Yariv Cohen, CEO at Ignite Power tells us about the Pan-African developer of vital infrastructure projects.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Yariv Cohen: Leading a company in Africa is a challenge, and leading a company in Africa during COVID is an even bigger challenge, and leading a company in Africa during COVID with 2 little children at home is definitely one of the hardest challenges I ever had to face. But just like in the business world, we had to be creative and find ongoing solutions to answer our everyday needs. At the end of the day, when you find solutions and reach a certain balance, you can see the many benefits that a situation like this entails.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Ignite Power.
Yariv Cohen: I am the Chief Executive Officer of Ignite Power Ltd. We founded the company in 2014, with the goal of connecting everyone, everywhere, to clean, safe electricity. Since then, the company has developed into other fields and is now providing infrastructure solutions to more than 1.5 million people across the Sub Saharan region.
Before founding Ignite, I was the President of Camco Clean Energy, a global renewable energy developer that focused on Africa. I was always interested in the renewable energy field and was also keen to make a real change across emerging countries. Throughout the years of my career, I combined these two passions and witnessed the rise of the sector across the continent.
How does Ignite Power innovate?
Yariv Cohen: Innovation is a key member of our growing family, and it is an absolute must in order to reach millions of people across Africa. As we focus on the most rural, last-mile communities, product affordability is the main objective, and every dollar counts. To that end, we constantly innovate with our financial models and financing schemes. For example, we have a solar-based irrigation solution that we offer to farmers. Because they make their money during the harvesting season and not throughout the entire year, we devised a specific payment model called pay-as-you-grow, allowing them to pay only during harvesting. This made the systems affordable for many.
We also put a lot of emphasis on providing our customers with additional services based on the company’s infrastructure. For example, earlier this year, we launched a first-of-its-kind medical project, through which we provide last-mile clinics and health centers with solar power, satellite-based connectivity, and a wide range of technologies operated by the solar system. This project aims to empower medical teams and communities in remote locations and create an impact on a huge scale, providing millions with advanced medical services for the first time.
We also develop in-house tools and technologies to manage our daily operations, including advanced data analysis and AI-based recommendations for smarter, leaner operations and de-risking. The use of such technologies is a key factor in our operations and is enabling us to constantly push prices down and make our products and services the most affordable in Africa today.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Yariv Cohen: The first lockdown was hard, but since our solutions are crucial for everyday living, we were lucky to get an Essential Business certification and were able to continue with our operations. We had to act fast and adjust our operations model to fit the restrictions that the pandemic entailed. It was very important for us to keep our employees and customers safe, so we had to put a lot of effort into safety measures.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Yariv Cohen: During the past year, we’ve had to reconstruct our entire operations model, including on the field, in the offices and call centres; no rock was left unturned. These changes and adjustments had to take place on the go and while we were dealing with national lockdowns. I can say now that we were successful in making these changes and adjusting our operations to the COVID reality. The main driver for these adjustments was our team, with everyone having a strong sense of mission and responsibility and a deep understanding that what we do is extremely important, and even more so during these difficult times. The most important lesson was that having employees that feel the importance of what they do and feel connected to the company’s goals and actions mean you can deal with pretty much anything.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Yariv Cohen: In moments of danger, a person is faced with the fight or flight mechanism, and the same goes for a CEO during COVID. You can either run away, freeze or choose to act and fight. When you have a deep understanding of the importance of the work you do, you have no other option than to “fight”; get very active, and find an opportunity where the difficulty lies. In my experience, once you are able to focus on the doing and not on the circumstances, anxiety levels drop.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Yariv Cohen: Over 600 million people across Africa are currently living without electricity access, and the electrification rate is lower than the population growth rate, leading to an ever-growing market. This makes other competitors a blessing, as we want to reach 100% access, and we cannot do it alone. When looking at it from a business perspective, we invest a lot of effort to be one step ahead of the curve and develop proprietary tools to enable better decision making, support our economies of scale, constantly improve our service, and offer affordable pricing plans. Our financial models enable major economies of scale and push prices to be the most affordable in the continent today.
Your final thoughts?
Yariv Cohen: This year was challenging to all of us, as private people in our homes and with our families, or as business leaders and change-makers. My agenda remains to look at the hardships as opportunities for change and impact. Every difficult period in our lives has the potential to advance growth.