By John Townsend
Highlights from the live Q&A session with Abu Musuuza, co-founder and CEO of Village Energy
If there’s just one thing to learn from social entrepreneur Abu Musuuza, it’s that it is never too late to change the world.
After graduating from college, Musuuza spent a year at the youth-focused organization AIESEC, then several years as a program manager at Ashoka East Africa. Today, Musuuza is a social innovator, serving as co-founder and CEO of Village Energy, a social enterprise that harnesses the potential of young people and solar energy to power Uganda.
“I discovered that nearly 90% of the population in my own country, Uganda, were living off-grid, and so that marked the beginning of my journey,” Musuuza said, explaining how his transformation from nonprofit manager to entrepreneur started on the clock.
“So, I started reading about the technologies that existed and learned about all these little, low-cost technologies that were coming into the market that could really revolutionize the way people access energy. By day I was running Ashoka, by night I was burning the midnight candle trying to work out somehow a business plan and project plan, until I left Ashoka in 2009.”
Sometimes, being the change you want to see in the world is that simple. Find a cause that touches your heart, tests the limits of your imagination, and forces you out of your chair and into action.
Itching to make social impact and do it on your terms? Not quite sure where to start? Read on for tips and advice from an innovator who’s been in your shoes.
Fear is Nothing and Cash is Overrated
“One thing everyone should have is the courage to try … consistently,” Musuuza said. “I think the world would be such a phenomenal place, buzzing with innovation.”
Village Energy hasn’t stopped testing and iterating since they launched in 2009. Another thing aspiring innovators need to know?
“Forget about the money,” Musuuza said. That’s right.
“Just have the courage to make that first step. It doesn’t have to be the right thing. You don’t even know what the right thing is. And that’s the whole point in the beginning, to find out what the right thing is.
Musuuza qualified that the money does become important. But said to “listen” to your business, as it will tell you exactly where it needs to go and when.
The Customer Is Still King (or Queen)
The best way to move forward with confidence is by putting consumers, or users, first.
“Love your customer,” Musuuza said. “Some of the greatest advice that we’ve gotten is that, initially, find a core group of customers that loves you, that swear by your service, would swear by your product, would swear by your character.”
And ask them what they want, all the time—never try to force a product on someone. And work with influencers in the community you’re serving.
“You’ve got to understand that nothing can work without you working with the leadership in local communities. So, the first people you go to are local leaders, the local institutions,” Musuuza said.
“We literally have touch points with Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOs). We have touch points with religious leaders. We have touch points with local leaders in the communities. They know us. If you cannot get that local leader to buy, usually you are going to find it hard for everyone else to buy in. So, we work very closely with them and we are integrated in and out of the communities.”
Show Up, Then Show Up Again
“The whole point is consistency. You have to be consistent, you have to be present whenever, wherever you say you will be,” Musuuza said.
Not an expert in solar energy, for example? Read about it. Experiment. New to modern agriculture? Get to the field, talk to farmers. Don’t have a university degree? Doesn’t matter!
“Interestingly, we’ve had people who came in as security guards rise up to become (solar) technicians. They go out—we trust them with the solar site—and they do the installation. So, we believe in people’s passion and enthusiasm,” Musuuza said.
“In terms of hiring, how do I find the right people? in very few instances do I look for a specialized skill. In very few instances do I look for a solar technician who has the highest level, do I look for an accountant. What I look for is character.
“At the end of the day, what matters most is your passion.”
Culled from the Ashoka, Mastercard Foundation Future Forward Course.