Upskilling middle-managers is serious business for Africa’s energy access and climate solutions

2nd December 2021

Pictured: Sylvia Achanda, the collections team Lead at Solar Panda Kenya, along with her team at the Solar Panda call centre.

Sylvia Achando of Kenya was just out of college when she began her career in Africa’s emerging off-grid energy sector. Now 31 years old, she leads the collections department at Solar Panda, which provides innovative home solar systems to remote villages in rural Kenya. In the seven years she’s worked to provide energy access to people across the country, much has changed. Growth for her, professionally and for the sector, required a lot of hard work and upskilling.

Sylvia is not alone, she’s part of an unheralded and unlikely group responsible for driving energy access and combating climate change across Africa; middle managers. That’s right, Africa’s middle managers are key players in delivering energy access. There are 150,000 people employed in Africa’s off-grid sector with countless managers like Sylvia in their ranks. 

Like any emerging professional, Sylvia has had to grow her skills as her responsibilities and scope grew within her company. Through Solar Panda, Sylvia gained a foothold in management along with almost 500 emerging managers, selected from 85 companies, who participated in UKAID’s Transforming Energy Access platform and its Empowering Managers programme, implemented by the African Management Institute (AMI). The focus of the programme, as part of a consortium within the Off-Grid Talent Initiative (OGTI), has been to improve managerial capacity and, therefore, increase the impact of companies in delivering private sector solutions for clean energy access. 

“It has been a learning curve, which has taught me the importance of being resilient and persistent all through. I used to struggle with giving feedback, but now I am able to communicate effectively and delegate tasks, which has helped improve the team’s performance,” she reflects.

The recent announcement by the UK government during COP 26 of new ‘scale-up’ funding to the tune of £126 million for Transforming Energy Access (TEA) is important news for those who care about private sector-driven solutions to climate change. With programmes like Empowering Managers part of the initial TEA funding, it’s also a vote of confidence in the results of supporting managers in Africa’s clean energy sector like Sylvia. 

Early impact data from the Empowering Managers programme illustrates the efficacy of such upskilling initiatives. In fact, they are already paying dividends for both the sector’s rising managerial talent as well as businesses. For example, 82% of companies participating in the programme noted improvements in their company’s key performance metric. At the same time, 73% reported increased company revenues whilst 100% of participants reported improved management skills, after completing the programme. 

It’s not just improved revenues and key metric performance where upskilling of African managers in clean energy is making a difference. Joy Asuke, HR manager for Solar Panda enrolled seven other women managers in addition to Sylvia into the programme with the intention of helping them to excel in the unique circumstances of the off-grid sector.

 “It’s a very unique space where negotiation, communication, and critical thinking skills are very important. Team managers who work with local communities have to navigate, educate and convince people in these communities to purchase the solar kits,” says Joy who manages the human resources for Solar Panda’s 250 staff. “Women are really doing better in [management positions] and as an organisation we are keen to grow women in leadership positions because we can see a lot of commitment, patience, and go-getter spirit in them, which is very critical seeing that we work a lot in rural communities where these qualities help.”

                 [Left to Right] Joy Asuke, Human Resource & Admin at Solar Panda Kenya and Sylvia Achando

Taken generally, strong middle management is crucial for any business to grow successfully. Experience from AMI programmes has shown, instead of being growth engines of organisations, middle managers can quickly become bottlenecks when they are unable to plan, motivate and delegate. Companies within Africa’s green sector need managers with bespoke skill sets that go beyond  communication, teamwork, project planning, problem-solving and entrepreneurial mindset. These businesses also require leaders who can drive private sector solutions to the climate crisis: working with remote teams in rural areas, building innovative clean energy products, creating jobs, improving livelihoods, and developing products that lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

Expanding ‘green’ jobs for Africa has been an important objective of various policy instruments. Just like Sylvia did seven years ago, young people join the workforce at a rate of 13 million African youth per year. Only three million of these youth can be accommodated into the formal jobs market. Upskilling those who manage these young people will be critical to ensure that businesses grow to be in a position to hire and retain employees as they come into the workforce. 

As young professionals like Sylvia become business owners and part of ‘middle-management’, they are already and will continue to be, on the frontlines of combating climate change across the continent. Investing in them is investing in Africa’s clean energy future and economic development.  We should take their development and place in the clean energy transition like Sylvia does, as very serious business. 


Patricia Maina is a Partnerships Manager at AMI and works on developing new strategic partnerships to help scale AMI’s work across Africa. Patricia is AMI’s project lead for the Transforming Energy Access Off- Grid Talent Initiative. To learn more about how your organization can partner with AMI to deliver high-impact programmes, contact patricia@africanmanagers.org.


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