Ashden talks to Eugene Amusin of Citi Inclusive Finance

By Eugene Amusin, Ashden Judge
Eugene is a Portfolio Development Manager at Citi, which is sponsoring the Ashden Award for Business Innovation this year, and also an Ashden judge.

Your twitter profile says that you’re passionate about inclusive finance – was there any particular experience you had that made you think this was an area you wanted to get into?

I can’t recall a specific moment when it all clicked, but rather a cumulative set of life experiences that shaped my view that working towards inclusivity and access to services is the right thing to be doing. In regards to energy, there are 1.3 billion people who lack electricity to light their homes or conduct business, while nearly 40% of the world’s population rely on cooking fuels that produce toxic smoke according to the UN's Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Working with innovative companies we can scale up solutions that are affordable, convenient and accessible for more people, achieving impact at scale in markets where social and utility infrastructures do not exist. 

What do you look for when you’re choosing an Ashden winner – how easy is the selection process?

The renewable energy and access to energy sector is evolving at a fast rate. With reduced cost of solar technology, growing scale of branchless payment ecosystems and examples of early leaders, there is now a flurry of companies working to deliver innovative energy solutions. This is great news, but it also means the selection of Ashden winners is anything but easy. Luckily, Ashden has a judging panel with diverse range of perspectives and also fantastic technology experts who bring their expertise to the selection process which is structured and thorough.

Which past Ashden winner stands out to you as being particularly innovative or interesting?

It is very difficult to pick one, so I will take the easy way out and go for two. Infosys won the International Gold Award and Ashden Award for Sustainable Buildings in 2014. Its achievements to date are seriously impressive because of the scale of what it’s doing. An integrated approach to energy efficiency led to a 44% decrease in electricity consumption. On the other hand, you have Off Grid Electric which is pioneering a new service-based model for delivering solar home systems. By using mobile payments and providing customers with an excellent service, Off Grid Electric is able to offer solar as a utility in Tanzania to tens of thousands of households who currently use kerosene for lighting.

What do you think of this year’s finalists?

Energy is fundamental to the way people live their daily lives, and to how business operates. This year’s finalists are continuing to push the frontier of renewable energy in emerging markets - some of which are in post-conflict zones, with technologies ranging from solar, cookstoves, hydro and beyond. At the same time, there are also providers of software and hardware services which will enable others to scale. Finally, there are fantastic solutions that provide sustainable and energy efficient in housing and agriculture. This is an exciting time!

What do energy enterprises need to help them reach sufficient scale?

There is no one ingredient that will enable energy enterprises to reach scale. It needs to be a fully-baked recipe of business model, technology, marketing and distribution strategy, talent and finance.

This year’s Ashden Conference will be discussing how far business can go in meeting the poor’s energy needs – what’s your view?

In places like Europe or North America, we take as a given the existence of public or private utility companies that provide full geographic coverage to our energy needs. With initiatives like Power Africa, there is now impetus to expand capacity and reach of utilities in emerging markets. However in some cases, extending the grid or building a pipe may not be economic or feasible. This is the gap that business and organisations specifically serving low-income communities can fill. There is no single actor – government, corporate or social enterprise – that will have all the solutions but each one has an important role to play. A market-based approach often increases the chances of long term sustainability of solutions.

If you could visit any past winner which would you choose and why?

I would love to visit Proximity Designs, which is distributing a range of irrigation solutions in Myanmar. I have some experience with treadle water pumps in Africa and would love to see them in action in Asia. Plus I have never been to Myanmar and would love to see the country on its journey of opening up to the world.

2015 Ashden Awards

If you want to find out more about our 2015 finalists, come along to the International Conference on 9 June, The Business of Energy: Enterprising solutions to the energy access challengeFind out more and book your tickets here