight against the causes of flight.
Some argue that this is not possible. But we believe you can fight the causes of flight with social entrepreneurship. The lack of perspective within the migration movement – which many in Europe fear – can be changed with the initiation of professions, crafts and a reasonable, self-earned income, in which you invest in these young people. We have compiled some examples for you on our website under the category #ImpactStories.
Instead of giving money, you give people the opportunity to generate value yourself. That’s why we developed the #ImpactSite.
It’s a holistic approach that development aid has not previously been able to provide in this way. It still needs to be explained to experts, because our world, especially the financial world, is still very much divided into sectors. There are funds for water, investors for large energy projects, development aid for women and contraception, and much more.
Often, in some places in the Sahel, you meet 10 – 20 aid organizations that are active there, sometimes blocking each other or vying for the same grants/donations. When an annual budget draws to a close, investments often have to be made pointlessly, only to end up back in the pool of funding sources the next year. Is this efficient? Rarely.
That’s why I have repeatedly taken a stand against classic development aid in recent years. I am a convinced social entrepreneur who advocates a change primarily in the global financial economy. As a social enterprise, one thus fights against two poles: the purely profit-oriented companies (highlighted in blue on the graphic) and economic sectors that radically and mercilessly exploit the planet, people and society. On the other hand, we fight against heavily subsidized “aid organizations” that are often also susceptible to corruption.
Frequently, the entrepreneurs behind the purely profit-oriented companies are themselves very rich. We know the examples of Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Rockefeller, Bernard Arnault (Moet Hennessy) and others. They set up foundations with their enormous fortunes, and these foundations then become the main source of funds for NGOs and aid organizations as “philanthropy”.
If you look at the big picture, the purely profit-maximizing companies destroy livelihoods, exploit raw materials, often by destabilizing countries, creating social injustices, and the entrepreneurs then give a fraction of their profits back to the previously exploited countries through NGOs.
For far too long, Europe has also helped exploit the African continent in this way. We Europeans have received valuable resources at rock-bottom prices and paid slave wages to the workers. We in Europe also base our prosperity on this exploitation, which is an area that I want to personally tackle.
In Africa, the ratio between exploitation and return through development aid is 1 to 10, i.e. international corporations exploit the continent by a factor of 10 more than is returned through development aid (often tax-financed).
We are also trying to change this “system” via the association SEND e.V. with Social Entrepreneurship, in which we measure companies that we found and manage primarily by how we harm or, ideally, benefit society.
In September and October, we therefore focused a lot on the further development of our “Social Impact Measurement” system. This will be an important basis for our financing partners in the coming year, because you can only manage what you measure. You can find out how we do this by clicking on the image in our website section “How we measure our impact”. #ImpactFacts
Even if global investments in such companies are only a fraction of investments in the stock market, for example, we can see that we are at the beginning of a new era, the so-called “ImpactAge”.
This constant struggle between the two poles, donation-based development aid on the one hand and predatory capitalism on the other, then consumed me very much in the fall of this year, because we had to fight to continue to fund our work, and that although we do not use donations, but loans.
While billions of gifts were given to less sustainable companies through the KfW, we also failed in our economic system because we have not made any profits in recent years and, in addition, many investment projects, partnerships -because of Corona- were postponed, deferred, postponed.
The events that are also important for us, where we normally meet our international partners, did not take place. At the same time, we had to provide for and finance our 90 employees in Africa and our 20 employees in Germany.
Aida and I only managed to do this by working much harder and doing without almost everything ourselves.
In the meantime, the voices from my circle of friends have also increased, warning me of burnout and self-exploitation. Fighting too much, demanding too much of myself, has long been a problem for our families as well. I hear these voices, but as an entrepreneur I had no option this year, we had to fight to exhaustion like many others.
Therefore, giving up was not an option, after all, it is about nothing less than “saving the world”. But my children often ask me if I can’t be there for them rather than for the world. A question I ask myself again and again.
Then in November 2020 an exciting invitation arrived. We have had Chad on our radar for a long time, because the country, like Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, is a Sahel country with one of the lowest electrification rates in the world. This is very appealing to me as a solar pioneer, because once we have mastered Mali, we are convinced that we can achieve anything.
So we accepted the invitation and prepared the visit to the President of Chad. Our marketing team had come up with something very special for this, namely to build our ImpactSite once to scale and present it as a model.
How do you get such a large model into Chad in Corona times and then set up at the president? The question was very exciting and we fought with our aluminum boxes then also at the checkin. Unfortunately, the employees of Ethipian Airlines were not very helpful, if not to say really unfriendly!
Arriving in Chad, I experienced a sense of déjà vu. In June 2014, I visited a 20 MW diesel power plant from the 1960s in Mali’s capital Bamako, which ultimately led to the realignment of the business model at bettervest to focus on Africa, and, subsequently the launch of Africa GreenTec.
I could not believe it when, in December 2020, I found myself in an 80 MW diesel power plant in N’Djamena, which had only been built in 2012. The experiences and the sounds of the engines buzz in my head every night and are a key driver for new projects with Africa GreenTec in the coming years.
The experiences and the sounds of the engines buzz in my head every night and are an important driver for new projects with Africa GreenTec in the coming years.
In addition to the social aspects that we implement with ImpactSites, I was reminded that I had decided to found Africa GreenTec as a technology company geared towards climate protection. Consequently, I plan to devote much more time to this again: switching off diesel generators and replacing them with renewables.
A few days later we were able to convince and inspire the government and the people about the ImpactSite, but first we had to rebuild the model in the waiting room of the presidential palace.
The audience was attended by the president, the head of the cabinet, the minister of energy and the director of the state energy company. State television even ran a report about the meeting in the eight o’clock news.
Also the state television of the had reported in the evening on our audience in the 20 – o’clock – news:
Afterwards, Africa GreenTec was a trending topic throughout Central Africa. On the evening of the TV broadcast, we received over 1,000 applications from young people from Chad, Niger, Congo, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Cameroon via Facebook Messenger.
In the following days it went even further: currently, we cannot process the applications at all.
The local UNHCR staff also caught wind of our visit to Chad and invited me to think about the many refugee camps in Central Africa, in addition to developing ideas on how to electrify the villages of Chad. The Sahel is witnessing one of Africa’s largest humanitarian crises, and more than 3.5 million people have been displaced. I was very concerned about this topic, because with the #ImpactSite and our work, we are trying to prevent this in some way.
The United Nations is also looking for solutions and ideas on how people can regain a life, especially after the refugee camp, and therefore invited me to talk to you about the links between social entrepreneurship and humanitarian emergency aid. For me personally, this was an enormously important dialogue, also to sharpen my own business model and self-perception and to gain the insight that social entrepreneurs cannot fight poverty and flight when it has already begun, but only well before.
Together with the UNHCR staff I had the opportunity to discuss in depth. Afterwards I got the chance to visit the refugee camps at Lake Chad.
The days that followed were, for me, the most impressive experiences of the last years, because I met my own limits, but also developed a great vision, which I will launch in 2021.
Chad and Cameroon face increasing droughts, heavy rain, crop failure and hunger, especially at Lake Chad, where I was able to see the effects from the air with a UN plane. About 650,000 people live in the Lake Chad region, and roughly 350,000 of them are on the run, fleeing from Boko Haram and the fatal consequences of climate change. These consequences are devastatingly evident in this part of the Sahel.
Lake Chad has shrunk to an almost unimaginable extent. In the period between 1963 and 2007, it reduced from 250,000 square kilometers in area to just 2,500. 90 percent of the lake has evaporated, boiled away, rising into the shimmering, dust-dry air. What we are seeing is dwindling water and the number of refugees rising.
I then became aware of the dimension of the humanitarian crisis in early December, when I was with the UNHCR near Boma. Here, Boko Haram had carried out a severe massacre in early 2020.
The place is not a refugee camp, it is a camp of 30,000 people who were simply “stranded” 60 km further east after the Boko Haram attacks with nothing but their clothes on their bodies. Without food, water, sanitation, no hospital far and wide, no prospects, no future, only the horrors, Boko Haram and climate change behind them.
When we arrived at one of the emergency camps near Boma, hundreds of people quickly clustered around UNHCR vehicles. We sat down and listened intently to the angry people, and the group was joined by hooded men….
My eyes crossed and I hit my limit. I knew here that I was at the border between courage and madness because among the men were probably also terrorists. The danger to my own life was again very real and woke me up abruptly, making me aware of how dangerous it is to want to help other people.
The fear and dread ran through me from top to bottom, and yet the ferocity of the situation of the people who had fled here a few months ago was so cruel and gripping at the same time. I felt the great powerlessness of not being able to do anything here except draw attention to the situation and help the UNHCR get donations for tents, wells, and a health clinic.
After the exchange with the men, we visited a group of women and girls who had gathered at some distance. I looked into the eyes of the women and girls, could feel their suffering, their desperation and fear. The same fear of violence and terror that now I had felt.
We were able to return to the safe base camp with our column a little later, but the women, girls, children remained behind in this forecourt to hell. The images, the voices, the fine sand have haunted me incessantly ever since…
But I have answered another exciting question for me:
The so-called IDPs (internally displaced people) camps, of which there are more than 200 at Lake Chad alone, are not yet refugee camps. These are miserable accumulations of helpless, desperate people who have nothing but the shirts on their backs. To get an idea of what this means, here is a map of the 204 IDPs in the region I visited. At each of these little green “tents”, thousands of people are squatting. Every day there are more and more.
Better off are those who are recognized refugees and have such a status according to UNHCR law. As far as the UNHCR has the means, such people live in a refugee camp, of which there are currently 13 in Chad alone.
I was able to visit and get to know one of the larger ones in Baga Sola. It houses about 15,000 people, surrounded by over 300,000 who do not have such a status and are instead in an “IDP”.
Despite the fact that everything runs purely on diesel generators, the people here have at least a minimum of access to drinking water and emergency rations. There is a small market where I was able to talk with UNHCR staff about possible approaches to social entrepreneurship. This is where I found the dividing line again, where humanitarian emergency aid can work together with privately financed social business.
Many of the people here have been living in the refugee camp for many years, want to work again, want to participate in society again and make a productive contribution. But they are stuck because their home countries do not want to or cannot accept them. Often, the places they once lived in have been burned down by terrorist groups.
Most young people therefore want to migrate directly to Europe. So what can be done to create prospects for them to stay on?
Our ideas here are mainly the Cooltainer, which can be organized cooperatively, but also new products we are developing like container bakeries or solar pumps.
Independently we can help the UNHCR locally with clean energy and the reduction of CO2 – emissions, in which we will build a large PV battery plant in Baga Sola.
So that you can continue to be part of it and also actively support the development of Africa GreenTec, there will be another crowdlending, with a fixed interest loan in early 2021. You can register for the campaign here:
I wish you an exciting new year 2021 and I am looking forward to making the world better after Corona than we found it before Corona, because climate change has not taken a break and the challenges remain enormous.
Africa GreenTec is growing with you! We empower people to achieve more self-determination and growth through sustainable energy solutions. Join us!