Captain Annabel Vundla | Pioneering Female Pilots| Breaking the Mold in Aviation and Mobility

Captain Annabel Vundla, the first black female pilot in South Africa, speaks about the importance of our Women in Mobility session at Smarter Mobility Africa and the need for strong female role models and the importance of inspiring and empowering women in the aviation and mobility sectors!

Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9WGZ4ltczc

How do we better involve women in the green economy? –
ESI Africa

In this dedicated article by ESI Africa, we dive into some of the key outcomes and discussion points from the Women In Green Economy breakfast, hosted at Africa’s Green Economy Summit 2024.

“Research doe by the European Investment Fund shows that companies with greater representation of women in leadership have better track records in adopting environmentally friendly practices and climate actions Nonetheless, women still lack representation in climate negotiations.

During a Women In Green Economy breakfast at Africa’s Green Economy Summit, Nalishebo Meebelo, the africa Lead for CACCI, stressed this fact while presenting her opening remarks. In pursuit of creating green jobs in Africa’s green economy, Meebelo also said that women’s employment should be neglected.”

Read more:

Women in Energy Feature – Roscia Mariacristina, Associate Professor Phd presso Università degli Studi di Bergamo

Bio 

Roscia is a professor at the University of Bergamo Italy. Her doctoral thesis was on renewable sources in Africa and several of her papers (for example “Smart Resilient City and IoT Towards Sustainability of Africa”) are on the great possibilities of making African cities smart. She is also interested in being part of a scientific commission or other organization that promotes & assists sustainable development in Africa.

Personal Questions

How did you end up in the energy sector and what advice would you give to other women wanting to follow a similar career trajectory?

Electricity has always fascinated me, due to the incredible intelligence it has in itself, for example, it moves towards a circuit with less electrical resistance, which makes it intuitively understandable!

In your opinion, why do you think the energy sector in its current state has less female representation and do you see it increasing?

Since my studies, there have been very few women in this industry, as well as now, but perhaps we have set an example that there really are no obstacles in this area for us women and that female intuition is of great help in this area of research.

Industry Questions

What opportunities do you see in Africa’s energy market?

The African market obviously has invaluable renewable sources and with the skills and level of knowledge achieved in this field, Africa could be made a self-sufficient nation and exporter of green energy, without compromising the unique African natural habitat in the world.

What recent successes give you hope for Africa’s energy industry?

The interest that women have placed in this sector is evidence of a cultural movement that can lead to the creation of sustainable smart cities in the African continent.

Women in Energy Feature – Melissa Du Toit, CEO & Founder of MELJIN Energy Consultants

Bio 

Mellisa du Toit is the driving force behind MELJIN BUSINESS & COMMERCIAL, a renowned company that has been making significant strides in the commercial property and energy sectors. Her unwavering dedication to environmental protection fuels her mission to reduce the carbon footprint of her clients by providing innovative renewable energy solutions. By collaborating with leading EPC solar providers, Mellisa delivers cutting-edge energy solutions tailored to meet her clients’ specific needs. This approach not only helps businesses reduce production costs but also enables them to achieve their long-desired sustainability goals.

With her extensive experience in managing renewable energy projects, Mellisa ensures a seamless and efficient tender process for her clients, setting her apart as a trustworthy and results-oriented leader. Moreover, she excels as a motivational mentor and strategic visionary, empowering teams through coaching and targeted training programs. As the founder of MELJIN Direct Motivation, she is committed to guiding individuals towards unlocking their full potential and finding purpose in their work lives.

In her role as CEO of MELJIN Energy, Mellisa has proven herself as a formidable force in managing commercial and industrial energy projects. Her consultative and customized approach fosters enduring client partnerships, earning her widespread admiration and respect within the industry.

Beyond her entrepreneurial prowess and expertise in the energy sector, Mellisa du Toit stands tall as a powerful role model for women, igniting their determination to challenge the status quo in traditionally male-dominated fields. Her groundbreaking achievements in the energy industry and unwavering dedication to sustainability have made her a beacon of inspiration for aspiring women professionals across the board.

Mellisa’s unwavering commitment to professionalism, integrity, and exceptional service is evident in the positive impact she continues to make in both the energy and commercial sectors. Her visionary efforts in striving for a more sustainable future are nothing short of remarkable.


Questions

In your opinion, why do you think the energy sector in its current state has less female representation and do you see it increasing?

The energy sector has historically been male-dominated, and there are several factors that have contributed to the underrepresentation of women in this industry:

Stereotypes and Social Norms: Traditional gender stereotypes and societal expectations have played a significant role in discouraging women from pursuing careers in fields that are perceived as more “technical” or “physical,” which includes many roles within the energy sector.

Lack of Role Models: The absence of visible female role models in leadership positions within the industry can make it more challenging for women to envision themselves in similar roles and progress in their careers.

Educational and Workplace Barriers: Women may face barriers in accessing education and training in fields related to energy. Additionally, workplaces may not always be conducive to the advancement of women, leading to a lack of representation in higher-level positions.

Unconscious Bias: Unconscious bias, both in hiring practices and workplace environments, can lead to discriminatory practices that hinder the career advancement of women.

Work-Life Balance: Some roles within the energy sector, particularly in certain sub-sectors like oil and gas, can involve demanding schedules and frequent travel, which may be perceived as challenging for maintaining work-life balance and dissuade some women from pursuing such careers.

Despite these challenges, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the energy sector and other industries. Many companies are actively working to improve gender diversity and representation within their organizations. Furthermore, women have been making significant strides in the energy sector, taking up roles in various areas like engineering, renewable energy, policy-making, and corporate leadership. As awareness increases and organizations continue to prioritize diversity and inclusion, it is hopeful that the representation of women in the energy sector will continue to increase over time.

What do you see as the role of women in ensuring energy security and resilience in the power sector?

Women play a crucial role in ensuring energy security and resilience in the power sector in various ways:

Leadership and Decision-Making: Women can contribute significantly to energy security and resilience by taking up leadership positions in the power sector. Their diverse perspectives and experiences can lead to better decision-making and more comprehensive strategies for addressing energy challenges.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: Women leaders can advocate for diversity and inclusion within the industry. A diverse workforce brings in a broader range of ideas, skills, and solutions, making the power sector more adaptable and resilient to changing circumstances.

Advancing Renewable Energy and Sustainability: Women have been instrumental in driving the adoption of renewable energy and promoting sustainable practices in the power sector. As champions of environmental causes, they can advocate for cleaner and more sustainable energy solutions, contributing to long-term energy security and reducing the sector’s environmental impact.

Innovation and Technology: Women in the power sector are driving innovation and technology advancements. They contribute to the development of smart grids, energy storage solutions, and other cutting-edge technologies that enhance energy security and grid resilience.

Community Engagement and Empowerment: Women often play a significant role in community engagement efforts related to energy projects. Their involvement helps ensure that the concerns and needs of local communities are taken into account, fostering better relationships and acceptance of energy infrastructure development.

Education and Skill Development: Women can contribute to energy security by actively participating in and promoting education and skill development programs related to energy. By encouraging more women to pursue STEM education and energy-related careers, they contribute to building a skilled workforce for the sector’s future challenges.

Energy Policy and Advocacy: Women can influence energy policies and regulations that impact energy security and resilience. They can advocate for policies that promote clean energy, grid modernization, and equitable access to energy resources.

Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Women have been at the forefront of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. As climate change poses risks to energy infrastructure and resources, their contributions in this area are essential for enhancing the sector’s resilience.

In summary, women have a multifaceted role in ensuring energy security and resilience in the power sector. Their contributions, in leadership, sustainability, innovation, community engagement, education, and policy advocacy, are vital for building a robust and sustainable energy future. Encouraging greater gender diversity and inclusion in the power sector will undoubtedly lead to more comprehensive and effective solutions for energy challenges.

What message do you have for women entering a male-dominated sector?

Entering a male-dominated sector can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to make a significant impact and pave the way for others. Here are some messages of encouragement and advice:

  1. Believe in Yourself: You belong in this sector just as much as anyone else. Have confidence in your abilities, skills, and knowledge. Trust that you have what it takes to succeed and make a positive impact.
  2. Embrace Your Uniqueness: Your perspective and experiences as a woman can bring valuable insights and diversity to the table. Embrace your uniqueness and use it as a strength in your professional journey.
  3. Challenge Stereotypes: Don’t be afraid to challenge stereotypes and biases. Your success and accomplishments will help break down barriers and prove that gender should never be a limiting factor in any field.
  4. Seek Mentors and Allies: Find mentors and allies who support and advocate for you. They can provide guidance, advice, and help you navigate the challenges you may encounter.
  5. Support Other Women: Lift and support other women around you. Building a strong network of support can create a more inclusive and empowering environment for everyone.
  6. Be Resilient: There may be obstacles and setbacks along the way, but don’t let them deter you. Stay resilient and learn from each experience, using them to grow and become even stronger.
  7. Continuously Learn: Stay curious and committed to continuous learning. The more you know, the more confident you’ll feel in your abilities.
  8. Celebrate Your Achievements: Celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small. Recognize your hard work and progress, and take pride in what you’ve accomplished.
  9. Advocate for Change: Use your voice to advocate for positive changes within the sector. Be a champion for diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities.
  10. Lead by Example: As you progress in your career, remember that you are not only creating opportunities for yourself but also setting an example for future generations of women. Lead with integrity and inspire others to follow their dreams.
  11. Remember that you are not alone; there are many women who have succeeded in male-dominated sectors, and you can too. Stay true to yourself, be persistent, and use your skills and passion to make a difference. Your presence in the sector contributes to breaking down barriers and creating a more inclusive and equitable future for all.

Women in Energy Feature – Iman Mkwanazi, Director at Matleng Energy Solutions

Bio 

Iman is the co-director of Matleng Energy Solutions, which specialises in energy advice, sustainable housing, gas, and environmentally friendly renewable solutions. Iman has sustainable projects in the private and public sectors and has received awards for human capital development; advisory services; empowerment of women and youth and contributing to sustainability. She is also one of the finalists for Mail and Guardians 2023 200 Young South Africans.

Iman holds a BSc,MDP, Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration and MBA as well as the international certificates from the IESEG School of Management, Paris.To better equip herself in her field, she went back to university to study electrical engineering and hopes to register for her PhD in Energy Studies.  Iman’s vision is to contribute to stabilising transmission and distribution of energy so that all South Africans have access to energy through both alternative and traditional methods.

Personal Questions

How did you end up in the energy sector and what advice would you give to other women wanting to follow a similar career trajectory?

Situations personal to me led me in the direction of energy which really felt like a full circle moment, going back to the field of science. What I find most enticing about electrical engineering and the energy sector is that it is constantly evolving. You’ll never be bored, before 1973 who knew we would be powering up our own homes using solar?

I think our paths are always different and there’s no one size fits all. But I think preparation is so important, especially for us women, equip yourself with knowledge (not only institutionalized education). Sometimes its sheer luck but the majority of the time luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Don’t miss an opportunity because you didn’t prepare. Most importantly, patience- when it’s your season, nothing will stop you.

In your opinion, why do you think the energy sector in its current state has less female representation and do you see it increasing?

I think energy is no different to any sector or industry, the low representation of women is a product of centuries of patriarchal structures which often favoured men but as we move away from that things will change. I would also like to believe that unlike the other gender our strongest muscle is the brain ( I’m kidding). On a serious note I think it’s already changing, for instance 70% of STEM graduates in Iran are women. 

If you could have tea with any public figure – dead or alive – who would it be and why?

Martin Thembisile Hani (AKA Chris Hani). In his journey from his days as a young man till his death he believed in putting people first, irrespective of the consequence. A true leader who lead with humanity and intelligence not one without the other.

What does being a woman in the energy sector mean to you? 

Hmmmmm, this is a bit tricky. Sometimes I don’t like that I’m the only women in the room but I must be honest I don’t have an answer for this question. We know the historical challenges that women face in various industries, they are not specific to the energy sector and they are still there up until sectors/industries start to believe in equality and equity in order to equal the gender platform.

Industry Questions

What opportunities do you see in Africa’s energy market?

I think Africa has so much potential, Africa needs a well-structured strategy with an execution plan that works for Africa.  We need to revise our energy plans and policies, many of our countries in Africa are developing nations who cannot compete with the goals of developed nations. The opportunities are endless with our plethora of natural resources but it all comes down to plans and policies that can be executed.

Women in Energy Feature – Katherine Persson, Head of Group Company | SOLA Assets (Pty) Ltd at The SOLA Group

Bio 

Katherine is a renewable energy enthusiast with a remarkable track record of over 18 years of professional experience. Throughout her career, she has been at the forefront of creating and expanding renewable energy businesses and teams, predominantly in Southern and East Africa. Her expertise spans various crucial areas, including project development, project finance, project management, environmental management, stakeholder engagement, and asset management.

Graduating with degrees (BSc Hons and MSc) in 2003 and 2004, Katherine later complemented her specialist skills with valuable business acumen. In 2016, she graduated with distinction, earning an MBA from the prestigious University of Stellenbosch. This comprehensive knowledge has proven instrumental in her success as a leader in the renewable energy sector.

Katherine has enjoyed exposure to executive responsibilities in her corporate roles and has demonstrated her commitment to the industry by serving on the boards of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) and the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC). She is a qualified director under the Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA), further underscoring her commitment to professional excellence and governance.

Currently, Katherine holds the position of Head of SOLA Assets Pty Ltd at SOLA Group. In her role, she leads SOLA’s Project Development and Project Finance teams, as well as overseeing the Asset Management division. SOLA Group is renowned as South Africa’s leading provider of Solar PV and Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) under Corporate Power Purchase Agreements (CPPAs), with a particular expertise in large wheeling transactions. Prior to her time at SOLA, Katherine spent a decade working for the international wind energy developer, Windlab.

Katherine actively champions diversity and inclusion in the energy sector. She is a mentor to women in the industry, and an advocate for increased representation of women in executive positions. Outside her busy professional life, Katherine finds joy as a mother of two and is a renowned endurance open water swimmer, demonstrating her determination and tenacity beyond the boardroom.

Personal Questions

In your position at SOLA Group, what are you doing to support the careers of other women in the municipality?

At SOLA Group, we embrace the imperative of enhancing women’s development and promoting diversity, especially in our senior leadership positions. Our commitment to this cause is exemplified by our tailored women in leadership development program, which provides comprehensive business coaching to our talented female team members. Through this initiative, women in our organization engage in direct conversations with our executive team, actively shaping the future of our business.

Aside from our internal activities we also promote female development and empowerment in our projects.  One example is that we are currently constructing two large solar PV plants where we have surpassed our own targets for the percentage of women in the workforce, with over 30% of the employees on site being female.  It’s great to visit our site and see young women in positions of responsibility, supervising teams and providing top quality professional services in the construction sector.

In your opinion, why do you think the energy sector in its current state has less female representation and do you see it increasing?

The energy sector, like many other industries, faces a gender representation imbalance, particularly at senior and executive levels. Overcoming centuries of entrenched institutional and societal systems that limited diversity is an ongoing challenge. However, the encouraging part is that times are changing rapidly.

South Africa’s green energy industry stands out as a beacon of progress, actively fostering more opportunities for women. This positive shift is evident in the increased representation of women in senior management and executive teams across public, private, and non-profit organizations. Seeing this transformation is really exciting!

As we move forward, my hope is that young women considering a career in the renewable energy sector recognize the expanding space for them to thrive and contribute significantly. Times are evolving, and the path is becoming ever more exciting and promising for women seeking fruitful and rewarding careers in this dynamic field.

Industry Question

What recent legal or regulatory changes do you think have the potential to make a positive impact on energy access in Africa?

In South Africa, recent regulatory changes (specifically the lifting of the licensing cap by the energy regulator) have paved the way for exciting projects that provide renewable energy to corporate buyers under private Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).  The grid-connected renewable energy market was dominated by government-led procurement until late 2021, when SOLA Group entered into the first corporate PPA with wheeling, where SOLA sells renewable energy to Amazon and delivers this from a 10MW renewable energy plant in the Northern Cape, to Amazon’s facilities in Cape Town.

Since this breakthrough, SOLA’s success has soared, with the completion of financing and initiation of construction for two 100MW solar PV projects in late 2022, followed by another 100MW PV project in early 2023. Furthermore, 2023 also witnessed the conclusion of the first corporate PPA projects by IPPs involving wind energy.

These achievements signal the rapid opening up of the renewable energy market in South Africa and serve as a promising example for other African countries to follow suit. With the recent approval of the first license needed for the creation of a new National Transmission Operator by the energy regulator in South Africa, the stage is set for rapid market evolution. This creates diverse opportunities for both small and large businesses to play a vital role in resolving the South African energy crisis.

This ongoing transformation opens up numerous prospects for women-owned and women-led enterprises to participate in this crucial sector. Moreover, it presents young women with ample opportunities to enter and thrive in the renewable energy field, contributing to the development of a more sustainable energy future in the region.

Women in Energy Feature – Lilian Motongori Jamunga | Co-Founder Women in Energy Africa (Kenya)

| Co-Founder & Director of Strategy at Hayili Africa | Scholar/ Werkstudentin at Schneider Electric

Bio 

Lilian Motongori Jamunga is an energy expert and currently a Young Industry Leader scholar with Schneider Electric Europe operations while taking her Master’s in Energy Management at the Technical University of Berlin in Germany. She has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical and production engineering. She has 6-year experience in the energy industry and is one of the Directors for Hayili Africa, an energy company that is offering energy solutions in Africa. Hayili Africa does research, energy management, project development, and technical advisory on energy projects among other energy solutions. She is also the current President of the Society of Women Engineers East Africa region and the co-founder of Women in Energy Africa, a platform for young women who offer innovative technological challenges for Energy in Africa.

She is a Global Bioenergy Energy Award winner in 2021 for her innovation of a mechanically driven biodiesel reactor, a 40 under 40 Inspiring African Future Mechanical Engineers (IAFME) Award winning er 2020, A Nominee for the Founder of the year Under 30 (Kenya) 2020 awards, A Booking.com Technology Playmaker Awards, Champion for change category Finalist 2020 and the Women in Energy East Africa community, professional technical award winner 2019. She was a Techwomen emerging leader in 2019 and a Woman in Africa Power fellow in 2019. She has been involved in leadership, energy, and gender issues. She is passionate about Sustainable development, Energy, women’s empowerment, and leadership


Q&A

How did you end up in the energy sector and what advice would you give to other women wanting to follow a similar career trajectory?

I studied Mechanical and production engineering and during my fifth year, I was introduced to the topic of renewable energy. I found it interesting and started following content that related to Energy as well. Having a passion to see development in Africa, I understood how important energy is in accelerating the industrialization and development of my continent. However, with climate change, it is sustainable to use clean and renewable energy. I purposed to pursue a career within the energy sector and was intentional and lucky to connect with professionals in the space who gave me an opportunity to also develop and grow my career. would encourage any other woman willing to join the sector to stay updated on the global issues in the sector as well as connect and position yourself to bring value to whatever position you get into. It is also important that they network with other professionals and continue to develop their skills to gain more opportunities.

In your opinion, why do you think the energy sector in its current state has less female representation and do you see it increasing?

The energy space has less female representation because there were existing stereotypes and biases that made the industry to be male-dominated just like any other sectors that were male-dominated traditionally. This discouraged many women from joining because of a lack of role models and enough mentors. Coupled with other barriers like education, workplace discrimination, and certain perceptions of physical demands in the field, the number has been less. However, the narrative is changing with more women getting access to education and policies and programs that encourage diversity in the workplace which is a good thing.

If you could have tea with any public figure – dead or alive – who would it be and why?

Damilola Ogunbiyi the CEO of SE for All. Her professional career and impact in the energy sector have been impressive in championing sustainable and affordable energy for all especially Africa and she inspires me a lot.

What does being a woman in the energy sector mean to you?

It means a lot to participate in shaping the industry to attract more other women and bring a diversity of thoughts that also cater to women using energy globally.

What opportunities do you see in Africa’s energy market?

Africa has a lot of opportunities to be a global leader for renewables in the whole world. We have a huge potential for solar and hydropower as well a lot of natural gas that can be used as we transition to clean energy. Our low carbon emissions also enable to trade well with other developed nations as we try to achieve the global climate goals. We also have the ability to leapfrog our energy infrastructure to more efficient technologies that are required in the clean energy transition.

Women in Energy Feature – Thabisile Ledwaba, Founder & Managing Director of Solar Stokvel

Bio 

Ms. Thabisile Ledwaba, a South African citizen born in Ga-Pila, Mokopane, Limpopo and a businesswoman who co-founded Ga-Pila Education Trust and has vast experience and interests in various sectors of the economy including circular economy, smart cities, green sanitation, energy, transport & logistics, consulting, mining, ICT, television production and skills development. She has vast experience in consulting in ICT projects in the regulatory, insurance, banking, financial, and public sectors.

She has self-published a self-help book titled “Procrastination” in 2015 which is published globally. Though her work at Ga-Pila Education Trust, she gets to mentor youth in their personal and academic development.

She founded Solar Stokvel trading as Etimbili Renewable Energy and Power in 2016, Ndala Energy and Liphezulu Energy in 2021, specializing in development, construction, operation, maintenance, commissioning, and financing of residential, commercial, industrial, and utility-scale renewable energy projects. She was appointed as Local Representative, equity partner and Executive by SEMCO International – a renewable energy company based in California US.


Questions

How did you end up in the energy sector and what advice would you give to other women wanting to follow a similar career trajectory?

I fell in love with energy after becoming a mentee of Dr Strive Masiyiwa who challenged us to take advantage of opportunities in green sanitation, energy, food security, telecommunications, fintech, etcetera and I challenged myself to study for renewable energy and sustainability studies at Stellenbosch University.

In your position at Solar Stokvel what are you doing to support the careers of other women in the municipality?

I am planning to establish an energy academy that will focus on bursaries, scholarships and imparting of skills to women by starting at grass roots levels.

How does your business actively encourage women empowerment and development?

I mostly prioritise working with women entrepreneurs in my projects before I consider men.

In your opinion, why do you think the energy sector in its current state has less female representation and do you see it increasing?

Gender mainstreaming is still an issue and gap as energy sector is still dominated by men and considered a male industry. More studies and research needs to be done to mainstream gender into the energy sector so that we see women taking lead across all the levels and decision-making of energy sector.

What are some of the major changes you’ve seen during your time in this industry?

Local companies can compete in utility-scale independent power producer programs by energy departments, municipalities, mining, corporate, and industrial.

What do you see as the role of women in ensuring energy security and resilience in the power sector?

Women are disproportionately impacted by energy security as they are primary caregivers and have to find creative ways to secure electricity in the midst of loadshedding. Therefore, are best placed to advise of the negative impact of energy insecurity and safer energy mix options to close the gap. With women forward we can have resilient energy policies.

What message do you have for other women entering a male-dominated sector?

The great place to start is to learn the industry by understanding energy policies, procurement frameworks, global trends, and development finance.

What unique opportunities do you see for women in your sector?

I see women dominating in the energy policy and financing landscape opportunities presented by just energy transition and climate action.

How do you hope to see women more included in the energy sector?

Energy studies should dominate the academic space so that it can be more visible to women without having to travel far to study.

How do you think men can support a more equal workplace as well as help accelerate women in their careers?

Men can support women by seeing them as their equal by having confidence in their ability and capability without seeing them as empowerment checklist.

What is the most important conversation we should be having in the sector?

Lack of access to inclusive financing for SMEs is an important conversation we should have because when you submit bid to build a power station you are required to have letter of intention to fund. A 100 MW solar project will cost around 1.5 billion rand minimum and access to land of 300 hectares is part of the submission requirement. So, without access of finance to fund the construction and land, women will be excluded from participating in just energy transition.

What recent legal or regulatory changes do you think have the potential to make a positive impact on energy access in Africa?

The lifting off licensing requirements for independent power producer projects of up to 100MW which department of energy and President Ramaphosa announced in August 2021 was a game changer as licensing authorisations take too long.