Damilola Ogunbiyi
CEO and Special Representative, UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All

Despite much progress in meeting the ambitious goal of attaining universal access to sustainable and modern energy, nearly 800 million people still lack access to electricity. Even more lack access to clean cooking fuels. This has serious health, gender, economic, and climate consequences -- and those are especially evident during this pandemic when access to basic health and safety protocols, medical services and clean water is hampered in many parts of the world. 

In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Jason Bordoff is joined by one of the world’s leaders responsible for addressing this crisis, Damilola Ogunbiyi. She is CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy.

Special Representative Ogunbiyi previously served as the first female Managing Director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency. In a prior role, Damilola worked in the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Office of the Vice President as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Power and Head of the Advisory Power Team. Damilola was also the first female to be appointed as General Manager of the Lagos State Electricity Board. She first entered public service as the Senior Special Assistant to the Lagos State Governor on Public-Private Partnerships, and prior to her appointment, she was a consultant for the United Kingdom Department for International Development on public-private partnerships. 

 

transcript

[00:00:03]
Jason Bordoff:  Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.  I’m Jason Bordoff.  Despite much progress in meeting the ambitious goal of attaining universal access to sustainable modern energy, nearly 800 million people still like access to electricity, even more lack access to clean cooking fuels.  This has serious health, gender, economic and climate consequences and those are especially evident during this pandemic, when access to basic health and safety protocols, medical services and clean water is hampered in many parts of the world.  

One of the world’s leaders responsible for addressing this crisis is my guest today Damilola Ogunbiyi.  She is CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and she is the Co-Chair of UN-Energy.  Special Representative Ogunbiyi previously served as the first female Managing Director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency.  In a prior role, Damilola worked in the Federal Government of Nigeria’s office of the Vice President as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Power and Head of the Advisory Power Team.  Damilola was also the first female to be appointed as General Manager of the Lagos State Electricity Board.  She first entered public service as the Senior Special Assistant to the Lagos State Governor on Public-Private Partnerships, and prior to her appointment, she was a consultant for the United Kingdom Department for International Development on public-private partnerships.  Special Representative Damilola Ogunbiyi, thank you so much for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.

[00:01:43]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  Thank you for having me.

[00:01:46]
Jason Bordoff:  I really am excited and honored to speak with you, because your work is so important, the mission you are undertaking now at SEforAll and perhaps especially now.  You were supposed to join us in April in person at our Global Energy Summit on Columbia’s campus in New York and of course we had to cancel because of the pandemic so we’re doing this virtually and the reason we had to cancel, Covid-19, I think in many ways this highlighted the importance of this conversation I wanted to have with you.  So, I just want to start by talking about how the pandemic is affecting your work.  I think in U.S. we are told to wash hands, to socially distance, to stay home and people don’t often think about what it would be like to try to do those things without clean water, without access to electricity or to clean cooking fuels or if their medical clinics didn’t have electricity even.  Talk a little bit about how you see the pandemic hitting places like Sub-Saharan Africa and how that connects to the clean energy and energy access agenda.

[00:02:48]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I mean, well the pandemic has hit two-fold, right?  There’s been some extreme negatives in there, but there’s also been some positive.  I think one of the issues that we’ve been trying to say for years is that energy access really saves lives.  And you’ve really hit the nail in terms of, if you have no access to electricity and you have no access to clean cooking, there’s 565 million people that cannot stay at home.  It’s just not possible, even before we even start talking about the health issues right.  And it’s been – and for me what is a bit scary is that you have governments and representatives of the global north saying because of the pandemic we might reduce funding that’s already not available to these countries when we need it the most.  I think what this has showed us is just how interconnected we are and if we leave out Africa in this equation, it’s going to affect all of us.  So, I think those are kind of the key things.  

In terms of looking at it a bit more in terms of a positive note right, what it means is that you have countries finally coming to you and saying, we actually want to recover better.  We want to recover better not because of climate, but because it helps economic growth.  And this is what we’ve been talking about right.  Green jobs create more green jobs or makes three times as much green jobs as the fossil equivalent, where investments in renewable energy for every dollar investment you get approximately 93 cents back in additional GDP.  So, what I've been trying to do with our organization is breaking it down for government to language they understand.  And to understand how recovering better is key to this stimulus and it’s key to the economic growth, but we are still in a terrible situation, 28% of health facilities in Africa have sustainable energy and we’re now kind of trying to come out of this recovering better with sustainable energy and I think that’s the key difference of what we’re trying to do at the moment and I think that’s what the pandemic has taught us, but it’s not just an African issue, it’s a global issue on how we are actually going to support Africa to do this.

[00:05:08]
Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, does that – I guess the UN released a report recently focused on how to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goal 7, affordable, reliable, sustainable modern energy access for all.  In this time of Covid-19 and that is the question that some have raised, why should governments put clean energy technologies at the heart of recovery.  Let’s just focus on – does that come at the expense of the economy and what I hear you saying is actually there’s a lot of overlap, that’s a false choice, that in fact the best way to have a good economic recovery is to incorporate those goals into it.

[00:05:44]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  Exactly and even to have healthier people.  So, statistics have shown even before Covid, if you provide power to a primary health care center, you have 69% more people actually coming to attend the center, you have double workforce actually coming to attend to people.  So while we’re there talking about, do we have enough ventilators? Do we have enough equipment? What are we going to use to power these things right? Energy sits at the heart of everything we’re doing.  In Africa agriculture is big, energy sits at the heart of that.  If we actually take the time and provide clean solutions for our agricultural supply chains even if it’s only the cold chain, that’s 25% of food that doesn’t have to be lost that will actually continue.  These are statistics that are so relevant to what we call recover better and so relevant to economies now that we really have to take into consideration.  And then energy doesn’t stop for electrification, it also includes clean cooking.  I mean, clean cooking isn’t only about it being unhealthy but it’s also about really hinderous crimes against women in terms of gender-based violence.  

So, what we have to do is look at it even if we want to look at it from an economic standpoint right and say look what is the fastest way of getting out of this recovery right?  And energy is always going to be, if not number one, at least top three of any type of economy and been able to do it cleaner because in almost every country in the world it’s a cheaper solution right and making sure you educate the governments on the policy then the enablers they have to be in place, but while you’re doing that you also have to speak to the DFIs and the global north and say if these guys do this, when are you going to come in with that.  It’s not just a one-way conversation and that’s what I really want to get across. In my previous role as a head of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency, I ran possibly what is still the largest energy access program which is $550 million from the World Bank and the AfDB and it might sound like a lot, but this is just 29-billion-dollar problem a year.  

So, you can just see the large divides in the amount of money that’s available, the time it takes to access money and then we’re still talking about it being a critical problem.  Something has to give and both governments and policy makers and DFIs have to come together, shorten the time, shorten the requirements for climate funding to really make this work.  

[00:08:23]
Jason Bordoff:  So, I want to ask you a little bit about your previous role in Nigeria, but just to finish on the topic of building back better and green recovery we’ve been having conversation about that in the U.S.  Obviously in the European Union, European Commission just passed a recovery bill that had a significant element of green investment in it.  And I'm curious how that agenda plays differently if it does in say a continent like Africa, in Europe for example where they invested heavily in let’s build a hydrogen economy, that maybe different in parts of the world that are importing a lot of clean energy technologies say from a small set of Asian countries, and I'm wondering if there’s a tension between building a domestic economy, industrial policy, manufacturing capabilities and the need to expand clean energy technologies, does that look different in Africa than say it does in the U.S. or the EU?

[00:09:17] 
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I mean, I think it’s different in terms of the scale but the principles are similar.  And when people talk about universal access in Africa, I think they sometimes should get that Africa also wants to industrialize.  I'm not saying I know what the industrial revolution for Africa would like but there needs to be enough energy to also do that.  But back to your question on how it looks like, one of the particular things is you need to target it from either an energy security point of view or an energy access point of view.  Those are two very important things and we need to also give evidence that providing enough power to people using sustainable energy is the way to go.  However, you also have to look at big economies like South Africa, which is a coal-based economy and instead of saying you need to switch to renewables or you’re going to get a big hydrogen plant.  You need to help them plan from now to 2050, what is your energy transition and that is what I really find missing in a lot of conversations I'm having.  

We don’t really have African based clean energy transition plans like how we had like here in the UK to say, by this year we will stop this and this is the socioeconomic reasons, this is what is going to happen to the communities that are basically supported by coal economies, here’s the type of jobs we’re going to create for them, this is the political landscape, this is how we’re going to deal with the politics.  You know there are so many dimensions that have been talked through in the global north that’s not taken into consideration in Africa so, I don’t really think that the issue is to go and say stop doing something.  I think the issue is to show evidence and help with technical assistance to grow the power of how they will get there and they might take a couple of decades and there might be some transitioning fuels on the way to get there.  

And I really believe that that can happen, I believe that governments would like to support that kind of plan.  But it needs a level of technical assistance and it also needs some – there are also some supply chain issue right with Covid, even countries that wanted to power at least their health care systems using solar hybrid solutions basically ran out of lithium batteries in West Africa and inverted, you had enough panels so, there’s a supply chain issue so, no, I'm not sure at this stage we’re ready for manufacturing, but we definitely are ready for large scale assembly.  There needs to be a way that if you have a project in Senegal you can pop to Nigeria and buy things and then go back again.  Everybody if they need file panels now have to go get it in China.  It’s not effective and what is happening is that the cost of actually doing renewable projects and these solar projects in Africa are not coming down even though the components are coming down.  

And that is important because the cost of the end user to the most vulnerable person which we’re trying to really leave no one behind has to be cost effective.

[00:12:29]
Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, I know that.

[00:12:29]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  It’s not just doing renewable for the sake of doing renewable it’s to transform people’s lives.  So they need to be able to afford to the solutions we’re putting in place.

[00:12:37]
Jason Bordoff:  It’s interesting.  Your comments also make me think about how when we think about the kind of clean energy innovation agenda, the new technologies that will be needed to decarbonize, that’s often framed around advanced, developed economies and what they may be able to develop or what they may need, but in some of the regions you’re talking about efficient air conditioners that operate across a range of temperatures and humidities, two and three wheeled vehicles, low cost renewable, micro grid networks, the kind of technological innovation you need is going to potentially be different so, how do you think we can make sure that we have a clean energy technology innovation agenda that works for the regions that you’re focused on expanding energy access in?

[00:13:25]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  It ties back to the data, like what is the least cost development plan? What is the clean energy transition plan for Africa that takes into consideration access right? What are the different things that have to be done in all the different sectors to allow you to get there?  There is not – there are not many or comprehensive plans that have taken that into consideration.  Once you have those plans, you can then say okay, this is how much of my transportation sector I can have teed, this is how much of my agriculture sector I can have teed, this is what I have to do here, and it also inspires a level of innovation.  I mean, just from, I worked a lot with the SMEs and trying to give them sustainable power solutions and it became kind of value chains for tech companies, they started offering what was to offer energy solutions and like PAYGo solutions in terms of very large mini grids, end up being portals from micro pensions and micro loans and all these other things and they took off a life on its own.  

So, I'm just so excited about the level of innovation that we’re going to see from indigenous Africans once we give them the tools to actually get there.  I think we spent so much time in talking about what is best for Africa instead of just doing something and learning from the mistakes.  Ten years ago in Nigeria, I had to prove that solar worked, that was my only role let me, if I can prove to government that solar worked, maybe I get to do a project and now it’s totally different so, we can leapfrog as they say in that regard.  We need the help but we don’t need people dictating and what they think should work, instead of just coming to try something out.  I really believe in doing and then having lessons learned, they’re not doing anything at all and that’s what I'm really hoping to bring into this role and challenge institutions.

[00:15:28]
Jason Bordoff:  I mean, you’ve talked, I've heard you talk before about the importance of accurate data from projects on the ground as key to developing solutions.  You talked about that in your role at the Nigeria Rural Electrification Agency where you implemented an off-grid electrification strategy so, it sounds like that’s key to what you’re saying right now right.  And what does that mean for what role data can play in motivating governments to act now that you step into a new role of the UN and have a much broader mandate and are looking at a much broader segment of the world.

[00:16:01]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I think what is important is that it’s not only data and evidence for governments to act, it’s also data and evidence for you to get any type of funding like it’s not coincidental the Nigerian project has become effective.  That’s because at least to our community level accuracy I can tell you someone needs a mini grid if they should be connected to a grid, if they really need a solar home system between to a level of tier.  It can probably tell you how many are banked, how many of these are un-banked? What payment platforms you can use? That level of sophistication has to be there because you are trying to have a private sector driven economy right.  

And no one is going to come in unless you have that level of accurate data and then in terms of the government point of view the evidence is so important to actually be able to show that if you invest in this, this is what you will get out in terms of return and that’s why integrated energy plans and least cost development plans done properly and accurately because there’s also the risk of a lot of plans we’ve been seeing that are not done that accurately based on information that are outdated and not working with the government to develop.  That’s actually more harmful than not doing anything in the first place, because – and people forget that risk so, as for SEforAll we’ve actually been focusing and thank you, because some of your team have come to the meetings on what should be the standards for when you’re putting together integrated energy plans for countries.  

And what type of training should you leave them behind to actually understand it, because we all know of plans that just sit on people’s laptops and haven’t even really changed policy.  But back to the Nigeria point of view, what the data allowed us to do was to find commercially viable mini grid.  That’s something everyone said was impossible, there’s nothing like that, basically in the SME markets but any way you can save your grow up money that’s a good thing.  And that thrives a new type of entrepreneur and it’s going really well.  So the things you just don’t even know you will find until you have a focus on the data and I'm pretty much obsessed with data for anybody who knows me.  And it’s just so important in terms of planning.  

[00:18:21]
Jason Bordoff:  That’s great.  Well, I think we tend to be as well in our research and it sounds like there maybe some really good areas to collaborate when you get to New York and work with us at Columbia on some of this.  In the U.S., when we talk about renewables – distributed renewables on average obviously there are exceptions it’s typically more expensive than centralized utility scale, but what you’ve seen in a continent like Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa that doesn’t yet have a fully built electricity infrastructure, how do you think we will and should build that renewable energy there.  What's going to make the most sense?

[00:18:58] 
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I think it needs to be primarily distributed energy depending on which country.  It would either be mini grids or at least a tier 2 solar home systems, I'm one of the big believers, I don’t think solar lanterns are electrification at all.  And I think you need to give people tools, at least a fan, because we also have to look at cooling when we discuss this issue.  But again it depends on the data so, in Nigeria we tried to kind of map everything, kind of 10 kilometers for the grid can be supported by the grid and this is – it’s really important because I am not against large renewable projects at all, being connected to the grid, I just have to know that it’s actually going to get somewhere.  

And in a lot of cases it’s not about more power to the grid right now, it’s really building out that transmission and distribution infrastructure.  So, the African utility is still so key and so important in this energy access issue.  I'm trying to even find ways of the utility working with the off grid developers to expand their networks is also something that we are very, very keen on, but again making sure the utilities are not bankrupt and they are viable to be able to take in all those linked solutions are something that we should still focus on.  And we just need to be focusing on three or four key things at the same time, instead of waiting for one to happen and then the other, because I am a true believer that it’s actually projects that drive policy changes in Africa and not necessarily the other way around.  

[00:20:31]
Jason Bordoff:  I wanted to ask you also about the other prong of universal energy access in cooking.  I guess the IEA released its Africa energy outlook in November and just so our listeners know, nearly half of Africans did not have access to electricity in 2018, more than 70% lack access to clean cooking.  What do you – why do you think that is and what can be done to make deeper gains in the area of clean cooking?

[00:21:03]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  That has to go back to the data and the research and understanding where these people are and what is the best form of clean cooking that will satisfy their need? Like I'm still baffled even in my previous role on why I didn’t have an access program that also included clean cooking like what's the point of electrifying people and then leaving them with a dirty fuel.  But if we have the information and the data you can manage and you can design programs together in that way especially because of so much harm the clean cooking causes and I don’t think people are educated enough to just again, it’s unfortunate that lot of people see these things as an inconvenience instead of a difference between life and death for many, many Africans.  

And I think we just need to keep on spreading that and then we need to find more financing into clean cooking and I think it’s tied into electrification and tied into energy access programs that are already existing.  I think that’s a quickest way to start before we look at a lot more investment in clean cooking.

[00:22:08]
Jason Bordoff:  Do you think the focus there will be electrification or what’s the role for LPG and other solutions?

[00:22:15]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I don’t think everything is – anything is off the table.  I think with clean cooking you can’t be too, what's the word elitist about your fuel source right.  If you know the number of people who are dying every day from fuels and if you switch onto the LPG but think of LPG again as a transitional fuel till you get to a perfect situation where hopefully at some point they can actually cook with electricity, but they’re not there yet and the data doesn’t support that yet until there’s a heavy amount of grant funding which again is fine because we’re putting money to something that literally will save people’s lives.  Sorry.

[00:22:54]
Jason Bordoff:  No, I was going to say I think when – sometimes you hear people talk about the goal of expanding energy access and it is – it can be at times framed as intention with the goal of rapid decarbonization and one out of every two people added to the planet between now and 2040 are projected to the African, by 2025 the population larger than that of India and China combined.  We can pursue a cleaner path but it’s hard to see that many people seeking access to modern energy services and rising prosperity without a lot more energy use, some of that maybe hydrocarbons.  How do you think about that or is that a false choice when people try – identify what they perceive to be tensions between those different goals?

[00:23:44]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I think if it’s planned properly you can achieve both goals.  And I think you can achieve both goals quite seamlessly to be honest.  Again this is determining how much energy people need and countries need.  And the energy for access is completely different from the energy from industry, right.  We’ve had an access conversation and the energy for transportation.  But if you don’t define what it is and how to plan it right at the beginning, yes they’re going to be conflicts, but I do think at this point it can be cleaner.  So, taking into consideration someone like Senegal right going from HBFO, big horrible dirty fuel plant, and then swapping to gas fire power plants with the wind plant connected to it.  These are the solutions that are getting cleaner, might not get perfect.  My own thing is that they have to be a transition.  Africa has a lot of gas, there might be a transition with gas and renewables before you finally get to renewables, because of the need for industrialization as well, but that all has to be thought through and penciled in and financed, because the way we are going right now, we’re still going to have 600 million Africans without access in 2030 which will be really, really terrible since our goal is to achieve universal access for everyone by then.  

So this is crisis, this is critical and we have to have new commitments, new ways of doing things and nothing should be off the table.  And there shouldn’t be this striving for perfection, because it really just does not exist when people’s lives are at the heart of these things.

[00:25:22]
Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, I think – I think often these conversations, we talked about cooking, we talked about expanding access to electricity and of course energy use and carbon emissions come from sources other than electricity so, when we think about deep decarbonization we often think we are going to need more electrification, we’re going to need to electrify things that aren’t electric today like transportation and then decarbonize those -- the grid.  That’s already hard enough in developed economies with reliable electricity for people.  How much harder is it to think about – talk about the transportation sector and what you – is the pathway toward lower emissions?  How does it look in emerging markets relative to how folks think about it in developed economies given the additional challenges that exist for something like electrification?

 [00:26:13]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I mean, I think if we take transportation first, Africa is responsible for only 2% of emissions or less than 2% of the emission so, no one thinks of Africa right now as a big emissions issue and that I think is half of the problem right, because they’re so much potential for them to be so, instead of thinking about it as what has happened in the global north in terms of let’s develop everything and then let’s try and figure out how to crawl back.  We have a very good opportunity to define from now how to not get ourselves in that situation in the first place, that is what I would like to see and that is what I would like to propose and encourage governments and encourage DFIs and institutions like yourselves in Columbia of thinking through so, we’re not, we’re being proactive in terms of the approach instead of, here’s doomsday, how do we get out of that.  Well we’re nowhere near that now.  Is there any way we can plan support, finance, encourage to make sure that never happens.  

I know definitely in Nigeria before I left, there was – in university campuses they were talking about electric vehicle solutions because we had built kind of megawatts of solar power plants that could charge them and things like that.  So, people already starting to think about it, it hasn’t gone through, I mean there’s LPG programs for some buses now.  So, people are doing snippets, it’s not big enough, but again it’s because it’s not part of an overall transportation plan to get things cleaner, but again I'm just – the only reason why I took the role is because I'm encouraged that at this point we really need to come up with some new solutions and new commitments so, we don’t look back in 20 years and say well, we had a chance to make a real difference in Africa and we didn’t take it.  

[00:28:08]
Jason Bordoff:  And what do you see – we had the Vice President for infrastructure of the World Bank on this program recently talked about the private sector interest in investing in electric power and the energy sector more generally in Africa.  What do you see when you look at private sector interest and what is needed to increase that?

[00:28:31]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  Working capital, they need funding and they need funding in a single digit interest rate basically and they need concessional funding that’s long term that’s what we see as key.  I'm hoping that the energy access market in Africa is a private sector market, that’s what I pushed my entire career, even starting off with IPPs and now in rural electrification just for the sustainability of it, but they need help as well and they – there’s also an additional focus that we’re doing in terms of just indigenous development as well and getting them up to scratch to be able to apply for these – this working capital to be able to apply for this grants, because if you need like kind of five years audited accounts in clean energies, there are very few companies who have that.  

So there’s some particular things that we also need to look at to drive private sector interest and to be honest it’s the – it’s where you can make the most money in the world as well.  Let’s not shy away from that, if you’re working on electrification it’s probably one of few places that there’s still a growing population.  But there’s going to be a need for additional energy.  So it’s almost like switching it up and looking at Africa as an opportunity is what I would be really keen on doing and focusing on and trying to bring down any barriers spoiling the private sector from coming in and supporting government to make sure that happens.  

Government is at the heart of all these things, but it’s – I just find that it’s still an excuse to say oh, you haven’t done A, B, C, D, E, F, you know.  You’re never going to get that perfect scenario before you come into any country, developing or developed and we need to stop hiding behind that or in some cases people are like we’re not sure about that political regime so, you’re going to wait four years.  What do you say? What are you doing so?  I do – I really, really believe in accountability even for myself that’s why we have 100 day reports saying this is what we did in the last 100 days.  So you understand why we’re doing this stuff, but accountability cannot only be left to government and government officials.  It also has to be left to institutions, that -- the main reason why they exist is to support governments and to support clean energy.  

[00:31:04]
Jason Bordoff:  And which models – what are the best practices you’ve seen in terms of government policy in developed economies, foreign policy, the approaches on multilateral organizations or multilateral development banks that you think are – have proven most successful to help drive some of that investment?

[00:31:22]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I think the UK has a very good model.  And I think the UK with kind of like CBC and even on the private sector side Actis, it works and they have a good offering and to the public they see, the scene of that country that in terms of clean energy have things together.  I could easily say something like Germany, but I want to take – I want to take something more kind of a bit more realistic and somewhere that they transit there -- still transitioning out of some of these fuels that we’re talking about.  In terms of developing economies, I honestly believe that every single regulation currently exists.  It might not exist in the country that needs it but it exists right.  So, when there’s issues with policy decisions or maybe somewhere like DRC now that doesn’t have a regulator in place or an REA, like they would say they just spend the next two years developing all these policies, go and take it from Nigeria, Kenya and all these other places and ask them to adopt template stuff because it’s costly and it’s not needed anymore right.  We do know the information and documentation we need to get private sector and we do know the information and documentation we need to get DFIs as well.  

So, we also need to save time of other countries right, by taking useful examples of people who have done things before, also a really big believer in kind of just Africa to Africa learning so, if there’s an energy access program in Ethiopia they should go spend six months in Nigeria, then you go to Congo like let’s also – trying to educate ourselves as well while developing this.  

[00:33:11]
Jason Bordoff:  We only have a few minutes left.  I wanted to ask you, there’s a lot of discussion you have surely seen in the U.S. and elsewhere these days about inequality and inclusion.  It is important and consequential and interesting the extent to which in the U.S. certainly the discussion about the policy response to the climate crisis has become much more integrated with that of equity, justice and inclusion.  I'm just curious how that relates to your work and how you perceive the – how you perceive the conversation that is happening in the U.S. and elsewhere on those issues now.  

[00:33:48]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I mean, I think the conversation in U.S. is interesting because at least it’s even happening.  I think in other parts of the world people are forgetting that conversation and because being a black African, diversity is so important to me.  And we just don’t have enough of it in the sector.  I think that’s a fair thing to say in the development world or in the clean energy world and I think because of that, that’s why when climate or clean energy is brought up to some Afrikaners and South Asian nations, they kind of switch off because they don’t feel connected to it right.  I have in cases and in some of the fora now, because where I am -- having to express the fact that I need more representation from the global south, because I don’t only represent Africa now, I represent the UN.  Who is going to be part of the conversation?  We can’t be planning for these nations and not having them – plan to be part of that conversation.  It’s also a big driver why I'm being very, very supportive to indigenous developers in developing countries and also the renewable associations in those countries.  

So, I – now I've kind of gone off what you originally asked, but inclusion and diversion and diversity I'm making sure that’s part and parcel of what you do is very, very critical, because it’s just not there right now.  And I must admit I was quite shocked how un-diverse this sector is even though everybody is very nice and very pleasant and – but we need to have a lot more, we need to have lot more voices inside the conversation.

[00:35:32]
Jason Bordoff:  Well, one of the areas where it is not diverse enough is the role of women in the energy sector and of course you’re also one of the most prominent African women in the energy sector.  Can you talk about what you think the current and future opportunities for women to have the greatest impact in the energy sector in Africa are and what barriers need to be addressed to take full advantage of women’s contributions?

[00:35:56]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  I mean, I think it’s absolutely huge. I had a 25 women project management team in my previous job, very purposely just to show that women could negotiate a World Bank contract and the Head of the Energy Access Program in Nigeria now is a woman.  I mean, all our stats are showing that having woman in these roles you – they’re actually about 23% more productive than the male counterpart.  But there are two aspects you really have to look at, one is the training right.  It’s not about just hiring a woman for the sake of hiring a woman, we need to train young women into jobs.  And we need to insist that there’s a certain criteria that allows a woman to have a job.  And a lot of companies even with funding now are asking like what are your gender profiles, but we need to actually take that seriously, but while we’re doing that we – and I'm not talking about training for two, three years I'm talking about short training for clean energy solutions from anything from cash management to accounting to solar technician.  

And we really need to incorporate women as part and parcel of the solution.  I have some amazing, amazing young women currently working in the Nigerians base and I'm just so proud of what they’re able to achieve.  And it’s just by giving them the opportunity, I mean, I was the head of an agency at a relatively young age, but someone gave me that opportunity as well.  Unfortunately women still have to work much harder, we’re hoping that changes one day, but I'm really, really encouraged of the future especially of the African woman in solving this problem, instead of just seen as a statistic of a beneficiary.  

[00:37:36]
Jason Bordoff:  At the Center on Global Energy Policy, we have a Woman in Energy Leadership program and I know when we have an opportunity to be together in person, they would be thrilled to have the chance to spend time with you if you can make that available.  A lot of their members, I know listen to this podcast.  Just in closing, can you offer any advice for young women and men who want to enter and make a career in the area of energy access?

[00:38:02]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  First I would love to speak to them so, we don’t have to wait to be in person.  This is the type of thing I enjoy, so I don’t mind setting up some type of webinar where I can discuss with them. Firstly, the energy sector is not an easy sector but try and get in any way you know how even if it’s just an internship.  If you’re really, truly passionate about it and you have to put people at the heart of it, because it’s actually a very difficult sector to navigate, but if you really, really care about making a change there’s no better sector to be part of.  I'm always – I’ll leave you with this, one of the first projects I did was connecting a baby hospital in Nigeria.  And the fact that we were – they were coming back to me and telling me that the infant mortality rate had gone down, because we connected them to energy, that means something I did saved a baby’s life and if there’s no greater feeling, there really isn’t and for us that are quite fortunate in life, we really, really need to give back so, I really, really encourage you.  I think we have some internship programs in SEforAll as well, if people are interested in doing that.  

I think we have a couple of people from Columbia right now working with us in our office, so, please get all the experience, during Uni, after Uni, it’s really, really a wonderful career to be part of.   

[00:39:23]
Jason Bordoff:  Thank you for those inspiring words and for the work you’re doing, the work of your mission, affordable, reliable, sustainable modern energy access for all is one of the most important there is and it’s quite of the work we do at the Center on Global Energy Policy and hopefully you may have seen that Columbia University recently announced its creating its first new school in 25 years, a school of climate change and it will be core to the research agenda of that school as well.  So, in New York or virtually, hopefully we can continue to stay engaged and be helpful to you in your work and find ways to collaborate moving forward.  Thank you so much Damilola for making time to be with us this morning and to talk to all of us about your career and your agenda moving forward.  

[00:40:08]
Damilola Ogunbiyi:  Thank you so much, and I will just look forward to working together with you guys and meeting you in person in New York someday.  

[00:40:15]
Jason Bordoff:  Thank you Damilola, again for joining us and thank you to you, all of our listeners for joining us for this episode of Columbia Energy Exchange.  For more information about the podcast or the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at energypolicy.columbia.edu or follow us on social media @ColumbiaUEnergy.  Thanks again for listening, I'm Jason Bordoff, we’ll see you next week.