Glass Half-Full of Innovations

> Posted by Paul Rippey



The Firefly Lamp - Solar-powered light for Mali

The Firefly Lamp - Solar-powered light for Mali


I was in Mali with David Levai for two weeks back in January, working to put together a coalition of importers, financiers, and distribution networks to get solar lamps out to people in villages. During the visit we met a particularly interesting potential partner, Ibrahim Togola – a young Malian, fluent in five languages, and with a PhD in renewable energy and economic development.
Togola is the director of the Mali Folkecenter. The Mali Folkecenter has nothing to do with folk music and handicrafts and everything to do with clean energy. It is a Malian NGO that is affiliated with the Danish Folkecenter for Renewable Energy. It works to promote the sustainable management of natural resources and their use to catalyze sustainable local economic growth.
In a world of Afro-pessimism, Togola is an Afro-optimist. For him, the intense sunlight falling on the Malian Sahara is an untapped resource, waiting to be turned into electricity and sold to neighboring countries. He talks about the huge quantities of water under the sands of Timbuktu, waiting to pumped and used to turn Mali into a garden. Where I see a population explosion, Togola sees the enthusiasm, energy, and the capacity of young minds.
Togola has wrestled with the same conundrum as we have at Energy Links: new clean energy technologies are available that make perfect sense to consumers, but are being adopted slowly. The blockages exist in part because of a lack of communication among the different sectors that are necessary to make products flow out to villages. We see the problem in exactly the same way and only differ on our proposed solution.
While Energy Links has concentrated on bringing existing institutions to the same table, Togola has created new entities in each of three key sectors.
In 1998, Togola started the Folkecenter, an NGO, capable of implementing projects with donor money, but not structured to do the heavy lifting of massive commercial distribution of clean energy products. So, he started a for-profit company, ACCESS, an importer, wholesaler and retailer of energy products. Then, some of the ACCESS clients couldn’t find the cash to purchase the products that ACCESS was offering, so Togola started Nyetaa Finance, a credit union, specialized in financing energy-related investments.
Togola describes this structure, and also talks about what motivates him, in a new podcast, recorded in Bamako on US inauguration day, and now available on the Center’s site and iTunes.
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