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Linda Mabhena-Olagunju

32, Founder & Managing Director – DLO Energy Resources Group (Pty) Ltd & Africa Power Roundtable

‘You need to be humble enough to be able to let go of your comforts to fund your business.’

 

Linda studied law at UCT before doing her articles at Bowman Gilfillan Inc. In her final year, she was awarded a scholarship to study towards a master’s degree in law at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Having always wanted to do something related to natural resources, she focused her master’s on the subjects of oil and gas. While in Scotland, she got a job with the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, tasked with developing Aberdeen’s first offshore wind farm – a venture into renewable energy. When she returned to South Africa, where rolling blackouts and maintenance issues with existing power plants were the norm, she knew she wanted to apply what she’d learned in Scotland, to positively affect our economy. So she started DLO Energy Resources Group (Pty) Ltd, a wholly black, female-owned energy company that has developed and successfully bid on three projects under the government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme. They currently own two wind farms and a solar-power plant, are developing another 30MW off-grid project in Nigeria, and are looking at projects in South Africa’s Gas to Power Programme. They aim to develop, construct and operate their power stations independently in future. DLO also runs an advisory arm in which they provide legal regulatory advisory services to developers, investors and governments, and assist clients with economic development strategies. Linda also started the Africa Power Roundtable, which brings together key decision makers and investors to address the challenges facing the continent’s power supply.

On initial concerns:

The major concern for me firstly was creating value. I wanted to move away from this notion that black-owned companies only hold equity and don’t create real value. I wanted to show competence; I strongly believe in being excellent and letting your work speak for itself. I wanted to create a company that Africans can be proud of, one that can compete on an international stage. So my biggest fear was failing, but then I realised I had to start somewhere. I realised that you cannot be perfect at the start. The idea is to have a vision to aspire towards. So to overcome fear, I work and prepare and better myself. I never stop dreaming.

On energy:

Energy as a whole is important. Not only to South Africa, but to the continent at large. It holds the key to our economic emancipation. Imagine an Africa that can produce her own goods, refine her own oil and power schools, hospitals and buildings? I may not be able to do it all in my lifetime, but I would at least like to be part of the generation that made a significant mark towards achieving this goal.

On personal and professional achievements:

I was featured on the cover of Forbes Africa in 2015, and won the Forbes Woman Africa award for Best Emerging Entrepreneur in Africa. Personally, for me, success was becoming a mother and setting the tone for my daughter to grow up knowing there are no glass ceilings and, where they exist, we use our might to kick them down. Being a mother gave me the extra drive to be extraordinary. It also showed me my strength as a woman. It’s the hardest job in the world but the most rewarding.

On the misconceptions of entrepreneurship:

I feel that people underestimate the amount of sacrifice that goes into being an entrepreneur. You need to be humble enough to let go of your comforts to fund your business. The other thing is that it’s a lonely road very few people understand. There are no breaks or holidays but continued work and striving. When your friends are not on a similar journey, one tends to find the road lonely, which is why a personal support system is crucial to keep you sane.

On lessons learned:

I am a lot stronger than I gave myself credit for, and my journey is bigger than me. I feel deep connection to my continent and my success is geared towards the ultimate success of this continent. When you are driven by something bigger than yourself, God conspires to open doors that you could never have imagined.

On what women entrepreneurs need more of:

Confidence. We need to be more confident in our abilities. As women, we tend to downplay our strengths and are happy to give credit to others and take a back seat. Being confident sometimes means people will perceive you as arrogant, so as women we tend to play the humility card to our disadvantage.

 

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