In the latest instalment of Tech for Good, profiling start-ups using technology to tackle society’s toughest challenges, Candice Krieger meets a young innovator who is lighting up Africa with clean and safe energy.
International impact investor Angela Homsi is so passionate about making a difference that, nearly 36 hours after the birth of her first child, she was back working.
For Homsi’s daughter was born the day she and her business partner – and husband – launched the commercial operations of their renewable-energy company, Ignite Power.
Ignite uses clean technologies to improve the lives of people in emerging markets, primarily through solar, agriculture and financial technologies.
It has become a leading solar power operator and financier in Africa, providing customers in rural areas with off-grid solar solutions at affordable prices using digital payment technologies.
Following the signing of a national electrification agreement in 2016 with the government of Rwanda, Ignite implemented a successful pilot.
It has since rolled out projects in five other countries in Africa, reaching last-mile customers. More than 1.1 million people are already connected to sustainable, clean and safe energy for the first time, creating some 3,500 local jobs. There are plans for Latin America and the Middle East.
Based on Ignite’s success, Homsi has also co-founded an African Innovation Fund focusing on sustainable impact investments in the continent. She is on the investment committee of Microvest, and was chair of the YPO Global Diplomacy network (a global network of young chief executives).
The mother-of-two says: “Africa is now the fastest-growing continent in the world. It is due to double in size in the next 30 years. We either have to find a way to support sustainable positive growth, or it’s going to cause many future crises with people who are living in unacceptable conditions. This is a big challenge today and technology and smart investment is the determining factor.”
Homsi’s passion for using business and technology to solve some of the world’s problems is deep-rooted.
Describing herself as an Egyptian-Lebanese-Israelite, she was exposed to different cultures from a young age.
She recalls: “I quickly realised that if you wanted to have a constructive conversation focused on the future in conflict situations, you had to do it through business. Often business people forget about their differences and manage to think about how they can look towards positive relationships through working together. I thought that if I want to make an impact, I need to be a good businessperson.”
She studied maths and finance in Paris before joining Goldman Sachs in London as a trader and explains: “I tried to identify people in the firm who would want to use all this power and capital for positive social impact. But the concept was still very young and at the time people were like, ‘cute idea, but go back to your desk and make money’.”
She left and joined pre-eminent Egyptian-born businessman Sir Ronald Cohen at The Portland Trust and became involved in cross-border investing in Israel and neighbouring countries. “I wrote to him (Sir Ronald) out of the blue. I felt like we had a similar vision; to use private sector and finance for social good.” She spent a lot of time on the West Bank building private sector solutions to improve lives.
“It was a great experience, but I really wanted to do something on a larger scale. I thought that if you want to change the world and make an impact with the capital that you need, you need to tap into the for-profit traditional ways of doing business.”
She joined Generation IM, a $20 billion [£15bn] investment manager founded by former US Vice President, Al Gore and David Blood, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, that was investing into renewable energy companies.
Her work at Generation IM took her to Israel, where she spent time researching different sustainable technology companies. “I discovered the tech and entrepreneurial side of Israel and was blown away.”
Just before Homsi joined Generation IM, the firm had invested in Camco, a renewable energy provider founded by her husband-to-be Yariv Cohen. But the couple did not meet properly until years later (through a connection to YPO, the global leadership community of chief executives) and decided to team up both personally and professionally to launch Ignite Power.
She acknowledges that the potential impact the renewable energy revolution has is huge. “The fact that these new technologies exist today – they were not commercial five, 10, 20 years ago – such as fintech, payment systems, solar with battery storage, and the innovation that has happened in the past few years, create the possibilities to build economies that are really in line with sustainability, creating more opportunities for everyone.”
Local employment is a core value at Ignite Power, and the company invests many resources into training and developing their employees to make all its business units sustainable and scalable over time.
The couple also runs a television programme called Face the Gorillas – an African-style Dragons’ Den, for budding entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas.
“Our philosophy is [about] how can you create value for the entrepreneurs and simultaneously create value and returns for investors. Everybody is aligned: we want to invest in opportunities whereby making money out of the growth of the business is directly positively correlating with the impact you are creating on the world.
“Today we have so many more digital solutions to the problems the world is facing that it is much more possible to generate success, profit and impact.”
In her not-for-profit work, Homsi chairs Seeds of Peace Global Council and was a founding board member of the Negotiation Strategies Institute.
Homsi and her family are mostly based between Dubai and Rwanda, but spend a lot of time travelling. At the time of writing, Homsi’s eldest child is three and has been to more than 30 countries, and her youngest is 15 months and has been to about 14.