It was the city’s first wind farm. At the time, South Africa was suffering rolling power blackouts, “and I decided the time had come to bring the wind and the sun on board”. On her return home, she practised law at an energy firm where she honed her skills as a project finance lawyer. “I wanted to start my own company, but I lacked the technical engineering experience.” To rectify this, she approached a little-known energy start-up business with an offer of her legal experience at a reduced cost, if they allowed her to buy equity in their projects. “That is essentially how DLO Energy started.” Mabhena-Olagunju’s biggest obstacle was obtaining finance for her first energy project, as she was aged only 28 at the time. She tells the interesting story of approaching a powerful businesswoman for funding, but was turned down on the grounds that she was far too young to be leading a consortium for such a large-scale deal. She chuckles as she describes how, a year later, her team won the project and, a year after that, she found herself on the cover of Forbes magazine. Since then, DLO has forged ahead, creating a diversified group of companies operating within the energy and infrastructure sector in South Africa and Africa. For a while, Mabhena-Olagunju lived in Lagos, commuting back home regularly, but she has now settled in Johannesburg. Shortly before we met, Eskom had made it known that it was determined to pause South Africa’s renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme, leaving many different renewable projects in limbo. Mabhena-Olagunju is unwilling to comment on the situation at this stage. The lively businesswoman (32) leads a diversified group that includes a boutique energy and infrastructure events company. “We own and operate industry conferences such as Africa Power Roundtable. It’s far from being just a talk shop – we take real action. “At our last event we put together a fund that will help African countries find viable solutions to their energy requirements. We bring together bankers, investors, government regulators, and so on.’ Countries that have attended these conferences range from Kenya and Nigeria to Botswana and Mozambique. Some of the future projects that DLO is exploring include off-grid private power stations and prepaid solar energy models. Mabhena-Olagunju comes from an Eastern Cape family that moved to Johannesburg, where she encountered both physical and emotional racial discrimination at primary school in 1994. Her father is a lawyer, her mother a teacher and she ended up doing matric at the National School of the Arts in Braamfontein, which she loved. But her desire for justice for everyone saw her determine to become a lawyer. Today she and her Nigerian husband have a daughter (2) “who needs to grow up knowing that black girls can do anything they set their mind on”, she says.
Women need to develop more of an appetite for taking calculated risks.
My parents and my aunt, who were all in business.
Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Adichie), The Memory of Love (Aminatta Forna) and A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali (Gil Courtemanche).
Africa. I want to change its narrative, to empower African people.
Receiving the 2016 All Africa Business Leadership Award (Young Business Leader of the Year – Southern Africa).
We need to operate from a point of authenticity.
Mentors: Inspiration: Wow! moment: Life lesson:
EMPOWERED Linda Mabhena-Olagunju, founder and managing director of DLO Energy Resources Group