How to get a Job in Energy Access
Coming off of the largest off-grid energy conference — GOGLA’s Off-Grid Solar Forum and Expo in Nairobi earlier this week — I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of people that were there looking to break into the energy access sector! And to be clear, these were folks coming from high-profile jobs in places like London and San Francisco — but were still looking to transition to a more high-impact or meaningful career.
After YEARS of romanticizing/incessantly talking about/dreaming about working in the field of Energy Access, I finally made the transition and moved to Nairobi from San Francisco for a job with an incredible energy access company — SparkMeter (and we’re hiring!!!). I thought it was only fair if I share my learnings from the process and pay it forward since I wouldn’t have been able to make it happen without the support of all the incredible people who helped me along the way!
1. Do your research: Yes, “Energy Access” is definitely a field in itself — but it’s a LARGE space — hence the quotation marks. Just saying you want to work in energy access is not enough — it’s akin to landing in Silicon Valley because you want to work in “tech”. It simply won’t work.
There are all kinds of companies — from standalone solar home system (SHS) providers, to equipment manufacturers to software optimization companies — there’s a whole slew of companies out there that are tackling this issue from different angles and each one is nuanced. Do your homework on the ecosystem and how these pieces fit together — and then hone in on what excites you!
2. Having a hard time figuring out exactly where to start looking? Subscribe to industry newsletters! All of them. If you already work in the clean energy space, chances are you are already addicted to #energytwitter or publications like Green Tech Media (I can’t be the only nerd out there, right?) — but this space is a whole new ballgame.
Power For All, Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE), GOGLA, Energy Access Practitioner Network, ESMAP, etc. are some pretty great organizations that not only publish some fantastic articles, but also provide helpful updates on industry events. And on a more relevant note — they all have very up-to-date and exciting job boards.
Another helpful tip is to follow the money — literally. Make sure you research the major impact-focused VC funds that have made investments in the energy sector and then go from there. Acumen, Aavishkar Capital, Bamboo Capital Partners, Energy Access Ventures, Factor [e] Ventures, KawiSafi Ventures, Lateral Capital, Nordic Impact Fund, Shell Foundation, etc are just some of the main players in the energy access space, specifically, whose portfolios you might want to start looking at for early-stage, exciting companies that are poised for growth.
Here on out, everything that you already know about getting a regular job applies — but I’ll reiterate some best practices for posterity’s sake anyway:
3. Leverage your network and connections: The world of energy access is a SMALL space. Seriously — everyone knows everyone. Even if they live on different continents, chances are they have met at some conference somewhere in the world. Make sure you scour all your networks — right from your high school classmates to your 2nd degree LinkedIn connections. I’ve actually found that people in the energy/impact space in general are almost ALWAYS willing to make time to speak with you — so don’t hesitate to ask. And just in case you truly aren’t able to find any relevant connections (but have somehow found yourself reading this article…) — feel free to reach out to me and I’d be more than happy to facilitate some introductions!
4. Focus on how you can add value: Something I’ve always done with potential employers is sharing work samples, writing or even passion projects/presentations. This not only clearly signals interest — but also the fact that you’re willing to think outside the box and take initiative. If you’re trying to break into a new-ish industry, try writing about it by publishing blogs or even taking up a consulting project or two for startups in this space if you can finagle it. And don’t sell yourself short! Companies in frontier markets are always looking for help — and free labor never hurts. Reach out to see how you can be of assistance and then get ready to roll your sleeves up as you test the space out.
5. Remember that not all Job Descriptions have been written yet — let alone posted: Through various recruiting processes (or by running your own at some point) I’m sure you’ve already learnt that many times managers haven’t always thought through their hiring needs. If you do the above (#4) correctly and can clearly articulate your value-add in a way that fits both 1) what they stand for and 2) How they plan to grow, you can certainly create a role for yourself. Especially if the company has recently seen some money come through!
6. Finally, once you’re coming close to actually signing a job offer: NEGOTIATE. I know this is always a given, but moving to a new country is a pretty big deal — especially if it’s another continent. Make sure you negotiate an appropriate start date (don’t underestimate how long it takes to pack up your whole life and move) as well as an appropriate relocation allowance. Additionally, do homework on the requirements to actually ship your things (that is if you aren’t just planning to show up with a few pieces of luggage — highly recommended though). In some cases, in Kenya for example, you need to have received your tax ID pin from the government (takes anywhere from 2–9 months) to actually clear your shipment from the port authorities. Make sure you do your homework on details like this first and don’t assume that your company will have thought these things through. Present your findings to them and make sure that you come to a consensus together.
There’s obviously a lot more that you should be thinking of and doing between flirting with the idea of working in the energy access space vs. actually packing up your bags and moving to a new continent. However, I hope that this article is a good first start to help organize your thoughts — your feedback is always welcome and appreciated. Additionally, if you’re reading this and have recently started a new role in this space, please do reach out! I’d love to hear about your experiences and I’m more than happy to include any tips or advice that you may have to offer in this article.