Meet the Founder
Co-Founder, Sameer Hajee, explains Nuru Energy’s role in solving the energy poverty,
at the 2012 World Economic Forum meeting in Ethiopia.
The story of NURU Energy
In the late 90s, as a newly graduated electrical engineer, I moved to Silicon Valley to design microchips – an ideal job for me at the time. I lived and breathed technology and being in the Valley allowed me to be among other techogeeks, who, like me were keen to help build a new digital future from the ground up.
For years I felt that although what I did for a living was enjoyable, I was a small cog in a large wheel. I was interacting with the world from the confines of my small cubicle and remained completely disconnected from the users of the technology I was helping to design.
I left the Valley in 2003 in an effort to find a greater purpose.
An opportunity arose and I found myself working for a mobile telecom operator in Afghanistan. It was in war-torn Afghanistan that I found my calling. This is where I first saw how simple technology could drastically change the lives of the poorest. In that case, the introduction of a basic mobile phone immediately changed the way people interacted with each other and in the blink of an eye connected them to a world greater than the one that they could physically see. I was hooked.
Over time, I would come to work in different developing countries, studying different issues, studying different business models and working to introduce different technologies in rural markets. But it was in Rwanda that the foundation for Nuru Energy was laid.
I went to Rwanda for the first time in 2006, not knowing much about the country other than what I heard in the news or what I read in General Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil. Rwanda, in my mind, was an unstable country that was still suffering from the aftermath of the horrific genocide that occurred in 1994. Knowing that more than half of Rwanda’s population lives below the poverty line (<$1.25/day), with 1/3 below the extreme poverty line (<$0.50 per day), I had preconceived notions of what I was likely going to experience akin to some of the other post-war countries I had spent time in previously (Sudan, Afghanistan). What I expected to see was dilapidated infrastructure, poorly governed and corrupt institutions and unhappy, disenfranchised people. What I was greeted with was quite the opposite. Sure, there were issues, but Rwanda more than any other African country I had been to, was (and is) genuinely working toward a new positive future.
In the area of energy access however, there is still much work to be done. 80% of Rwanda’s population lives in rural areas and 80% of them do not have access to electricity. This is a situation that is similar in other countries. In fact, over 1.6 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity, most in rural villages and most in rural Africa (600 million people)
Why does this matter? Well, because access to energy is empowering. It is no coincidence that the 600 million people in Africa that live below the poverty line are the same people without access to electricity. Poverty and what they call “energy poverty” are linked. Imagine how different your life would be if you didn’t have electricity!
Energy is a basic need. When we started in Rwanda, we saw that the majority of the rural poor were so desperate for a little light that they burned kerosene, a dirty fuel source that was widely available, but that is an emitter of CO2, a leading cause of respiratory illness, household fires and burns.
I think back to 2008 when I met Elisa, a two-year old boy living in the Bugesera District of Rwanda. A kerosene lamp that his family had been using for light fell onto a mattress that Elisa was sitting on, setting the mattress and ultimately Elisa on fire. He miraculously survived, but was disfigured by deep scars that covered half of his body. Upon meeting this brave little boy, I was speechless. I had a 2 year old boy at home in North America who lived a completely different (privileged) life. He, unlike Elisa, does not have to worry about poverty, access to education, access to clean water, access to almost anything. He will never have to endure what Elisa has.
Nuru Energy was borne out of necessity. We realize that grid electricity is not going to reach villages anytime soon. Off-grid solutions (solar-power, wind-power) are an answer, but households earning less than the poverty line struggle and will continue to struggle to afford the most basic off-grid solutions.
At Nuru Energy, we have spent many years, pioneering and then refining, a sustainable, off-grid solution that catalyzes rural entrepreneurship within the village while at the same time allows the poorest of the poor to access the energy that they so desperately need to help them escape from poverty.
It has been a long road, but the journey has been worth it.