The Empowering Force of Sustainability: Norah’s Journey

Do you remember Norah Magero? If you are committed to Africa's energy transition, odds are you already red or heard something about her. At RES4Africa we met her more than a year ago, on the occasion of the first edition of our Micro-Grid Academy Young Talent of the Year Award. She had applied to the contest with Koyo, an affordable 50-litre solar-powered fridge and freezer, developed with Drop Access, an organisation dedicated to the provision of sustainable energy access to rural communities in Africa. Impressed with her determination, brilliancy and resourcefulness, the MGA Evaluation Committee decided to assign the Kenyan engineer and entrepreneur one of the three monetary prizes at stake and to provide Drop Access with visibility and networking solutions. But that was just the start of Norah's story.

From Words to Deeds

A little more than a year later, Norah has still many irons on the fire: she is pursuing her mission with passion and enthusiasm, fully conscious that it goes way beyond building a successful business. She relies on a vision of renewable energy so well-structured and fact-based, that is practically a mini masterclass of sustainability. As she explains, "Renewable energy holds the keys to unlocking immense potential for growth and access for African communities; […] depriving people of energy security […] has slowly become a human right issue".

Brave, bold, inspired…but also knowledgeable. Norah's conception of sustainable energy is based on Africa's "vast untapped resources for renewables", which should be put at the service of rural off-grid communities. Only in this way the productive uses of energy can truly be unleashed, ensuring that their added value is given back to the communities: universal access to electrification, better healthcare, improved gender equality and, ultimately, a more prosperous life for all. And Koyo was, literally, the materialisation of Norah's vision: an object as simple as a fridge, with the incalculable potential of changing so many lives.Winning the first edition of the MGA Award could be considered as an accomplishment in itself…but for Norah, it was just a launchpad to build something even bigger.

Change, Adapt, Overcome

COVID-19 is a global phenomenon which had a harsh impact on the lives of all human beings. Nevertheless, it would be unfair and incorrect to state that its effects were evenly distributed across all the regions of the world: in many areas of the African continent, basic healthcare and access to energy can't be taken for granted, and so cannot the luxury of accessing adequate facilities and proper treatment, in case of infection.

Sometimes, however, it takes just a small, innovative step to leave a deep mark. "Since winning the MGA Award, we managed to adapt our product from a food-based solar refrigerator (Koyo) to a Vaccine refrigerator (VacciBox), and also conduct a successful pilot at 2 sites in Kenya. The first site is Usungu Health Centre […] located in Kibwezi West Sub-County […] the second site is at Merrueshi Village Health Centre located in Maasai Simba Camp/Conservancy".

Once again, the seeds of truly impactful actions could sprout up, as they were planted in a solid ground of awareness. Both the pilot locations are either widely off-grid, or rely on inadequate medical facilities and energy infrastructures. Just to give an idea of the seriousness of the situation, Norah tells us that the Merrueshi Village Health Centre"Can only stock a limited number of child-based vaccines, since the facility uses a soda fridge to store [them, ed…] They used an icebox to transport vaccines and always incurred in vaccine loss and wastage". Blunt instruments for a monumental battle. However, thanks to VacciBox, in Merrueshi it is now possible to safely transport vaccines, without incurring in the risk of spoilage. On top of that, Usungu Health Centre managed to increase the vaccination rate in the area by 45%.

More than a business accomplishment: a gift to the people of entire communities. Fully aware of the logistic and technological gaps hampering the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa's most remote areas, Drop Access provided a straightforward, smart and effective solution, with results that couldn't be more tangible or coherent with the current emergency. Bravo.

The Inspiration Continues

Even though the story we are telling today is one of success, the past year was not all fun and games, for Norah and the Drop Access team. The pandemic caused the shipping and equipment prices to shoot up, while Kenya's lack of technical and infrastructural support for manufacturing caused unexpected organisational and timeline setbacks.

Nonetheless, the wind of change cannot be stopped, thanks to those who make it blow, like Norah. Putting together strong technical skills, a bold but clear vision, a rare business acumen, and her strong will to produce an impact, she embodies a bright, inspiring example of empowerment.

An example that, at RES4Africa, we decided to support from the very moment we got to know it, and in which we believe every day more.

As she acknowledges, "Our victory in the MGA Award sparked a chain of positive reactions in our organization. It not only supported our traction developing a working prototype […] We were also enrolled into national and global accelerators, and […] other donors could see that we had been trusted by RES4Africa Foundation. Since winning the MGA, we successfully raised a follow-up funding of at least 100,000 Euros in 2021".

The future ahead looks bright for Norah and Drop Access, despite being aware of many walls still to climb over. As she tells us, "We foresee hindrances with the policy regulations on healthcare fridges […] and a potential challenge of tax regulations and demands on local manufacturing.". And yet, this testing circumstances cannot block the unstoppable, daily strive towards sustainability…and surely can't stop Norah, as she outlines the future of Drop Access. "The immediate goal is to launch our fridge into the market by the last quarter of 2022. This will support our ambition to eventually have our own production workshop […] for use in not only the healthcare but food and SME sectors. We plan to expand our market base to East Africa by 2023 and eventually to the rest of Africa".

Let's keep on rooting for Norah Magero, Drop Access and all the other changemakers: Africa and our world need them and their inspiring guidance…now more than ever.

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Africa is a continent in continuous transformation, with a sustained economic and population growth, a fast-paced urbanization and a young generation of talents who is leading its business revolution. This transformation requires energy and will require it even more in the next decades.
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