Main image: Innocent Tshilombo, founder and CEO of Kakuma Ventures, receiving the 2022 Ashden Award for Humanitarian Energy
The experience of refugees and asylum seekers is often discussed in terms of where they’re trying to get to and whether the countries are willing to take them.
But people who have escaped war, oppression and conflict have accumulated extensive skills, determination and resilience.
A number of refugees are now using these skills to power up their lives – literally, using the sun.
Climate solutions charity Ashden, which seeks out and showcases low-carbon innovation through its annual Ashden Awards and other programmes, says that it’s time to reframe refugees as the creative, innovative entrepreneurs they often are.
This year’s Ashden Awards will include a Powering Refugees and Displaced People Award to highlight the excellent work of entrepreneurs providing clean, renewable energy to people living in refugee camps.
The Awards process provides international recognition of this vital work and, most importantly, helps organisation gain publicity, funding and make invaluable connections which help them scale up their business and share their learnings with others doing similar work.
Since 2001, Ashden’s awards have backed radical ideas delivering lower emissions and a fairer world, with grants and development support for winners.
In previous years this humanitarian award has already helped hospitals chill life-saving medicines in solar-powered fridges, train young people within the camp as installers and sales people and brought community-run solar power to homes in conflict-hit Yemen.
2023’s award will be presented by TV journalist and Paralympic medallist Ade Adepitan.
‘Making documentaries about Africa for the BBC I’ve seen many challenges refugees face – can you imagine building your life, miles away from home in a ref camp, where finding work, studying and staying healthy are extremely difficult or even impossible?
‘I’ve also seen the talent, passion and ingenuity of refugees, so support people to create change in their own communities is vital. Clean energy can power a thriving business, light up dark streets and allow people to speak to their loved ones. I couldn’t imagine life without it.’
TV journalist and Paralympic medallist
This year, the Powering Refugees and Displaced People will be featured as part of the BBC Radio 4 Appeal today (08 October)
For the Appeal, Ade Adepitan, who has reported on the impacts of climate change worldwide and is passionate about supporting African innovation, will refer to the story of Innocent Tshilombo, founder of Kakuma Ventures.
Innocent Tshilombo is one of several African clean energy innovators who has put his creative mind and technical skills to work in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp – a settlement of about 200,000 people – in order to provide refugees with clean affordable energy.
‘It’s time to move the narrative away from refugees being people purely dependent on outside support, and on to a new reality of innovative entrepreneurs using renewable energy to reduce poverty, build livelihoods and create new employment and economic opportunities for themselves and their communities.
‘The need for clean energy that doesn’t have health environmental impacts, is extreme in refugee camps, where 81% of camp residents lack safe fuels for cooking and heating, and 94% go without regular access to electricity. Supporting those entrepreneurs who are tackling this problem, creating jobs and therefore improving so many lives within the camps is crucial.
‘We are grateful to all those who will donate to this appeal – these gifts will help us find and support even more initiatives providing life-changing renewable energy and clean power to refugees.’
DR ASHOK SINHA
Funds raised from the Appeal will help Ashden to discover and support a burgeoning set of creative entrepreneurs, often refugees themselves, who are establishing clean, renewable energy projects providing refugees and host communities with solar power, training and employment.
The Appeal will be broadcast at 07:54 and 21:25 GMT on 08 October, repeated on 14 Oct at 15:27, or available on BBC Sounds. Click here for more.
Innocent Tshilombo, a refugee and father of three from the Democratic Republic of Congo, ended up living in Kakuma Refugee Camp and has been there for 11 years.
He studied online with a tuition-free online university used by refugees with energy access, based in Western California.
He worked at night, using the internet of a charity he worked with by day, but realised few others had the same opportunity. He came up with the idea of bringing solar-powered wifi to the camp.
Through his camp-grown enterprise Kakuma Ventures, entrepreneurs across the Kakuma camp can set up and manage wifi hotspots in their own neighbourhood.
Those paying for the service can use the Internet for all the vital things in life – studying, staying in touch with loved ones, financial and business transactions, communications and entertainment.
As an affordable service, Kakuma Ventures has expanded quickly now serving 3,500 people, with a team 35 including 27 active entrepreneurs who are bringing clean energy and internet access to even more neighbourhoods in the camp.
‘With the use of solar-powered wifi we are seeing refugees graduating from universities all over the world without leaving the camp. Refugees are also working remotely as freelancers and many women are finding flexible opportunities. Refugees want to be accepted, unlock their potential and take destiny into their own hands without taking handouts forever.’
Ashden Award winner and founder of Kakuma Ventures