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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.

Busi­ness tip:

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

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