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Patricia Obozuwa On GE, Illuminating Africa

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Patricia Obozuwa On GE, Illuminating Africa

GE1For over 40 years General Electric (GE) has been operating in Nigeria with businesses spanning a number of sectors. In the past three years, there has been a renewed focus on the country. In this interview, PATRICIA OBOZUWA, director of communications, GE Africa, tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN how the company is lighting up the continent
Patricia Obozuwa is seated behind her desk this sunny Friday afternoon in October. The light in her office is playing trick on her shiny black long hair. Her office is simple but chic. The interiors suit perfectly her infectious personality.
“Welcome, Funke, it is nice to see you,” she says as she warmly welcomes me into her office. She looks unruffled and her calmness is a sharp contrast to the street noise outside her office walls. Obozuwa’s intelligence shines through for the duration of our interview. She is a woman on top of her game and she understands what it means to speak for an international organisation like GE.
Obozuwa is the director of communications for GE Africa. She is solely responsible for managing GE’s Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Awards, a $2.4m initiative pioneered by GE and the U.S Africa Development Foundation (USADF) to support President Barak Obama’s Power Africa Initiative.
One is not surprised at the quality of furnishing and the manner of arrangement of the General Electric office located at Mansard Place on Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, Victoria Island. For a multinational company that has been operating in Nigeria for more than 40 years, with businesses spanning a number of key sectors including aviation, power generation, oil and gas, healthcare, and transportation.
 In the past three years, there has been a renewed focus on the country with an eye on new service facilities and employment of more local talent to expand the company’s capabilities. GE’s portfolio of technology solutions is well aligned with Nigeria’s infrastructure needs, and is contributing to economic development and improved quality of life in the region.‎
Obozuwa tells me the Off-Grid Energy award began in 2013 as a response to president Obama’s power Africa initiative by the US government to support building on power infrastructure across Africa and have 60 million households to have access to power over the next few years. It works by partnership with private sector and US financing and development agencies.
Innovators from Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania have been awarded a $100,000 grant to support projects that offer renewable energy solutions to communities not connected to the respective national grids. This year, USAID has joined the partnership. Four Nigerian companies have emerged winners this year and each of them will be presented with the $100,000 grant.
“This year we expanded it to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana and Liberia,” she tells me. “And we have increased the number of grants from six in total last year to twenty-two this year. It has been very well received. We have gotten a lot of very strong entries this year than last year. People are just getting to know more about it. We have gotten good applications and the quality of application is high this year.”
Obozuwa says the essence of the award is to get people to have access to electricity especially communities where electricity supply is poor. According to her, working with USAID and the U.S. African Development Foundation, the grant is providing resources to spur on solutions to the off-grid, renewable energy challenges of Africa’s rural and remote power needs.
 “For us at GE when a community can be light up because of this project, that is what success is about;or when a business is powered because they can now have electricity to move things forward. I will give you example, last year, one of the grants we gave was to a company who needed electricity to power refrigeration unit or system to preserve produce from the farm. One of the things in that area is that they have big harvest but they can only reap the benefit of a portion of the produce because the rest of them just rot. So they were able to expand refrigeration system to the farmers preserve their produce and be able to sell over a long period of time. They were already doing that but the $100, 000 grant now expand it.
“Another example from last year is the chemical GPE; they use solar power to light up a community in River State. With our grant, they GE3were able to extend it to other neighbouring community called Ekpeke and in that community they can now reach seventy additional households giving them solar power in that entire community. This is basically touching about 1,500 people who did not have light before. Government is working so well on big power project. By nature, power project and most infrastructural projects take a long time before citizens start seeing result.  But while the government’s big plans are going on, it is important that we are committed to help support not just that power that get on the grid in big project but also go off-grid and provide power to smaller communities to get quick results.”
Obozuwa adds GE only gives grants to companies not to individuals. “For governance purposes and to make sure the money is spent in a way that can bring result quite quickly,” she explains, the grants are not given to individuals. Besides, there are various projects that we do. We have the university innovation challenge that we do in some countries but for the Off-Grid Energy award we want to scale up or build proven technologies. We want innovative solution with proven technologies, a research in this area that shows how proven technology can be used to solve a particular problem. Now for governance purposes we wouldn’t work with one individual. We work with organisations that are legally registered in their country of operation. They need to be able to show evidence that they can track the grant funding and see how it’s used. They should be able to ensure that they get the result they set out to achieve with the grant.”
Obozuwa is quick to add that this is not a money making venture for GE but a token to support this initiative and any other initiative that helps provide power to Africans. “We are looking for African solutions from African energy service providers that already are providing biogas or solar or other renewable services and want to expand, or from African start-ups that are testing billing, metering or transmission options to grow a profitable business and to serve customers in the bottom of the pyramid.  The competition also welcomes applications from communities, who are sourcing off-the shelf solutions to power their cooperatives’ processing facilities, or extend their solar powered drip irrigation system, and more.”
With 585 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa without electricity and an overwhelming percentage of these rural , Obozuwa says the need for off-grid on the continent becomes paramount.
“Even a large expansion of the grid will not help them anytime soon,” explains further. “The Off-Grid Energy Challenge is focused on financing solutions that reach these people, underserved populations off the grid. The U.S. African Development Foundation’s part in Power Africa, through the Off-Grid Energy Challenge, demonstrates that this initiative is not only serving urban populations and investing in “large scale transmission and generation” deals, but is also putting attention and resources into rural and vulnerable communities. We are carrying this out through a public private partnership, to have as much impact as possible, and in recognition that when businesses and governments work together, commercially-viable, profitable solutions for the common good can be realised.”
 Having worked with GE for more than two years, Obozuwa says in 2013, in the first round of the Challenge, GE Africa partnered with USADF, the U.S. government agency that is focused on economic development at the grassroots level in Africa.  “In this second round, we are collaborating again with USADF, and also with USAID.  We are opening this up to business solutions for energy challenges in all 6 of the Power Africa countries. We appreciate this opportunity to help catalyze the work of companies and groups who are concretely finding ways to ensure that villages 500 kilometers from capital cities have access to reliable, affordable power, and can power their offices, homes, and small businesses. So that cooperatives with processing and packaging plants can operate more efficiently, increase their revenues, and improve the incomes and livelihoods of everyone involved.”

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