A Beacon of Light for Thousands in the Dark
“I am a very assertive, ethical, and optimistic individual who always focuses on the bigger picture. I believe that by promoting diversity and inclusivity in the energy sector, we can foster innovation and drive positive change”
Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I grew up in a household of seven children. With five brothers and only one sister, helping around the house with chores was primarily the responsibility of the girls. My mother Elfenesh Entele, a very strong-willed woman with great entrepreneurial skill and spirit, was my role model growing up. She taught me the importance of hard work and determination, instilling in me a sense of resilience and ambition. Despite the challenges we faced as a family, my mother’s unwavering optimism and determination to provide for us inspired me to strive for success and become a beacon of hope for others facing similar circumstances.
My father, Bekele Ayele also has played a significant role in my life, teaching me invaluable lessons about determination and perseverance. Despite having a persistent leg wound that he sought treatment for in various hospitals in Ethiopia, and having the unwavering support of a loving wife, his condition never fully healed and often caused him discomfort. However, my father never used it as an excuse to avoid achieving or accomplishing things. He instilled in me the belief that one should always strive to do their best, regardless of the obstacles they face. Despite the responsibility of providing for our large family of nine, my father worked tirelessly as a tailor. There were challenging times when his cooperative company had demanding projects, such as during school openings and Ethiopian holidays, which required him to work through the night. (Interestingly, he enjoyed the workload as it brought in more earnings.) Despite relying on his leg for his craft, he never complained or allowed his leg problem to hinder his work. His strength and dedication have had a profound impact on me, as I have adopted a similar mindset of never complaining and always persevering through any situation.
I completed my primary schooling at Mekan Hiwote School, which greatly shaped me and built my values and ethical standards. I went to Higher 12 to attend high school and Etege Menen School to complete my preparatory college. In 2004, I joined Addis Ababa University where I studied electrical engineering. Although I was not a prodigy student during my stay at the university, I developed a genuine interest in the subject and received my BSc in 2008.
My first job was with a firm called Addis Mebratu Architects and Engineers. It was a project-based job, and I was assigned to work with a team in Axum, Ethiopia, to help set up the electrical system of the back then newly constructed Axum University. During my stay there, I learned that the only way to gain any real experience was to be hands-on in the tasks assigned not only to me but also to my colleagues and brave enough to challenge myself and try new things. It also taught me the importance of teamwork and problem-solving skills, as we faced various challenges in setting up the electrical system. Additionally, it helped me develop a strong work ethic and a willingness to step out of my comfort zone to learn and grow professionally.
After the project phased out, I had the opportunity to work for a person called Nebil Yeshak, a person I consider my mentor. My first assignment while working at Solar 23 (now called Solar Development) was the installation of solar-powered lighting systems for a health center in the off-grid community of Koda, a small off-grid community on the outskirts of Bonga. The 15 days I spent in this community changed my life forever. The struggles the people of Koda faced in their daily lives because of a lack of electricity were unbearable to witness. The major light source for many of the people was a traditional kerosene lamp, which had numerous health hazards such as carbon monoxide poisoning, cataracts, macular degeneration, bronchitis, asthma, and other health problems, not to mention the obvious fire hazard, which leads to extreme burns on victims and even death for some.
One specific story that changed my trajectory forever was the night a woman in labor was brought to the emergency room of the health center in blinding darkness. For the people of Koda, taking a woman in labor to the health center is not a common thing. The person had to be in critical condition for the family members to consider seeking out medical help, especially during the night. The woman presented with a complicated case of a breached baby. Although the health professionals had adequate skills to help the woman, the lack of proper lighting made it extremely difficult to deliver the baby. In the end, the midwife had to hold a torch light in between her teeth to deliver the baby.
Witnessing this incident made me change my perspective on life. I felt that the electricity people most often take for granted in the cities could mean life or death for most of our country’s off-grid communities. This was how I found my passion for electrification.
Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa, with a population of about 110 million people. However, electricity is only available to around half of the population. This is a major issue since energy is necessary for economic development and social advancement.
In recent years, the Ethiopian government has made major investments in the electrical sector. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is intended to generate up to 6,000 megawatts of electricity, was inaugurated by the government in 2018. The GERD is Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam, and it is projected to play a significant role in boosting Ethiopia’s access to power.
The Ethiopian government has also invested in other renewable energy projects, such as solar and wind farms, in addition to the GERD. These initiatives are helping to enhance Ethiopia’s electricity supply while simultaneously reducing the country’s dependency on fossil fuels.
The solar energy sector is playing an important role in Ethiopia’s electrification. In 2020, the country had 1.2 GW of installed solar capacity, accounting for 10% of total installed power capacity. The government has established a goal of obtaining universal access to electricity by 2030, and solar energy is likely to play a critical role in accomplishing this goal.
I worked at Solar 23 for over two years and had numerous hurdles, particularly working in isolated places as the lone female, which can be challenging. Although my social meetings and trips were regarded as regular for my male coworkers, they often gave the wrong impression to others who were unfamiliar with the metropolitan culture I grew up in. I recall being dispatched to one of the off-grid places to install solar systems for a health center with my colleagues. We went out to dinner as a group, along with our new driver at the time. For our driver, who was born and raised in the country, seeing a female partake in such a gathering without an “ulterior” motive (a cultural difference) was a new experience. So, when we returned to the health center where we had set up camp, he began wreaking havoc and demanded that I bed him. Needless to say, my coworkers made certain that no danger came to me and stayed up all night guarding me. That night taught me an important lesson: be cognizant of other people’s cultures.
After leaving Solar 23, I decided to work for an NGO where I was stationed in Lalibela. I had hoped to improve the lives of the locals there, but the bureaucracy and way of doing things in the institution were not as effective and efficient as I had hoped. So I decided to venture off on my own.
In 2014, I founded my first company, RK Renew Lighting and Cooking PLC with my then-partner. There was a lack of supply of the inner cladding of the stoves, and the company’s business model was built around solving this shortage. RK Renew produced improved cooking stoves by traditionally making stove liners. It sold the liners to World Vision. However, I was not convinced that the project would be sustainable, as I believe that most charity-supported projects fail because the artificial market created for them. RK Renew failed only after one year in 2015 due to the difference in vision we had for the company; therefore, the partnership couldn’t last. I remember the time being deeply emotional and upsetting because I had put all my efforts and energy into the company. Nevertheless, I could not lose hope; I could not give up on my dreams. I knew that setbacks and failures are part of the journey towards success. I decided to learn from the experience and use it as motivation to start anew, determined to find a sustainable project that aligned with my vision and values.
In 2016, I established Green Scene PLC, an institution dedicated to providing solar energy and renewable energy sources to underserved off-grid communities in Ethiopia. Green Scene PLC has reached more than 100 communities across different parts of Ethiopia and equipped more than 9,000 households with solar-powered electric solutions. Green Scene has also ventured out to solve the communities’ problem of accessing reliable agricultural machinery, such as a water pump, which could enable farmers to cultivate year-round without worrying about having enough rainwater. Thus far, we have been able to provide more than 80 farmers with reliable and affordable solar-powered water pumps that are reliable during the winter as they convert the energy of the sun to power the pump. The company aims to begin assembly of such products in the country in the near future to better address the demand and also maintain prices at an affordable rate. By assembling these products in the country, we can also create job opportunities for local communities and contribute to the economic growth of the region. Additionally, this localization of production will reduce transportation costs and carbon emissions associated with importing water pumps from other countries.
The Ethiopian government has also implemented a number of policies to promote the development of the solar energy sector and help support ambitious private companies like Green Scene PLC. Some of these policies include:
- Feed-in tariffs: The government offers a feed-in tariff of 0.75 US cents per kilowatt-hour for solar projects that are connected to the grid. This tariff is designed to encourage private investment in solar projects.
- Tax incentives: The government offers tax incentives for solar projects, such as a reduction in corporate income tax.
- Financing: The government provides financing for solar projects through a number of programs, such as the Green Climate Fund and the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa.
These policies have helped to create a favorable environment for the development of the solar energy sector in Ethiopia. As a result, the sector has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2020, the country added 400 MW of solar capacity, which was more than any other country in Africa.
Be it as it may, I also have to mention that the solar energy is one of the most challenging sectors there is and we face numerous struggles everyday while doing our jobs. We find the very people you were meant to facilitate our work become an obstacle. There is a sea of corruption and lack of foreign exchange that hinder our performance. However, I am a firm believer of always doing things the right ways. For me the end never justifies the means; if a good deed tented with wrongful ways of doing it, like corruption, it becomes a seed for something far worse in the future. It might be painful, and it might take time but the clean way is always the best way for me.
Green Scene PLC works with more than six microfinance organizations, to make purchase and installation fees affordable to the community. It has also developed a pay-as-you-go solution with Tele-Birr in order to make solar solutions affordable to the underprivileged community.
Additionally, Green Scene PLC actively collaborates with local communities to raise awareness about the benefits of solar energy and provide training on maintenance and usage. By fostering partnerships and implementing innovative financing models, the company is making significant strides toward ensuring that even the most marginalized populations have access to clean and sustainable electricity.
I dream of seeing a fully electrified Ethiopia in the near future, and through my company, Green Scene PLC, I aspire to take a 10% share in the 2030 government plan to achieve 100% electrification. I believe that renewable energy, especially solar power, is one of the most sustainable and safest energy sources available. I am one of the few influential women in the energy sector, and I strive to empower and bring forth other young females in my sector. I also partner with Partnership for Change so my company can hire women agents to represent it across the country, ensuring they benefit from every opportunity. Currently, I have about 150 agents across the country. I am a very assertive, ethical, and optimistic individual who always focuses on the bigger picture. I believe that by promoting diversity and inclusivity in the energy sector, we can foster innovation and drive positive change. Through my leadership, I aim to create a work environment that values and supports women, enabling them to excel and contribute their unique perspectives to the industry. Together, we can build a sustainable future powered by renewable energy sources and equal opportunities for all.
In 2021, I was named Influential Women of the Year by the Ethiopian Women in Energy Network (EWIEN), and I was also selected as one of the 25 Women Shaping Our Future by @ChangeNOW! In 2023. I am a franchise farmer with Purpose Black Ethiopia, an Acumen fellow, and a board member of Solar Energy Development Association Ethiopia (SEDA-E). These recognitions and affiliations highlight my commitment to making a positive impact in the energy sector. Through my role as a franchise farmer, I am actively involved in promoting sustainable farming practices and empowering local communities. As an Acumen fellow and board member of SEDA-E, I contribute to the development and implementation of renewable energy initiatives in Ethiopia.
My business has been incredibly successful, but it has also consumed a significant amount of my time. I frequently work long hours and travel. As a result, I don’t spend as much time as I would like with my children. I feel bad about this at times, but I know that my business is crucial not just for providing for my family, but it is also the means by which I help the community and seek to alleviate their burden in the best way I know how.
My two children, who are six and two years old, are both bright and beautiful. I adore them, but I’m not always sure how to communicate with them. I try to be there for them as much as possible, but it’s quite difficult when you have so many responsibilities at work. I often feel like I’m failing them as a mother. However, I’m grateful for my mother and my friend Elsa Alene. They are both wonderful women, and they love my children as much as I do. They are always there for my kids when I can’t be, and they help me raise them. I know that I couldn’t have done it without them. You know how people say “It takes a village.” Well, they are my village, and I am eternally grateful for their support. My father has played a significant role in my life, teaching me invaluable lessons about determination and perseverance.
Finally, I want to show my utmost gratitude to my husband, Andrew Steven. When I first started my business, I was so scared. I didn’t know if I would be successful; all I had to go on was my passion to help my fellow countrymen, and I was worried about how it would affect our family. But he never wavered in his support. He encouraged me to follow my dreams and helped me make them a reality. His leadership in taking care of our children and our lives in general has made it possible for me to focus on my business, and I am forever grateful for that. I know that it hasn’t always been easy, but he has always been there for me, and I am so lucky to have him in my life. I want to thank him for everything he does for me and our family.
What do they think or say about Rekik Bekele?
The most common words used by Rekik’s friends and family to describe her are resilient, driven, community-oriented, and a problem solver. Her colleagues are fascinated with her optimistic outlook and her ‘can-do’ attitude towards any challenge she faces. An employee and mentee of hers, Ms. Amen Aneleye, had this to say about Rekik: “She is a very ethical and hardworking person I have come across; I do not know of many social entrepreneurs as successful and influential as she is in the energy sector. I admire her resilience and commitment to succeed in a very male-dominated sector. I aspire to one day become like her and solve problems in my community.”
Similarly, her husband, Mr. Andrew Steven, also can’t describe Rekik without using words such as committed and passionate. While speaking about his wife, he said, “Rekik has a consuming love for her community. Everything she does, whether it is when she was employed or at Green Scene, is to help solve their problems and make their lives easier. It is what keeps her going; the love she has for her people is what keeps her passionate about the work she does.” He further added that Rekik’s dedication to her community is evident in her tireless efforts to bring about positive change and improvement. Whether it is organizing community events, advocating for better resources, or collaborating with local organizations, Rekik’s commitment shines through in every endeavor she undertakes. Her unwavering determination to solve the problems of her community has made her a respected and influential figure among both residents and fellow activists alike. Rekik’s impact extends beyond her professional achievements. She is known for her dedication to empowering women in the energy sector, actively working towards creating a more inclusive and diverse industry. Her ability to inspire and mentor others, like Ms. Amen Aneleye, is a testament to her leadership skills and the positive change she brings to her community.
Rekik’s friend of 14 years, Tsion Tesfay, also admires Rekik’s optimism and commitment in all the things she does. Tsion says, “Rekik is an inspiration to everyone around her. She never takes no for an answer and would go through a hurricane to see her vision come true. She is the kind of businesswoman who is not bothered by the profit margins or her capital gain but rather more concerned about how she could help the people in need of her services and their satisfaction with Green Science’s services. I often tease her that she is running an NGO and not a business”. Tsion stresses that her friend has always been a problem solver; no matter what the circumstance, she would find ways to make lemonade from the lemons she was dealt with. Tsion admires her friend’s determination and resilience in the face of challenges. She believes that this mindset is what sets her apart from other entrepreneurs and allows her to truly make a difference in people’s lives. Tsion is confident that with her friend’s passion and problem-solving skills, Green Science will continue to thrive and positively impact the community.