Norah’s story is one of vision, dedication and passion, merged together into a clear and successful path.
Since she was a young girl, she quite knew what her role in the world would be: she wanted to be at the service of her country and continent, impacting lives all around Africa. Plus, she was fond of designing and engineering gadgets, and frankly quite gifted: when she was just a kid, she assembled an electric 5v toy-car motor (actually, her brother’s toy) and a plastic propeller, giving it the shape of a bedside fan and, ultimately, a new life. Mr. MacGyver would surely have asked little Norah some piece of advice.
Little did she know that, one day, her personal vocation and her talent in engineering would find perfect harmony. After completing her bachelor’s degree in Mechanical and Manufacturing and building targeted knowledge on social entrepreneurship, she was ready to be part of the change, co-founding Drop Access, an organisation that, through the master gateway of access to energy, supports rural communities in developing sustainably. Once again, Norah envisions clearly what is the path to follow: “I believe last-mile energy access should go beyond household energy use but to economic needs. In this way, rural energy access solutions will be more sustainable”.
And with Drop Access the transformation of Norah’s vision into something material took the shape of a fresh revolution. Literally.
Koyo (“Cold” in the Luo language), an affordable 50-litre solar-powered fridge/freezer, is the showpiece of Drop Access. It is light, simple to transport (easily mounted on bicycles or motorbikes) and features a detachable battery. Koyo is specifically addressed to small producers of dairy and poultry products who make a living out of riding their bikes around to sell their goods. Such a “small” product has a vast impact on the daily lives of so many people, filling a huge gap in the access to energy. As Norah explains, “There are existing solutions for off-grid SMEs in Kenya that supply solar-powered containerised cold storage. The main disadvantage of these solutions is that they are unaffordable for rural women. These solutions are also bulky, and therefore not ideal for most micro-agripreneurs, who are always on the move”.
We are basically talking about the quintessence of the access to energy for productive uses… and it also works as a power bank and a home lighting station!
This could have been a nice temporary adventure in the field of entrepreneurship, or some sort of youth sparkle slowly doomed to decay and extinguish. And yet, it turned into something more, something alive and willing to grow. This transformation occurred also with the vital impulse of RES4Africa’s Micro-Grid Academy. As Norah states, “The MGA introduced me to the Water-Energy-Food Nexus approach and, within it, I formed a network of experts. While attending the training programme in 2019, I visited the Kitonyoni mini-grid. This year, I got a chance to train dairy farmers in Makueni County on the adoption of energy solutions to improve their ventures. I purposely targeted the Kitonyoni community”.
The MGA’s “Young Talent of the Year” Award, finally, represents a key recognition of the quality of the project, as well as rewarding it with pretty much any start-upper would kill for: financial support, visibility and chance to attract talents. But there’s more. Following the interviews with the evaluation committee of the MGA Award, Norah had the intuition of making Koyo’s talents available for the fight against Covid-19, thus prototyping, in just a few months, VacciBox: it’s basically Koyo after achieving a degree in epidemiology. It will be used to distribute vaccines in remote and otherwise inaccessible areas, effectively tackling the issues related to the cold chain, which immediately emerged as one of the main hindrances for equal access to vaccines for African population segments.
It is indeed a sweet parabola: dreaming, as a child, to have an impact. While growing up, working and studying hard, building up from scratch knowledge and capacity. Transforming it into an innovative idea, with the potential of revolutionising the conception of energy access for numerous people…as well as, ultimately, improving their lives.