Culled From THISDAY Newspapers
Founder of Smiling Simon Greenbuild Foundation, Chief (Mrs.) Anita Nana Okuribido, is a passionate woman leader in the space of renewable energy and green economy in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Driven by the overarching vision to enable women become green entrepreneurs in ways that create synergies for paradigm shifts in women empowerment. Okuribido has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Science from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Oyo State. Her passion for the energy sector led her to commission the One Nigerian Child One Solar Lamp, which is aimed at providing children with solar lamp.
Chief Okuribido also commissioned the Solar Green Cart Initiative, which is aimed at empowering Women and Youths with a Solar Green Cart that has multiple MSME applications like retail, barbing salon and phone charging services. She also leads other organisations, notably as the Chairman of Women Green Energy Institute, Chairman of Women in Sustainable Power Africa Network, President of Digital Network for Women Empowerment, National President of Women in Renewable Energy Association, CEO/ Managing Director of Siman Engineering Ltd and the Executive Chairman of SymphoAgro-Tech Company Limited. In this Interview with Oyinlola Sale, Founder of Smiling Simon Greenbuild Foundation, Chief Anita Nana Okuribido, explains how she is encouraging women to take up roles in the energy sector
You are called Mama Renewable Energy. What inspired that name?
The names Mama Solar and Mama Renewable Energy come from the fact that I have been very passionate about using energy as a tool to transform the lives of women. Women use at least 80 per cent of energy to drive their various businesses from tailoring to cooking. The fact is that without energy, women can’t function in our society. Now, it’s important for the society to realise that solar energy is the instant tool to alleviate poverty and to remove the drudgery in the lives of women.
For so many years, I have been advocating solar devices for agricultural development, to the extent of me going to International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to provide solar devices to aid agricultural process , which has transformed the lives of Women and that’s why any village I go to, I keep hearing Mama Renewable Energy, Mama Solar.
Now tell us about your journey into the energy sector?
From the university days, I got fascinated with calculators that have a tiny solar chip, which only worked with the sun. So I spoke with my director of project and supervisor, that I really like this solar calculator and this alternative source of energy.
So, I decided that I was going to do my project on alternative source of energy. So I became visionary and decided to go into mechanised farming, because I was curious about it.
Now my experience and curiosity in the university triggered me to go into the energy sector to create Green Devices for the Agricultural Sector
As the National President of Women in Renewable Energy Association, What impact are you making in the energy sector?
Initially, I was the lone voice regarding solar energy, because individuals didn’t understand alternative source of energy, but I was undeterred because of my passion and the impact I wanted to make.
Now, that is the major reason, I created the Smiling Simon Greenbuild Foundation, which has various benefits for women in this sector, which are: to acquire skills to become a Green Technology Technician, a Green Entrepreneur and a Green Ambassador, to have access to Green Energy Loans and Green Grants, to reduce energy poverty in Nigeria and to enable the girl child in science and technology related field and to activate the Sustainable Development Goals.
What are the factors that needs to be considered for renewable energy to work effectively in Nigeria?
The only way renewable energy can work effectively in Nigeria is through policies that mandates telecommunication agencies, and media houses both in the public and private sectors to allocate minimum time or space slots to air educative announcements on the need for gender equity and inclusion in the energy value chain.
This also includes, policies that also mandates relevant government agencies to organize monthly or bi-monthly public sensitisation on the importance of gender inclusivity at thegrassroots.
As well as, policies targeted towards the Ministry of Education to ensure special programmes and incentives are created to inform female students or pupils about the economic importance of their participation in STEM-related disciplines.
I would also like to commend Senator Bassey Albert Akpan for supporting and advocating for more women in the energy sector.
What needs to be done in terms of encouraging more women to take up roles in energy, oil and gas?
Once women have access to finance, it will encourage them to take up roles in the energy, oil and gas sector, From policies that ensure funding prioritisation for women by commercial banks and stakeholders with low single-digit-interest loans and grants for energy businesses and initiatives.
As well as, policies that mandate financial institutions to create dedicated funds towards capacity building and investment for women in energy initiatives.
What are the challenges you have faced so far in this industry?
The challenges are enormous, first in the renewable energy sector, the initial cost of implementation is just too high, so initially to convince someone to own a green device is a peculiar task. We had to make them realise that it’s a necessity, like your phone or food.
I had to do a lot of work to make people realise that it’s not a luxurious item, but a necessity.
Energy is key to industrialisation and we need to be well grounded to have an energy supply that is uninterruptable. So I did a lot of work in terms of convincing people in the early days.
The other issue is that government is saying you can’t deploy until you have licence and this affected small businesses. So, this was a big fight, when I became the president for Council of Renewable Energy.
Another factor is gender inequality, but now we have had to sensitise women to take up roles in the energy sector.
What can the government do, in terms of supporting the energy sector?
The government needs to ensure that all previous policy documents on energy are reviewed for gender inclusivity, and that all programmes/initiatives, including large energy infrastructures and investments, are non-discriminatory, gender inclusive, gender-balanced and directed towards addressing inequalities, particularly energy poverty, differentially affecting men and women in Nigeria.
This includes, specific policies that spell out minimum benchmarks to ensure that women have equal opportunities to enter and succeed in energy related fields in the private and public sectors.
How did you manage to break the barriers in the energy sector?
When I set out from the university to thread this path, I was never discouraged, even with how my supervisor was pessimistic about my passion for solar energy. This drive is because am a positive person and my passion has driven me to be creative and to provide solutions to create opportunities for the future generation.
Now, through Smiling Simon Greenbuild Foundation, we plan to give the Youth Green Entrepreneurship platform, to increase their earning power to alleviate poverty.
Recently, one of our innovations in this foundation, is the solar kiosk, which has become an instant solar business hub that can be turned to a barbershop and it also has charging ports and a fridge. This is what we have created to engage the youths with to reduce unemployment rate and to boost the economy of Nigeria.
What is your growth projection for Smiling Simon Greenbuild Foundation in the next five years?
It has given birth to the women green energy institute, we are working on a gas plant initiative for women, where in 774 local government areas in Nigeria at least 100 women in a community must own 6kg gas cylinder as against having to fetch fire woods because we want to stop gas flaring, because it emits carbon monoxide and it’s wasting away.
In order to achieve this, we want to collaborate with the office of the Vice President of Nigeria. This project will start in Makoko.
Smiling Simon Greenbuild Foundation has Eco tourism project, which will bring 54 countries in Africa together in exchange for our food, culture and tourism.
This growth will occur in the next five years and it will empower women and eradicate poverty in Nigeria.