Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lighting Up Africa: Ann Kihengu, [Powerful African Woman 1]

Success is a concept that is notoriously hard to define; it depends on your personal values. The successful Powerful African Woman (PAW) is defined as a woman who breaks the mould, rises above expectations and impacts the lives of fellow Africans. Anyone can be a PAW. 

Ann Kihengu, intelligent and socially aware
27- year old Ann Kihengu of Tanzania may be relatively little known, but to the Tanzanians she has reached, her efforts to safely and sustainably light up their homes will never be forgotten.

As I sit here typing, my laptop and phone batteries are fully charged. Both room light and desk light are shining brightly and of least concern is not having electricity to work with. But having been born and raised in urban Nigeria, I can relate, somewhat, to the ‘no light’ experience of the people of rural Tanzania. In a country where only 11% of the population have access to electricity, the most common lighting option is a kerosene lamp. These lamps are dull, smoky and pose a fire hazard to their users. Kerosene fuel purchase also consumes a heavy proportion of already meagre incomes. In return, lamp users develop poor eyesight, respiratory problems and risk burns or even death. This has a profound impact on children’s school performance; and the general lack of electricity severely limits business opportunities. The poverty cycle, now well established, has been hard to break.

Some of PRIAN's trainee distributors
Ms Kihengu, the 2010 African Laureate for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, saw an opportunity to achieve her dream of entrepreneurship while meeting the needs of her community. After university, she spent 3 years working in the solar power sector and during this time, gained the knowledge about alternative energy sources and the market for it. Although her company provided a great product, she identified slowness and lack of penetration of the products into the areas that needed it most. Ann resigned in order to start up her business, PRIAN Limited, without the approval of close family, and in an innovative move, she utilised a Tanzanian social media platform to recruit interested, out-of-work youths to serve as distributors for her new business. She trained these young men and women in core marketing and entrepreneurial skills, enabling them to earn incomes of their own and support their families. She sold solar-powered lights and phone chargers to these youths who in turn went deep into villages and sold them for a small profit. Ann sold over 10,000 lights in the first year of PRIAN and now has a team of 18 entrepreneurs training and working under her leadership. Her vision is to grow to a network of over 500 youth distributors by 2015 and to provide safe lighting for 1 million residents of rural Tanzania. With one social enterprise, Ann is fighting poverty, improving health, aiding development and motivating young men and women to aspire for a better life. She has learned to listen to her inner voice and take responsibility for her own life; she  is bent on teaching others to do the same.

One woman inspiring many; the essence of a PAW. Ann Kihengu is also a member of the World Entrepreneurship Forum Think Tank.

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