From Cleveland.com. Story by
Thione Niang, 37, is accustomed to overcoming obstacles.
He’s the only one of his 27 siblings who moved to America. After his visa was denied four times, he came to the U.S. in 2000 with just $20 and couldn’t speak much English.
He stayed with a Senegalese taxi driver for a few months and saved $800 working as a bus boy in New York before moving to Cleveland with a student visa.
In the past five years, this Senegal-born political strategist has traveled to 72 countries as founder of the Give 1 Project. Today it’s in 30 countries with more than 24,000 members. Last month marked the fifth year he’s brought young leaders from all over the world to the White House.
Niang, like millions of other immigrants who came to America, came to escape poverty and create a better life. He grew up in a polygamist family, his father having three wives and 28 children. They lived in a three-bedroom home with no energy source. Rice was often the only food for four or five days, and he studied at night by candlelight when he could. Mostly, he woke up early to study by sunlight. He never forgot those years, or the 600 million Africans who are still without power.
Two years ago, he changed his career focus. Now, along with R&B superstar Akon, and Samba Batily, CEO of solar energy solutions company Solektra, he’s co-founder of Akon Lighting Africa. It’s a unique business model that offers solar kits to households and small communities. They’re pre-financed with a $1 billion credit line with international banks and financial partners.
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“You have to think big, bigger than yourself,” Niang said nonchalantly. “Anything that you can think of is possible.”
But even with this venture, this youth empowerment activist is among a trio that’s finding ways to empower others. They’re providing clean energy in the form of solar panels, street lights, and micro-grids to rural areas in Africa that have no access to electricity. Just as important, they’re training people in those communities to serve as installers for the energy project.
It’s a business that’s also giving back in the form of education, employment, and donations such as computers to schools. Earlier this year, they created a school in Mali, Africa, to train people in all aspects of renewable energy, business, engineering and installation.
So far in just two years, Akon Lighting Africa is in 15 countries in Africa, and about 5,200 people are working to install and maintain the lights.
“We’re working hard to electrify thousands of villages in Africa,” said Niang, who was just nominated as an ambassador by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Read more at Cleveland.com.