On 7 and 8 March, Takoradi Technical University (TTU) hosted a workshop for women entitled (Ex)changing Perspectives. The event comprised of several workshops and panel discussions aimed at sharing diverse viewpoints on sustainability and renewable energy, and culminated in a celebratory Women’s Day event and grand prize-giving yesterday, where three young ladies won a 2-week study trip to Germany for their sustainable idea.

(Ex)changing Perspectives was organised by TTU, GREEN Solar Academy and Valentin Software as part of their develoPPP.de project in West Africa, the goal of which is to improve the skills base and employment opportunities for young solar installers in the region.

The aforementioned project partners have already set up a solar training centre at the university, which offers a comprehensive 3-week training on the design and installation of solar systems, paired with a robust internship programme. They were supported in their efforts through the supply of solar equipment from worldwide brands Jinko Solar, Victron Energy, Phocos and Fronius and solar distributors such as Tino Solutions, a technology partner of GREEN in Ghana, who provided components including solar modules, power inverters and lead acid batteries.

The training course has been extremely popular with the students, yet the number of females taking advantage of the training and job placement programme to explore opportunities in solar energy remained disappointingly low despite the diversity of the PV sector and the job opportunities that exist for women.

We needed a different approach to get more women interested in solar energy

And so the idea was born for a platform with a softer, broader appeal designed specifically to attract women and expose them to the myriad of careers available, no matter their background or specialty. This platform took the form of an event called (Ex)changing Perspectives and it was scheduled to coincide with and celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8.

GREEN Solar Academy founder and CEO Antje Klauss-Vorreiter explains how the theme of the event came about: “Having managed several solar energy projects in various African countries, I wanted to broadcast the message that we need to quit our Euro-centric thinking patterns and stop trying to transfer solutions. We need to trust that “developing countries” have the capacity to find solutions that sustainably work in their context and we need to focus on supporting these people rather than taking over. An interdisciplinary workshop like this one and an exchange of perspectives provides the ideal breeding ground for new solutions.”

The workshops and panel discussions

Over 50 young women from different faculties at TTU registered for the 2-day workshop. On Day 1, the participants worked together in small groups to explore the questions “Is Ghana Sustainable?” and “How Can Ghana contribute to making the world better?”. These interactive and insightful sessions were followed by a keynote address by Vivian Blümel and Dennis Wiredu Asare on the advantages of solar energy.

Speakers and session moderators came from all around the globe: Antje and her GREEN Solar Academy co-founder and CPO, Vivian Blümel, and Jenny Kleinwächter, Sales Partner Manager at Valentin Software, hail from Germany; Sofia Salviani de Boseck, CEO of Studio Salviani, an architect and “urban change maker” is from Argentina; Amanda Dzivhani, COO of GREEN Solar Academy, is from South Africa; and lending perspectives closer to home were Dennis Wiredu Asare, CEO and founder of DWA Renewables and Delali Pearce Kphora, CEO and founder of Macht Energy, who are both based in Ghana. The whole event was brilliantly organised by TTU’s SRC, and their first female president since 1954, Grace Enyonam Goka, and the Centre for Gender and Advocacy (CEGENDA).

Day 2 saw the women forming themselves into groups of 3 to start working on developing a sustainable product, business, infrastructure concept or project, or a project or activity for sustainable development on a community level. Each group got to choose a mentor from the international guests who would assist in the development process, and pretty much like the show Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den, the mentors themselves had to deliver short, inspiring pitches in a bid to get the ladies to choose them. And then the serious work began.

Ideas ranged from plans for recycling and repurposing used vehicle tyres, to educating people on the existence of biogas digesters and how to create and use them in their own homes. There were great suggestions for methods to preserve tomatoes when yield exceeds demand and proposals to fabricate tents to provide shade on campus using rubbish collected from recycling points. A few also shared their vision for incorporating solar into their neighbourhoods for lighting, charging phones and connecting to the internet, changing the trajectory of many students who try to do their studies with access to any of these items.

Sofia Salviani de Boseck, CEO of Studio Salviani and one of the mentors, says: “I was really pleased to understand how engaged our participants are with their communities; their focus is completely trained on how their project or efforts will benefit those around them, and their engagement and commitment to their communities doesn’t end with the project itself. These women have a real ‘roll up our sleeves and get busy’ sensibility towards solving problems.”

Each trio then had to submit a short video and an abstract of their concept to the moderators.
Three groups were selected as finalists, and they would need to wait until the finale event on 9 March to find out which group had been selected as the winners of the first prize – a 2-week study trip to Germany to see what Europe has to offer when it comes to sustainability!

Celebrations and prize-giving

The celebratory International Women’s Day event really pulled out all the stops, and included musical interludes, messages of solidarity from TTU patrons and guest speakers that ranged from Dr Gladys Quartey, Director of TTU’s Centre for Gender and Advocacy, to Nana Kofi Abuna V, the female paramount chief of Essipun in the Western Region of Ghana.

Dr. Maame Afua Nkrumah, Dean of IPELO (International Programmes and External Linkages Office) at TTU, presented both GREEN and Valentin Software with framed citations for their work and engagement with the university and told the audience that while the develoPPP.de project might last only for a finite period, she was confident that the collaboration between the three parties would continue long into the future.

The auditorium was packed to the rafters with guests at the Women’s Day Celebration.

Amanda Dzivhani (left), Chief Nana Kofi Abuna V (centre) and Antje Klauss-Vorreiter.

The winners

The first prize went to Team Luna, made up of Jessica Awaliga, Foziatu Shaibu and Audet Adzo, and their plan to produce organic fertilizer from coconut husk, a readily-available and abundant waste material in Ghana. Not only would their product result in a safer fertiliser of foods intended for human consumption, but it also has the potential to generate revenue through export to other eco-aware countries. Congratulations to the team members and their mentors!

Dr Gladys Quartey, Director of CEGENDA.

Amanda Dzivhani (far left) and Vivian Blumel (far right) with the winning team.

The team that was awarded second place proposed the development of an environmentally-friendly plant extract that could be added to coating formulations as a rust-inhibitor, and those that were placed joint third addressed the need to minimize plastic packaging and to introduce biodegradable cleaning detergent, and biodegradable disposable cutlery and bags to the Ghanaian landscape. The second- and third-place winners will have continued access to the workshop mentors to see their ideas to fruition.

“Meeting different people and listening to their stories is what often inspires us to expand our minds, set goals and become our best selves. So we invited a variety of interesting people, and that includes the speakers AND the participants!” Vivian Blümel, CPO and co-founder of GREEN Solar Academy.

Just the beginning…

So successful has the (Ex)changing Perspectives conference been in igniting a passion for renewable energy among the participants and allowing for that vital dialogue across cultures and locales that Antje Klauss-Vorreiter will make it the focus of her panel discussion at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD) later this month. The BETD takes place on 28 and 29 March and is an opportunity for high-level policymakers, industry, science and civil society from over 50 countries to share their experiences and ideas on a safe, affordable and environmentally-responsible global energy transition.

Are you a student or a solar company and want to know more?

Students who want to get a head-start in their career in solar energy are welcome to inquire about the 3-week PV Planner Course by contacting TTU Senior lecturer Dr. Stephen Afonaa Mensah at safonaamensah@yahoo.com.

Solar companies interested in participating in the internship programme and contributing to upskilling youth in the PV industry, or who seek professional solar training for their staff and distributors, can get in touch with Dennis Wiredu Asare, the head of GREEN Solar Academy Ghana, at ghana@solar-training.org.