Investing in a Vibrant Africa

By Lauren Kickham, Senior Program Officer, African Entrepreneurship for Vulcan Inc.

There is hope that this will be an African century — one of peace and prosperity.

This hope springs from a belief that Africa has the inventiveness, natural resources and determination to define its own future.

It is also grounded in an understanding that we are one interconnected world and by investing in the well being of each person, we create a stronger, more resilient global community.

Before solar microgrids, villagers in Singiraine, Kenya powered their phones through costly and unhealthy gas generators.

The number of Africans living in extreme poverty continues to rise and projections show that by 2050, 40 percent of the world’s children will live in Africa. Attention must be given now to enable Africa to thrive from within tomorrow.

Paul G. Allen and Vulcan Inc. have a long history of investing in Africa — from our efforts to fight Ebola and preempt future epidemics to saving elephants, rhinos and endangered habitats for generations to come. We are committed to working withour partners on the ground to achieve significant impact. This brings me to Kenya, where the world’s eyes are focused on the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and where we hope to connect with those who share our vision for a vibrant Africa.

By 2050, 40 percent of the world’s children will live in Africa.

This Summit is a platform to build on our commitment to invest in African entrepreneurs and startups in order to build sustainable, scalable solutions to some of African’s greatest challenges.

We work to accelerate the development of infrastructure within the communities that are the backbone of a resilient Africa. Through our pilot programs and partnerships, we will de-risk and catalyze growth of new businesses that provide key basic services like access to electricity and the internet.

A SteamaCo. solar microgrid powers a business in rural Kenya.

As examples, we have made early investments in two Kenyan companies, SteamaCo. and Mawingu, whose successes we believe will empower the lives of those in their communities.

SteamaCo. is an energy developer and technology company with which we partnered to develop and install 10 village-scale solar microgrids that provide electricity access to rural, unserved communities. These microgrids are making it possible for businesses and residents to access reliable power and build thriving economic centers within their communities.

Mawingu is a wireless internet services provider that is delivering affordable internet to rural, unserved communities.

This service allows more people to actively participate in the regional, national and global markets and connect to knowledge networks, thereby creating resilient communities.

Rather than traditional payment systems, both projects use mobile, micro-payment systems with pay-as-you-go flexibility, which unlocks access and affordability, and better serves customers in these communities.

Students in Kenya test internet access in their school. (Photo provided by Microsoft’s White Spaces Project)

SteamaCo. and Mawingu impact their communities in part by employing Kenyans, but they also have the potential to produce a much larger, ripple effect. Through the services they provide, we hope to see improved livelihoods for individuals, better access to key services and more resilient communities. By supporting this type of infrastructure, we hope to empower Africans to make this the African century.

A vibrant and resilient Africa is good for the continent and good for the world. By investing in infrastructure today we can lead the way for tomorrow, with returns that are measured well beyond profit.

Vulcan Inc. is a Paul G. Allen company. Learn more about their programs and projects at

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