Working to bring sustainable energy to rural Nigeria

Yetunde Fadeyi is a new alumna, part of the class of 2019. REES Africa is an initiative she co-founded to help improve energy access in rural parts of Nigeria. Here she tells us about her inspirations for setting up REES, the challenges she faced, and her hopes for the future.

REES Africa (Renewable Energy & Environmental Sustainability for Africa Initiative) is a youth-led non-governmental organization working to improve energy access in rural and marginalized areas of Nigeria, while also promoting environmental sustainability. We are a community of millennials working towards finding solutions to environmental issues and pioneering environmental sustainability. Our initiatives include deploying affordable and off-grid electricity access in parts of Nigeria that have never been connected to the grid. We understand the intense relationship between energy and the environment, so we run advocacy campaigns to educate different audiences on environmental issues and propose simple strategies to help progress the necessary changes. We have over 200 young people volunteering across five Nigerian states, as well as in Ghana. So far, we have connected eleven rural communities to electricity for the first time via a model approach and run over 20 environmental sustainability programs, reaching around 17,000 beneficiaries.

My personal inspiration for this project stems from my sense of urgency regarding climate change. We need to focus on sustainable energy if the planet is to survive. Our energy demands keep skyrocketing with the increasing population in Africa, which is only jeopardizing our habitat further. No species can exist without a habitable planet, and as it stands, we are on the brink of losing ours. I have experienced the effects of energy poverty and environmental issues myself. I was a victim of flooding throughout my teenage years, something that could have been avoided if people had been disposing of their waste appropriately. My father kept spending more and more on renovating the fences and building trenches, but they always gave way when the floods came. If only he’d known the problem was with waste disposal and not his fences. All the experiences I’ve had, all the suffering I’ve seen as a result of fossil fuels, have driven me to work with other youths to deliver solutions and educate people on sustainable energy access and environmental issues.

But we do face many challenges, most significantly with regard to funding. We currently operate as a gift and aid-based NGO. Our aim is to evolve into a proper not-for-profit social enterprise through impact investments, turning REES Africa into a viable, market-driven social enterprise. Our ambition is that future income will come from selling products or services, rather than relying on donor income, commissions, donations, or sponsorships.

Naturally, COVID has slowed down several plans, like the prequalification assessments needed for energy-poor rural areas across the country, as well as our advocacy campaigns. However, we have been coming up with unconventional ways to reach our target audience such as virtual clean-ups and events like our celebration of World Environment Day, where we raised awareness on COVID and its impact on our environment. We sensitized one of the Lagos slums on the importance of proper hygiene, sanitation, COVID-19, and the environment via door-to-door engagements and pamphlets. We demonstrated how to wear nose masks, encouraged the residents to participate in the cleaning of their immediate environment, and explained the effects of improper waste disposal and health implications within the community. We also shared relief kits, including reusable nose masks and sanitizers. From all of this, despite COVID-19, we sensitized around 700 people with a 15-man team.

Our main energy access projects on the other hand have had 10,700 beneficiaries to date – these are the achievements I’m most proud of. In February 2018 we achieved Tier-one electrification of three communities in Lagelu Local Government, Oyo- Nigeria, via the use of solar home systems for lighting, connectivity, and mobile phones. Similarly, in April 2019 five communities in Amuwo Odofin Local Government, Lagos-Nigeria received Tier-one electrification, as did three in Kargarko Local Government, Kaduna in February 2020.

I am intensely proud of these achievements because of our unconventional method of inspiring youth action (volunteers and rural youths) to contribute to change. Chevening has given me the opportunity to transform my perspective, career, and approach to solving problems. It has been a life-changing experience, and what I’ve learned will enhance the work I do towards sustainable development on a global and more inclusive platform.