We spoke with Keziah about Frontier Energy’s emphasis on social development and specifically, on creating long-term value by including women as active participants in the renewable energy conversation.
As a Danish-based private equity firm that invests in renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa, Frontier Energy aims to create long-term value with their 18 hydro, solar, wind, and geothermal projects under development. To do that, they invest heavily in local teams to work with the communities where they have active investments. In 2019, Triodos Groenfonds invested in the Frontier Energy II Fund.
Connecting to the community
Keziah’s role as Social Development and Sustainability Manager focuses on the needs of the community in conjunction with the development and operation of the project.
“My role is to ensure that all the work Frontier Energy does as an active lead investor, from the development, construction, and operation of these renewable energy projects, is carried out with the most sensitive and caring lens to the communities and the environment affected. Every project is implemented with them in mind. We ask: How does this energy project affect their day-to-day? Does it impact their cultural or religious beliefs? To maintain that active connection over the life of the project, I run the team of Supervisors in charge of environmental management and the health and safety of the people working on the projects, and a team of Community Liaison Officers. Specifically, the Community Liaison Officers get to know the families on an individual basis for the duration of the project from the household head to the youngest child.”
With a team of seven Community Liaison Officers, they work 24-7 over the course of two, three years to empower the communities most affected by the project. Keziah paints a clear picture of how this plays out in reality, and how the role of women is also elevated.
“I’ll give you an example. We have two hydropower projects in Eastern Uganda – Siti I and Siti II. When the projects began, our Community Liaison Officers went to the communities to ask what it is they needed. Together in the social development office, we looked at the list the communities provided and examined what had the highest potential of long-term impact with their best interests in mind. One item on the list was that if we were coming on board as an investor in these projects, then with the power, the women wanted the skills training to become tailors.
We then invested in training for the women and 57 successfully made it to completion. These women not only became tailors, but also turned into a savings group. Together, they continue to save and lend money at a very low interest cost to each other in order to expand their businesses. So far, 70 households have benefited from this group of tailors. School fees are now paid for by this income and basic needs are met. During the pandemic, these tailors have become the sole providers of the face masks we distribute to all the communities where we invest in Eastern and Western Uganda.
It’s due to our office’s initial involvement and continued dedication to their success that this group of women thrives long after the first development of the Siti I and Siti II projects.”
In addition to serving women in the local community, Frontier Energy actively seeks to hire as many female workers at all levels of the project. It has an average of about 30% female workforce depending on the area in which the power project is being constructed.
The gender perspective on renewable energy
With such a strong focus on the gender perspective in renewable energy, Frontier Energy differentiates itself by focusing on the social aspects of the energy transition story.
“As I said, the women are the middle drivers of the economy. Therefore, they have a specific interaction with and an appreciation for how the system which they operate in moves.
And since they are the drivers of the community, if you are an investor in renewable energy and you don’t have the community’s buy-in, you’re very unlikely to succeed in the long term. This social license to operate so-to-speak is very delicate and the goodwill a company has while working in an area and with the community, should be held in high regard by an investor.
What’s so differentiating about Frontier Energy is that whatever the starting point is for a project in which we are invested, as an active partner, the first thing we do is hire the social team before any other hiring,” says Keziah.
Through the relationships that the social team builds, they gain trust with the community. This trust allows for women to feel the space to actively participate in the renewables-based energy access sector discussion.
Financing renewable energy in emerging markets
A dependable and affordable energy supply is crucial to socio-economic development and key to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals. Access to modern energy technology can make the difference between poverty and prosperity. If we do not address social and economic issues, we will not be able to solve the climate change problem. Yet, all social and economic development will be futile if we do not address this major challenge.
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Including women in the decision-making process
When looking ahead, Keziah envisions a continued role for her team in the inclusion of women’s participation.
“We want to continue to include women as stakeholders in the conversation. In some areas in which we have developed projects, our team has held stakeholder meetings and usually in these initial meetings, it comprises of 90 people and barely 20 are women. Out of the 20, if you ask a woman any question directly, she will not speak openly. But over a period of two years as the project moves from development to construction and later to operation, our Community Liaison Officers build trust with the households, more women will attend the stakeholder meetings, making up at least half of the attendees.
Through the relationships that we build, we encourage women to attend with their husbands and be included in conversations such as compensation for property. In our philosophy, they must be aware of what income is coming into their home and if we exclude women in the conversation, they will never be part of the project fully.
"Looking ahead, we must be careful not to be seen as a disrupter of the social set-up and who runs the household. The communities are very remote and have a very traditional patriarchal set-up that would resist changes to their status quo if it came too fast for them. However, it is our intention to continue to give a platform to women to speak up and be included in the decision-making process. All of their ideas lead toward a stronger direction and that, has a ripple effect beyond the immediate community and the project.”
Explore our Energy and Climate impact report ‘Accelerating the energy transition’ to find out more about our role as impact investor. The report presents our 2020 results in a context of numbers and stories and showcases our mission to make money work for positive change.