Senegalese-American R&B star Akon, 42, plans to open a solar academy this summer in Mali, adding job training to the repertoire of his solar power lighting company in Africa.
The Akon Lighting Africa initiative brings solar power to rural communities around the continent. The solar academy will be a professional training center and a first of its kind on the continent, according to a video on Vibe.
African entrepreneurs, engineers and technicians are the targets of the academy, according to Vibe.
Akon announced the creation of the academy at the U.N. Sustainable Energy For All Forum May 21 in New York City. Company co founders are Thione Niang and Samba Bathily.
Since launching in February 2014, Akon Lighting Africa is already in 14 countries, Niang said. These include Mali, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Niger, Senegal and Benin. The company offers micro lending to provide solar-powered micro-grids and street lighting systems that it says are clean and affordable for rural African villages.
Akon’s venture joins a crowded field of entrepreneurs, investors and governments looking to establish off-grid solar projects across the continent, WallStreetJournal reports. One thing that differentiates Akon Lighting Africa is its growth rate.
Akon says one reason for that rapid growth is that the company initially funds projects itself to show the benefits and technology to potential buyers. The average investment per village is $75,000, the company says. The company has invested almost $400 million so far, according to WallStreetJournal.
“I myself was raised in Senegal. I can see what it felt like to be raised in poverty, without light and go days without eating,” Akon told an audience at the U.N. “I felt it, I understood it, it made me cherish light that much more. It put me in a position to be a lot more helpful as a celebrity, and understand and feel things that normal people feel.”
There’s a generation of young African who are not looking for aid anymore, Niang said. They want jobs. That’s where Akon Lighting Africa comes in. It’s going beyond bringing solar energy to rural Africa. “We’ve got millions of Africans without work. We’re bringing them the skills to install and maintain the lights, so it creates jobs.
“We are looking to create our own opportunities,” Niang said. “We truly believe that the aid is not helping us. People like us, young Africans who have traveled the world, have seen the world, have seen what it takes to develop a country, are coming back to make sure we make the changes necessary.”
The solar academy is being introduced in partnership with Solektra International and European experts who will supply training equipment and programs. It aims to provide training in every aspect of installing and maintaining solar-powered electric systems and micro-grids in particular, which are really taking off in rural Africa, Vibe reports.