In a departure from the standard ‘brain drain’ that takes so much young talent out of the continent, these young Zambians have chosen to invest their brains and their energy into contributing to the development of their own country.
Mwila Lwando (32) and Kabeke Mulenga (26) were at Zambia’s recent Agritech Expo exhibiting a bio-digester and marketing their company – Live Clean Energy.
Excellent educations at Africa’s finest schools and enough academic credentials, awards and post-graduate degrees from various Ivy League universities, between them to make their peers green with envy and their parents quiver with pride, they see Zambia as the place to do business.
“We want to innovate and progress here,” says Mwila.
“I’ve never thought of leaving Zambia permanently,” says Kabeke.
Mwila, a chartered accountant with project and strategy management skills, says moving forward is about taking advantage of opportunities inside the region. “Mining, the primary driver of the Zambian economy, is partly responsible for the tenfold increase in agricultural activity here,” he adds.
In Zambia access to power is a problem. Most Zambians do not have access to electricity, something this team saw as an opportunity, designing and manufacturing a biodigester (fuelled by animal dung) to provide clean gas. The biodigester can be hooked up to appliances, such as gas stoves, heating lamps, lights and generators which are powered by the methane gas coming off the digested waste.
Interestingly, while at the Expo, exhibitors from Blue Planet, across the way, added some of their ‘good’ bacteria product, to the cow dung in the biodigester. The bacteria acted on the dung, liquefying it and making ‘digestion’ easier. This is a small, but not insignificant, event which illustrates the solid value in expos like Agritech. The positive outcomes that can arise from networking and sharing information are inestimable.
“It’s not cash that is king, but information,” says Mwila, “and this is how it’s always been.”
The clean energy product has won a Global Innovation Award, but more importantly – public recognition of its possibilities is encouraging, with 500 orders taken during the three-day expo. Coming in at a price of US$1 600 for a 2m3 it is not as cheap as they would like it to be for now, but greater demand will lead to cheaper product, says Mwila.
He describes the search for capital as the biggest problem for start-up businesses. “One needs equity, access to affordable debt and a business-friendly environment.
“You have to be tough; actually you need a skin as thick as a crocodile’s.”
The biogas digester is one of a small, but growing, stable of diverse products, from this team, designed to contribute to the greater good of the environment and its human component, while fully acknowledging the importance of making a profit.
Smart and productive, these two young men have clear-headed insight into the systemic flaws of pure capitalism while staying grounded in good business principles and a fair profit.