Social Ventures – Energy in Africa (Series Introduction)

The “Social Ventures – Energy in Africa” series follows three MBA in Design Strategy students in their Social Venture summer course. Starting with research and fieldwork conducted in and around Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Anna Acquistapace, Olivia Nava and Eric Persha explore how business can be used to create positive social impact. California College of the Art’s MBA in Design Strategy is a groundbreaking program preparing the next generation of innovation leaders through a curriculum that unites design methodologies, business fundamentals, leadership and systems thinking. You can follow along with the series here.

Getting access to electricity sources is a major challenge for rural populations all over the world, but especially in developing countries. In Tanzania, 80% of the people live within 5 km of the power grid. 90% of them lack access to electricity. In most developed countries we tend to take electricity for granted, but in Tanzania the lack of access to electricity significantly impacts economic potential, education and healthcare, amongst so many other issues.

Now that we have landed in Tanzania, we will set out to understand the dynamics of the rural electrification issue with a geographic focus on the areas surrounding Tanzania’s financial hub of Dar es Salaam. While most of the country’s financial resources flow through this bustling port town, access to electricity ends abruptly outside of the city where the economics of connecting to the grid are prohibitive for the surrounding communities.

This research trip builds on our prior work and travel experiences in Africa and puts into practice our skills in human centered research and business design strategy. We’ve activated our networks to bring us opportunities for observation and investigation into the current energy and electrification market from the perspective of both providers and consumers.

Our team has partnered with dissigno, a solar consulting company that has a history of working in Tanzania and other developing markets to propose alternative solutions to the rural electrification challenge. Through working with dissigno’s cofounder, Gary Zieff, we will have the opportunity to work first hand on a solar installation project that brings solar reading lights and a sustainable financial model to several schools around Dar es Salaam.

As none of us have a background in engineering or product development, our goals are not to develop a new item to meet the needs of this specific market, or markets like it. Instead, our goal is to better facilitate adoption and distribution of existing solutions through an approach that combines empathic human centered with systems design and innovative business models. We would like to know – is there a better way to align market needs with the products and services that currently exist in the market?

Our ultimate goal is to create a social venture business plan that seeks to generate profit and local economic development while solving the social issue of lighting and electrification access around Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. While we have read our fair share of reports, we’re excited to be face to face with the people who think about or deal with this issue on a daily basis.

With an open mind and plenty of enthusiasm, we look forward to bringing you along on our journey. We will share our process, findings and final creations in this “Social Ventures – Energy in Africa” blog series and look forward to the comments and thoughts from Triple Pundit readers.

8 responses

  1. This is fantastic. I just returned from a trip to East Africa and spent a great deal of time pondering the availability and demands for electricity in homes and small businesses. I look forward to reading more about your findings. Thanks for filling me in Olivia!

  2. This is exciting. Interesting connection between your work in Africa and a project I’m doing some work on here in Texas. In a nut shell we’re helping high school students with a social innovation project designing micro grid energy systems for colonias (sub divisions sold with the promise of services, but they were never provided) which comprise about 45,000 Texas residents. I look forward to seeing what solutions y’all come up with and sharing them with students here.

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