YEP Energy experiences - Naomi van den Berg
Naomi van den Berg is a alumna Young Energy Expert. She worked at African Clean Energy (ACE) in Uganda. Naomi shares her experiences being a Young Expert in the energy sector.
"Hi, my name is Naomi van den Berg, and I worked in Uganda as a field office manager. I was part of the East Africa management team at ACE. ACE is a company that develops, produces and sells a multi-functional clean cooking solution. In the team, I worked on improvements in the supply chain and maintenance department. I also managed the operational IT team. And I helped set up a new branch in a refugee settlement.
The situation in Uganda
In Uganda, more than 70% of the population is not connected to the electricity grid. Many people cannot afford clean cooking solutions. Instead, they cook over open fires. This is polluting and bad for their health. It causes premature deaths due to smoke-related diseases and household air pollution. Cooking this way also has many consequences for women, as they usually cook. Collecting wood is time-consuming and dangerous for women as they are far away from home and in a more vulnerable position. This is especially the case in the refugee camps.
The negative impact of cooking with polluting, inefficient methods is a major, often unknown, challenge we are facing globally. Clean cooking is an important area of development. It has a huge, positive impact on people's lives. It:
- prevents the negative impact that breathing in smoke has,
- reduces the use of raw materials,
- reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and
- improves the position of women as they do not have to spend so much time gathering wood to use as fuel and cooking.
I am really grateful that I could contribute to this important transition to clean cooking via my work at ACE. I also love Africa, so it is great that I could make a difference there.
Clean cooking solution ACE One
In 2021, we introduced the ACE One in a refugee settlement. The ACE One is a solar-biomass hybrid energy system. It provides electricity and heat. It runs on different types of dry solid biomass but uses a lot less than you would need in traditional cooking methods. It does not produce smoke, and it has a battery that you can charge via a solar panel. You can use the battery to charge a phone or power a light. The ACE One is offered through a loan construction. And in this specific project, we sold it with a smartphone with the ACE Connect app. Customers can use the app to activate the stove and check their repayment status.
As a field office manager, I helped set up the first office in a refugee settlement. We turned a 40-foot container into an office with sales teams, customer relations and maintenance agents. In 3-months' time, we had managed to sell 700 products!
Many customers in the refugee settlement said the same 2 things:
- they appreciate the ACE One, as it gives them access to quicker, more efficient and clean cooking and light, and
- they are grateful for the smartphone that comes with it to call their friends and families, who are often far away.
The best part of the project for me
For me, one of the best things is that the project created jobs in an area where it is difficult to find work. Six refugees and several host community members are now part of the team and can develop and improve their skills. It is really amazing to see them live up to their potential and truly work hard to succeed. I am very proud of the team.
And, of course, it is great that people are happy with the product and share with us how it has changed their lives for the better. This is something that we can also track via the ACE app. We can see product usage and understand what a difference it makes in daily lives.
My plans for the future
I have learnt a lot from this YEP project, mainly about and from the context. For example, selling products on loan in Uganda requires a specifically designed organisation. On a personal level, I learnt how to set boundaries as the project asked a lot of me, both on a professional and personal level. I also learnt to appreciate things more. Ugandans do that a lot more quickly and consciously.
Besides the work in the field, it was great to have the guidance of the YEP programmes. YEP Programmes provided me with a coach with whom I was in regular contact. We discussed both my personal development as well as more practical challenges, which was really helpful. It was also great to have other experts as my peers to share experiences and reflect on the way we handled similar situations. A highlight of my YEP experience was the intervision weekend in Kenya, where 30 professionals came together for several interactive days.
My future plans? I definitely want to have a job that has something to do with sustainability. Africa is a fantastic continent, and in Uganda, I have met many wonderful people. I would like to keep a connection to Africa, either directly or indirectly."
Credits: Interview by RVO for YEP Energy