When R&B and hip hop recording artist Akon launched his Akon Lighting Africa solar initiative in February 2014, it was only the first step in what he hopes will be a revolution in access to clean power on the continent.
The organization, which uses a micro-lending model to help fund solar micro-grids and other clean energy lighting projects, has invested more than $400 million in initiatives in the last year alone. This summer, the group plans to support the renewable energy industry's rapidly developing growth through the launch of a Solar Academy to train future African entrepreneurs, engineers and technicians.
"We have the sun and innovative technologies to bring electricity to homes and communities. We now need to consolidate African expertise and that is our objective," explained Samba Bathily, one of Akon Lighting Africa's co-founders at a recent United Nations summit. "We are doing more than just investing in clean energy. We are investing in human capital."
The Solar Academy, located in Mali's capital city of Bamako, will extend much-needed opportunity to one of the youngest populations in the world, with an estimated 70 percent of the population under the age of 35. By helping to spearhead both infrastructure investment and skills training, Akon is hoping to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
"We invest our own money to get things started," the 42-year-old Senegalese-American recently told the Wall Street Journal. "We go in, plead our case to the country, put up pilots with our own dollars using sophisticated equipment and we make sure we do the installation right. It shows people that we’re not coming in to pull money out of the country' we’re there to provide jobs for the locals and to enable them to feed their families."
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