An interview with Ishaq Bolarinwa, CEO and Founder of Anfani, an energy brokerage platform which aims to ensure affordable access to renewable energy for all. Ishaq is an Oxford MBA alumnus and CDL-Oxford Student alumnus and during his time at Saïd Business School he founded Anfani. He is a judge on the Burjeel Holdings Oxford Saïd Climate Change Challenge and has shared his thoughts on accessible energy for all for Oxford Answers.
What’s the story behind founding Anfani?
Anfani is a Yoruba word that also occurs in different forms in Hausa and other African languages. It means Opportunity, Advantage, or Benefit, dependent on the context within which it is used. Since our objective is to provide an opportunity for customers to take advantage of our platform for their benefit, the name Anfani fits right with the company. At Anfani, we provide increased access to affordable, renewable energy solutions for micro, small, and medium-scale enterprises.
Born and bred in Nigeria, I always wanted to increase energy access for Nigerians and those in sub-Saharan Africa. While I was fortunate enough to be provided with my needs growing up, I was well aware there were, and are still, many people without the same opportunities, one of which is reliable access to electricity. Having studied electronic engineering at the Universities of Sheffield and Maryland in the UK and USA, I had initially thought about building or assembling solar panels to increase access to electricity.
However, speaking to business owners in Lagos during the Covid lockdown, what surprised me was the ubiquitousness of, and abundant knowledge about, solar panels, but the use of some of the panels was short-lived due to quality. I then met with some of the providers of these panels, and the general feedback was that they were just providing what businesses could afford. That made me think: rather than adding more products to the market, we could optimise the already available products. So I moved from energy accessibility to energy affordability and switched from products to service delivery.
I met some brilliant people and advisers during my MBA in Oxford, and also got to work on this idea with a fantastic team for the Entrepreneurship Project (an MBA course delivered by the Entrepreneurship Centre). These played a key factor in what Anfani is today.
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What’s your business and revenue model?
In Nigeria and the sub-Saharan African region, we’re targeting small businesses. By partnering with key financial institutions and energy providers, we ensure that our business customers have the necessary funds to invest in renewable energy solutions, particularly for electricity provision. Our revenue is driven by commissions from partners, brokerage fees from customers, and Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS) we provide to certain customers.
In the UK and European market, we are leveraging increased access to financial services and are targeting businesses and financiers. Our smart energy management platform facilitates energy optimisation, while we look to provide Green Financing and Investments through partnerships with financiers for businesses in adopting renewable energy solutions. Our revenue will be driven by consultation, transaction, and subscription fees with customers and financiers.
How big is this market in sub-Saharan Africa? In other words, how scalable is Anfani?
On the energy side, approximately 600 million individuals in Africa lack proper access to electricity, which is nearly 50% of the continent’s population. On the financial side, around 520 million individuals and 44 million small enterprises fall under the financially underserved category. Within this market, five key countries: Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Côte d'Ivoire collectively account for 45% of the small enterprises in this region; this is where Anfani is focusing in Africa in the near-term.
(For more on the policy choices for the off-grid energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa read this Oxford Answers article Energising Africa - Three ways to encourage a sustainable future.)
The market is huge but we are unperturbed. There’s an amazing book called The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty, by Clayton M. Christensen with Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillion, that talks about how emerging economies like Africa can be the hub for market-creating innovations that address unique challenges and needs. This book was also an inspiration to keep pushing at this because the obvious barriers in emerging economies are also opportunities.
Our pilot programme is currently ongoing in states across Nigeria, leveraging the fact that small business owners are spiking up in Nigeria despite the energy issues. If our solutions can help remove some obstacles for them, the sky is the limit for all of us.
Are there a lot of competitors in this sector in the region already?
Yes, there are, and this is a great thing for the market and our customers! We have seen a few businesses in this space, but with slightly different business models. But, how I view competition is that it’s a healthy opportunity for the implementation of various market solutions and market growth, rather than a threat. The current market lacks numerous players, and we’re positioning ourselves uniquely at the nexus of both the climate and financial technology sectors for our renewable energy solutions.
What message do you have for students who want to tackle sustainability issues?
Well, whatever role you are looking to play in providing solution to issues related to climate change is an absolute positive. Go For It! One very key point though, is that you should do your research thoroughly. As a student, this should be a given but it goes without saying. There is a lot of noise about climate change, but as a student, it is up to you to dig up the facts about this contentious issue and understand particularly what part of this very broad opportunity you want to focus on. Once you do that, you will have the requisite foundational knowledge to build on whatever solutions you are bringing to this space. In summary, don’t be discouraged, do your research and act!
You have volunteered your time to be a judge on our Climate Change Challenge. What motivated you to get involved?
Positive Change motivates me. When I see people providing solutions to ‘wicked’ problems, it always renews my hope in humanity. Whether through entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, research, or other forms of solutions to problems humanity faces on a daily basis, I get motivated.
The most beautiful thing about this Climate Change Challenge for me is the target competitors; high school teachers and high school students. For the latter, it gives young minds the opportunities to start thinking deeply about some of the world’s problems which we will all pretty much hand over to them at some point. For the high school teachers on the other hand, the more effort they put into the thought-process for the challenge, the more the solutions simmer down to the students they teach. As a result, whatever the outcome of every submission to this challenge is, there is an automatic ‘anfani’ to teachers and students.
During his MBA year at Saïd Business School Ishaq completed the CDL-Oxford Student Programme as a co-curricular activity. During his elective he was able to see what investors and advisers look for in businesses and has spoken to CDL-Oxford about how valuable his learings were from the programme.
Many thanks to Ishaq and the rest of the panel of international judges who are giving their time and expertise to review entries for our Climate Change Challenge. It is a global competition for high school students (aged 15 to 18) and teachers which Burjeel Holdings and Saïd Business School launched in the summer of 2023 ahead of COP28.
The challenge invited young people and educators across the world to contribute their ideas and take action towards creating solutions to the greatest and most complex threat to humanity: the climate crisis.