Akon Lighting Africa is the brainchild of the American-Senegalese singer and businessman, Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam, who is popularly known as Akon. He started the initiative with entrepreneur Samba Bathily and Thione Niang in February 2014 to address the challenge of a lack of electricity in many parts of Africa, especially the rural areas. Samba Bathily is the CEO of Africa Development Solutions (ADS) Group and an important player in the Malian economy. Thione Niang is Senegalese-born and arrived in America with only $20 and started working as a waiter. He is currently a politician and speaker who founded the Give1 Project.
Both Akon and Thione Niang grew up in Kaolack, a town in Senegal that did not have electricity. Niang explained that he had to study with a candle that also served the entire family, and such childhood memories motivated them to make a change. They discussed the problem and partnered with Samba Bathily who specialized in solar energy.
The men secured a $1 billion credit line from international banks after partnering with China Jiangsu International. Their agreement enables the Chinese conglomerate to supply solar arrays and bill African governments, which allows them to repay within three to five years.
The Akon Lighting Africa Project develops innovative solar-powered solutions that enable African villages to get clean and cheap electricity. The project has partnered with different organizations like ADS GROUP, NARI, SUMEC, LORENTZ, GIVE1, GAUF Engineering, LUCAS NŪLLE and SOLEKTRA INT to install different solar solutions in various African countries.
The group is primarily involved in installing three kinds of solar-powered solutions:
• Public street lighting,
• Community solar micro-generators, and
• Household connection kits.
They have so far covered 480 communities in 15 countries where they have spent an average of $75,000 per village. To date, they have installed 1,200 solar micro-grids, 100,000 solar street lamps and 102,000 solar domestic kits. In the process, they have created 5,500 indirect jobs.
They are still targeting 10 more countries, making a total of 25 countries. The group expects to cover 48 countries by 2020.
According to Akon, Akon Lighting Africa Project is not charity. He describes it as “social entrepreneurship” where they do their business not only to help people but empower them to make their own money in the process. He explained that they still focused on lighting but would expand to other avenues once they have a firm grip on the current project plans.