Record donation of £920,000 from Solarcentury launches a new era at SolarAid

Some of the team at Solarcentury, and SolarAid’s new chair for a new phase, Mirjana Skrba.

Followers of this website could be forgiven for being fed up with being reminded that Solarcentury gives 5% of net profit every year to a charity, SolarAid, which exists to help Africans get access to solar light. But since 2006, Africans working for SolarAid’s retail brand SunnyMoney have sold more than 2 million solar lights, operating among the poorest of the poor in East Africa, measurably improving the lives of more the 10 million people. This is a really useful exemplar, I believe, of corporate profits-for-a-purpose, I hope It is therefore worth me being a bit of a pain in beating the drum, especially in such hard times for philanthropy generally.

This year the donation has broken all previous records, and almost reached a million pounds.

This, I have concluded, is the ideal time for me to step down as chair of SolarAid, after 14 years service. My replacement is Mirjana Skrba, Chief Operating Officer of The Carbon Tracker Initiative. She will work with SolarAid CEO John Keane to plan and execute a new strategy for SolarAid’s work in post-Covid Africa, built around the Solarcentury donation.

John’s view of this: “This donation allows us to aim for big positive impacts in Africa at a time of particularly dire stress on the poorest of the poor. The team is incredibly grateful to Solarcentury. Though we are sad to say adieu to our founder, as he moves on to focus on his new project, we are very excited to be working with Mirjana as new chair. Her track record at the Carbon Tracker Initiative – arguably one of the world’s most successful non-governmental organisations, in terms of impact on the climate crisis – means that she brings hugely relevant skills and experience to our mission.”

Mirjana’s view: “I want to thank the SolarAid team wholeheartedly for the opportunity they have given to help make a difference in Africa, and the trust they have placed in me. We live in a time of dire and growing threats, not least the climate and Covid crises. But this also means we are in a time of unique opportunities for positive system change. I hope that in my time as chair I can help the SolarAid team fashion an exemplar of such change in Africa.”

Sarah Butler-Sloss, chair of the Trustees of the Ashden Awards, generously has this to contibute: “It is thrilling to see Solarcentury and SolarAid, both past winners of Ashden Awards, doing so well, and linking commercial success in the developed world with generous funding of work in Africa that is helping achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 7. This is the kind of green entrepreneurship we will need to see much more of if humankind is to defeat the climate crisis and rebuild sustainably after the Covid crisis. At Ashden, we congratulate Solarcentury and SolarAid on the exemplar they provide us. We wish Jeremy equal success in his new carbon-sink project, and are thrilled that someone of Mirjana’s skills and experience has taken up the SolarAid governance baton for the vital next phase.”

My view: At my last board meeting, the SolarAid board read a quarterly report that told a wonderful story of collective effort and achievement by the team this quarter, in the face of profound adversity. We were particularly impressed by the evolving work growing the bedrock of our support, ordinary people of no particular (developed-world context!) affluence. And we are very aware of how widely team members have contributed to this achievement, in all our theatres of operation.  I and the other trustees extended a massive thank-you to the team.

The near-million-pound donation from Solarcentury – the eventual realisation of my dream of an exemplar of significant corporate support for philanthropy – comes on top of this.

So it is a good time for me to move on, and focus on execution of a second dream: to create an exemplar of local-solutions leadership in defeating the combined climate and post-covid crises. I hope to be applying lessons I have learned along the way – from the mistakes as well as things that worked!

In that respect, I am immensely grateful to Mirjana for taking over the chair of SolarAid. My request to her, when partnering with John as the standard-bearer for the team, is “to build a new, more energetic, more diverse, more gender-balanced, more international SolarAid.” I know she is thrilled about this opportunity. She is, as a surprisingly young woman, Chief Operating Officer of one of the most successful and impressive NGOs in history, Carbon Tracker. I am confident that she will do a better job of governance in the new SolarAid than I would were I to stay on.

As for my gratitude to the SolarAid teams, present and past, it would be wrong of me to single out individual members for mention in the context of my gratitude. Or individual funders and supporters in kind, of which we have had many. over the years But you all know who you are, and I pray (in my own way) that you will understand the deep gratitude I feel, and trust that it will live in my heart for the rest of my days.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *