Senegalese-American RnB singer Akon may be best known for his string of platinum-selling records, but the Missouri-born artist is also becoming a rising star in the movement to bring electricity to rural Africa.
Visiting New York this week for the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All e4all summit, Akon and his two co-founders of Akon Lighting Africa, Samba Bathily and Thione Niang, took time out of their manic schedule to talk to WSJ Frontiers about their mission to bring solar power to rural Africa.
Launched in February 2014, ALA’s aim is simply to “bring electricity to African villages by a clean and affordable solar energy solution.” The company uses a micro-lending model to provide solar-powered micro-grids and street lighting systems.
Akon’s venture joins a relatively crowded field of entrepreneurs and investors—and governments—looking to establish off-grid solar projects across the continent. One characteristic that differentiates ALA, though, is its growth rate.
Just over a year since launching, the company has operations in 11 nations, including Guinea Conakry, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Benin and Sierra Leone.
One key trigger for that rapid growth, Akon says, is that the company funds initial projects itself as a way to demonstrate the technology and the benefits to potential buyers. According to the company, the average investment per village is $75,000 and the firm has invested almost $400 million in total so far.