Nthabiseng Mosia MPA ’16 Named 2022 Columbia Entrepreneur of the Year
Nthabiseng Mosia MPA ’16 has been recognized as a trailblazing social entrepreneur with accolades from Bloomberg (2021 New Economy Catalyst) to Forbes (30 Under 30), but when she was a graduate student at SIPA, entrepreneurship was not yet on her mind.
After a few years in the management consulting space, Mosia was curious why the energy sector — a foundational part of the modern economy — was neglected in many of the areas she had visited in her work in sub-Saharan Africa.
“You can’t talk about economic development and industrialization in Africa without access to power,” she says.
With this in mind, she enrolled in SIPA to get some answers.
“I was always interested in the development question around energy, and so I took a course on solving the energy access problem,” Mosia says. The course, taught by adjunct professor Philip LaRocco, required drafting a hypothetical business plan for a company that would provide better energy access, a plan which she and classmates Eric Silverman MPA ’16 and Alexandre Tourre MPA ’16 then submitted to the SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Chal- lenge Grant competition, part of the Columbia Venture Competition. They won and received a $30,000 prize in April 2016.
Earlier in the competition, Mosia, Silverman, and Tourre used available seed funding to “go from a concept on a piece of paper,” Mosia says, to piloting an on-the-ground survey of homes outside the Sierra Leone energy grid in December 2015.
“I had been to rural communities before, but this [energy access] was so far behind what I had seen before,” Mosia says of the site visits to homes. “In one of the houses, I went inside and saw that the house was using a kerosene lamp for light, and we couldn’t bear to be there because of the smoke the lamp gave off. I still have a picture of that lamp.
“You can conceptually understand injustice, but the contrast between what we saw in Sierra Leone and what we had as graduate students in New York City felt too much like a lottery. The emotional aspect of seeing what the bottom of that energy access pyramid means in a sensory way was a big turning point for me.”
With everything about the pilot pointing to a genuine need, Mosia says, “we leveraged every Columbia resource to build this grad school baby into Easy Solar.”
Now Easy Solar is a leading distribution company in West Africa making energy services affordable and accessible. The team of 800 people has reached over 750,000 beneficiaries in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Easy Solar provides access to clean lighting and cooking solutions for off-grid and weak-grid environments, including things like solar lanterns, home kits, and backup battery generators. The company works through community agents by building relationships with trusted local authorities and makes the solutions affordable as a pay-as-you-go system. It also works with schools, hospitals, farms, local businesses, and NGOs on larger projects.
“When we all moved to Sierra Leone to work on this full time in July 2016, we didn’t have any security and we had student loans,” Mosia says about her Easy Solar team. “But when you find something you are passionate about and you see that you have a chance to do something important and meaningful to the world, there’s nothing that can really compare to acting on that opportunity.”