Office of Social Innovation Powers Africa


WASHINGTON D.C. — Since the start of his first term, President Obama has placed a large emphasis on innovation. In 2009, the Obama Administration created the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (SICP) in order to foster small-scale solutions to problems such as health care, education and unemployment.

Not only has the creation of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (SICP) funded national projects, it founded the Power Africa initiative, giving 20 million people and commercial entities in Africa access to clean, efficient electricity.

The Power Africa initiative aims to give electricity to 600 million sub-Saharan Africans, 70 percent of the population, who would normally be forced to live without it. When those in developing countries lack electricity, they are forced to spend large portions of their income on energy alternatives, like dangerous diesel and smoky wood burning stoves.

Power Africa plans to utilize the significant wind, solar, hydropower, natural gas and geothermal resources in the area in order to “enhance energy security, decrease poverty and advance economic growth.”

Power Africa partners with African governments, the private sector and other partners like the World Bank and African Development Bank, in six countries –Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania –to add energy generation capacity. Through the expansion of mini-grid and off-grid solutions, and building out power generation, transmission and distribution structures, more than 10,000 megawatts of generation capacity will become available.

The work of Power Africa will “enhance energy resource management capabilities, allowing partner countries to meet their critical energy needs and achieve sustainable, long-term energy security.”

However, the African governments and foreign donors alone are not capable of providing the level of funding needed to electrify the continent. Indeed, the Obama Administration recognizes that “Power Africa cannot achieve its energy goals through large generation projects alone.”

This is why Power Africa uses the new operating model created by local innovation and encouraged by the SICP. Impactful small-scale energy investments such as Off-Grid Electric, a household solar services company, and Kiwira River Hydro, a run-off-river hydropower project, keep the lights on in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, Power Africa has secured more than $14 billion for energy investment. The first phase lasts five years, through 2018, and the U.S. Government has committed more than $7 billion in financial support and loan guarantees. According to USAID, every dollar the U.S. Government has committed to Power Africa has already leveraged two dollars in private sector investment commitments.

The Obama Administration is continually exploring new ways to grow energy systems at the household and village level. Two months ago, the Administration held two events, one at the White House and the other at Stanford University,“to engage nearly 60 impact investors and venture philanthropists interested in small-scale energy investment in Africa.”

Power Africa is just one example of how small-scale innovations can bring large-scale changes. With the funding from the SICP, the U.S can begin solving problems efficiently, effectively and sustainably, both nationally and abroad.

Grace Flaherty

Sources: The White House, Huffington Post, NPR, US AID
Photo: Social Innovation Solutions


About Author

Grace Flaherty

Grace is a BORGEN Magazine writer based in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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