Electrifying Entrepreneur: The Founder of Afriq-Power is Upgrading Mali
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Daniel Dembélé wants to electrify Africa.
Trouble is, so do foreign multinationals. For the past five years, the 31-year-old Malian social entrepreneur has been trying to keep one step ahead. In 2006, he installed locally produced solar panels in a school in Banko, Mali. With children able to study after dark for the first time, the graduation rate in the village rocketed from 20 percent to 97 percent.
Dembélé set up Afriq-Power with financial help from Practical Small Projects, an NGO based in the US and Mali. At the time, his solar panels cost 30 to 40 per cent less than secondhand European ones. “Then a couple of years ago, Chinese firms came to Africa and began selling panels for peanuts.” So he began offering solar charging systems for mobiles as part of the deal, so that schools and health centres could earn money by letting locals charge their phones. “As usual, the Indians and Chinese came up with a better product,” he says. “So I’m back to square one.”
Dembélé’s latest venture is a photovoltaic-powered cybercentre in Siby, a town 50km from Mali’s capital, Bamako. He’s raising £55,000 to pay for 25 low-wattage computers, which will offer internet connections at 70p an hour — the amount Dembélé estimates an average Malian child spends a day on mobile-phone use. “Malian students attain as much as those overseas, if you give them the tools,” says Dembélé. “What keeps my company alive is new projects and new approaches.”