Erica Mackey - The Decade Africa Went Solar
The launch of the US Global Development Lab featured leaders of all types—from the well renowned Hillary Clinton to a new name who is changing things in a different market, Erica Mackey. Erica, selected to showcase USAID’s work with entrepreneurs worldwide, is the dynamic young cofounder of Off.Grid:Electric, a company bringing modern energy to households throughout Tanzania.Erica opened the celebration with a devtalk story of how she is lighting up Africa:
Hi my name is Erica Mackey, and I am an operations junkie. More specifically, I love the feeling of structuring chaos. Over the next few minutes, I will tell you my story of how I ended up lighting Africa.
I have been living and working in East Africa for the past ten years and as it turns out, a place like Tanzania is ripe with just enough chaos, and limitless potential, to perfectly enable my addiction.
As you can see, I am not Tanzanian (I’m not even African). I’m a woman. And I’m relatively young. Combining these factors with my intense drive to be effective in this new environment, I realized immediately that the key to my success was going to be learning the language and the culture in Tanzania as quickly as humanly possible.
The first problem I focused on was bridging the gap between Tanzania’s free urban health services and the rural poor. Spending time rolling out mobile clinics and training rural health workers, I became curious about what these communities believed were their biggest challenges to development. So I asked them.
Surprisingly (to me at least as someone who has always been able to reach out an flip on a light switch) - access to electricity topped their list.
This got me thinking. Why is it that 50 years after Edison we have MORE people off the grid than on the grid? It seems unfathomable that 1.6B people live without access to modern electricity at this very moment. It also seems incredibly unfair that the world’s poorest people pay the most for the dirtiest energy.