When I was leaving university and trying to figure out what I wanted to do professionally, I became interested in the world of renewable energy. 

The sheer scale of the consequences which man-made climate change could have on the planet – and on the lives of everyone on it – had seriously dawned on me. Though I didn’t understand all of the science, or all of the details of these consequences (and I still don’t claim to be an expert), it was clear that climate change was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenge we face.

Fast forward a few years and I was working in the renewable energy sector. However, one aspect of this work which I always found quite hard was that the impact of the work I was doing was not easy to quantify. It was, for example, hard to link my everyday job to slowing climate change.


Virgin Unite, Energise Africa

It was around this time that the off-grid energy market in sub-Saharan Africa was starting to gain traction. I saw this as an incredible opportunity to continue working in the climate change sector, whilst adding another crucial element – energy access. 

Over the last five years, the off grid energy market in sub-Sharan Africa has gone from strength to strength – especially in the PAYG solar space

Combining these two elements made the impact of the work much more tangible – especially considering 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. The opportunity to work on a market based approach to development was hugely exciting for me. Whilst charity has, and will continue to have, a huge role to play in society, the potential impact of a sustainable and scalable market based approach was incredibly appealing. 

Many families in sub-Saharan Africa use traditional energy sources, such as kerosene lamps, candles, and batteries for their energy needs – these can be extremely hazardous, can have serious negative health implications, and are incredibly expensive. 

Virgin Unite, Energise Africa

The Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) model enables families to pay for solar home systems over a one to two year period, replicating the outgoings they would have spent on these traditional sources of energy with a clean, safe, and often cheaper alternative. This alternative also has the potential to stimulate increased economic activity for households and small businesses.

Over the last five years, the off grid energy market in sub-Sharan Africa has gone from strength to strength – especially in the PAYG solar space –  with a handful of companies now raising significant financing rounds and reaching hundreds of thousands of families across the region. 

Unfortunately though, many companies working within the space still face considerable challenges, especially when it comes to accessing capital.  


Virgin Unite, Energise Africa

Energise Africa is a new crowdfunding initiative operated by Lendahand Ethex (a joint venture between Lendahand, a Dutch based crowdfunding platform focused on impact investing in emerging markets, and Ethex, a UK based non-profit social impact savings and investment platform). Virgin Unite is partnering with UK aid and Energy 4 Impact to support this initiative.

Energise Africa takes an innovative approach to source debt for PAYG solar companies in sub-Saharan Africa from the UK crowd. The UK has one of the largest and most innovative crowdfunding markets in the world, and Ethex has an active and engaged network of retail investors in the UK. I have been very grateful for the opportunity to work on this project, enabling me to stay in touch with the sector and with many of the companies trying to scale across sub-Saharan Africa.


Virgin Unite, Energise Africa

The official launch of Energise Africa was last week. Having already successfully raised £450,000, the platform has now listed an additional three campaigns for companies raising debt. We anticipate that the initiative will continue to grow, providing access to larger amounts of debt for an increasing number of PAYG solar companies in sub-Saharan Africa – ultimately with the aim of increasing access to cleaner energy for the 600 million people still without electricity.

This communication is not intended to constitute a financial promotion for the purposes of section 21 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, or to constitute investment advice.