Good morning everyone!
I am excited to be here with you today and learn about the work you are doing to address the challenge of ensuring energy access to all in Africa. I am also pleased that you are all alumni of U.S. government exchange programs including the Mandela Washington Fellowship of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), Tech Women, Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, and the Fortune 500 Global Women’s Mentoring Program, because we believe strongly that investing in these types of programs are good for both Africa and the United States in fortifying our strong relationship. Welcome to the family!
I learned that you are designing projects with the key theme of “Access to Energy for All” and its connection to entrepreneurship, human rights, and education. We have all seen the images of young girls walking for miles to collect firewood and walk back to their homes in pain due to the heavy load being carried. These young girls are not in school but helping their family eke out a meager living that barely helps them to stay afloat to buy food. These hardships are devastating for families and for the environment as well.
Environmental degradation is a serious concern – trees and bushes are chopped down to make firewood and charcoal while no replanting is done to help replenish what was cut down. Over time we have all seen aerial images that show how desertification creeps in these areas, the damage it causes to the surrounding communities, and the strain it places on water resources.
However, there is a brighter alternative. Imagine if there were access to energy which would free up time for the young firewood collectors to go to school, giving them a chance of a better life through education. Imagine if there was improved access to energy which would help families and mothers reduce the time it takes to prepare meals and free up time to devote to other issues, or even a small business. Imagine the access to energy that could keep a rural health clinic stay well-lit after dark to help guide the injured to the facility and to keep life-saving medicines refrigerated. All of this is not just imaginable but can be a reality when energy is provided to those in urban and rural areas.
The U.S. government also believes that one way to unlocking human potential is through energy access and this is why Power Africa was launched in 2013 by the Obama administration. Power Africa in just three years has been able to secure commitments from other nations to support this common goal of adding 30,000 megawatts to the grid in Africa, and 60 million new connections. In February 2016, through a bi-partisan process of both Democrats and Republicans, the U.S. Congress passed the Electrify Africa Act, which codified into U.S. law the Power Africa goal of doubling energy access in Africa. Power Africa initiatives have helped with on-grid mega-projects, but also supported innovative ideas designed to bring electricity to the most remote parts of Africa through the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge.
I want to congratulate you first for taking time to come to Addis to think creatively about the challenge of providing energy for all. Your time working together we hope will create a network to help share ideas facing your communities and your countries.
I look forward to hearing about the outcome of this session through my colleagues at the Embassy. I would have liked to attend the closing ceremony but will be travelling during your last day of presentations so I will rely on the capable Public Diplomacy team to let me know what innovative concepts were designed right here in Addis.
I wish you all good luck – bon courage on your projects!