Emory Law Students Create Energy Solutions to Change Lives in Africa
May 22, 2023 - SaportaReport
Emory University School of Law student Bene Owanga, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, recognized an exasperating energy crisis and a dire need for electricity in his country. To combat the lack of electricity, Owanga and his family created a climate tech company that rents out portable solar-powered batteries to consumers.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the second largest country in Africa with roughly 112 million people, but only about 19 percent of them have access to electricity. Many citizens resort to unsafe methods of powering their homes, such as using kerosene, which causes close to 600,000 deaths on the continent of Africa yearly. Another common alternative is candles, which aren’t highly effective, or generators, which do not provide an inclusive solution as they average anywhere from $100-$180 per generator, cost about $30 per day to keep running, and are mostly imported from China, so they are not readily available.
The Owanga solar-powered batteries can power an entire home or shop for about two dollars per day with a seven-day rental minimum or the units have the batteries installed permanently. Owanga Solar, offers pay-as-you-go solar systems, giving businesses and homes the opportunity to reduce their dependence on traditional energy sources and contribute to a more sustainable future. The company says they believe everyone should have access to clean energy, regardless of where they live or their income level. The goal at Owanga Solar is clear: to be the leading renewable energy provider in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a commitment to sustainability, social responsibility, and customer satisfaction.
“I founded this company with a deep-rooted passion for sustainability and the transition to clean energy. Over time, I realized that while the world is making progress in this direction, it’s the people in developing countries who will be most impacted by climate change, and unfortunately, they often lack the resources and solutions needed to adapt,” Owanga said. “In essence, the Western world has access to climate change solutions, but we must work harder to ensure those in the developing world are not left behind.”
Owanga and Chinelo Adi, also an Emory Law student, share a strong passion for clean energy and sustainable solutions. When Owanga founded his new company with a mission to bridge the gap in climate change solutions between the Western world and developing countries, he knew about Adi’s passion for energy and her personal connection to the cause. Owanga reached out to her to explore how they could work together to make a difference. Adi —whose family is from Nigeria— often listened to her father tell stories about the electricity challenges he faced, which ignited her interest in finding solutions for others in similar situations.
Owanga’s and Adi’s motivation stems from seeing that the residents of the Congo are not the primary beneficiaries of its resources. The people working on the ground to harvest the land’s natural resources inspire them to seek ways to improve life, they say.
Owanga Solar works toward sustainability in all areas—not just energy. The designers, engineers, and materials used for the solar-powered batteries are all based in Africa, allowing them to control the supply chain. Their immediate goals are to develop their own generators, complete with GPS and internet connection capabilities. As law students, they are considerate of IP and trademark concerns, as they feel strongly about designing and producing their own. These generators will be the first of their kind in the Congo. Owanga Solar works to create renewable energy sources made in the Congo, for people in the Congo to change the lives those who live there.
Within the greater Emory community, there is a plethora of resources for curious and industrious students like Owanga and Adi. The Emory Hatchery is one such resource which supports student innovators and entrepreneurs from all Emory schools and covers all stages of innovation, from inspiration and learning to projects and startup.
Together, Owanga and Adi, business strategist for Owanga Solar, worked with Emory Hatchery to submit a pitch deck to DivInc? for the Accelerator Program, and their pitch was accepted. The DivInc Accelerator Program is a 12-week program that focuses on diverse founders at the forefront of clean energy with focus on climate change solutions, clean energy production, energy storage and transmission, energy efficiency, carbon economy, sustainable/smart cities, and deployment of clean technologies for historically marginalized communities. The program also offers a $10K equity-free grant, $100K in products and services, and a curriculum designed to accelerate their business knowledge and take their startup to the next level.
Owanga found his way to Emory Law through Dr. Roger-Claude Liwanga, who has been an adjunct professor at Emory Law since 2017. Owanga is a follower and fan of Liwanga, who teaches a Child Protection and International Human Rights course. Liwanga is also Congolese, and what attracted Owanga most to Liwanga was his research on mining rights for children. Once Owanga became a student at Emory Law, he enrolled into the course Liwanga teaches, and it confirmed he’d made the right choice in careers and schools. His interests are energy, mining, oil and gas, with the strong belief that the world should move toward a more sustainable future.
Adi is a native of New Mexico whose interest lies mainly in energy law. She had the opportunity to be a student volunteer at The Foundation for Natural Resources and Energy Law. While serving there, she was able to attend a three-day conference hosted by the foundation, with multiple seminars around energy law and information about how both energy and water law affect the environment. This journey not only brought her to Emory Law, but it shaped her path to practice. Adi has a job lined up in New Mexico at a firm that specializes in natural resources and energy law.
Adi adds, “I am thrilled to be part of this amazing company dedicated to clean energy. What excited me the most was knowing that our work would not only protect the environment, but also make a difference in the lives of people in developing countries. It’s an honor to be part of a team that creates sustainable solutions for communities in need, ensuring that no one is overlooked in the pursuit of a greener future.”
As Owanga Solar grows, so do their needs. They are currently in the fundraising phase to scale the company. Although Owanga Solar is small now, Owanga and Adi believe that in the next five years the company will have grown tremendously to serve the needs of the Congolese people and change lives along the way.
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