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An interview with Linda Mabhena-Olagunju

Linda Mabhena-Olagunju is a force of nature and she is one of Africa’s leading businesswomen in the energy sector. She is the Founder & Managing Director of DLO Energy Resources Group (Pty) Ltd a wholly black female-owned independent power producer with a portfolio of wind and solar energy projects in Nigeria, Botswana and South Africa.

With an LLB from UCT and an LLM from the University of Aberdeen and as an admitted attorney of the High Court of South Africa, she is a very accomplished woman. She has graced the cover of Forbes Africa, featured on Oprah’s Power List amongst the 20 most powerful women in Africa, named Choiseul 100 Africa Economic Leaders For Tomorrow, named Young Business Leader for Southern Africa under the CNBC All Africa Business Leaders Awards, won Veuve Clicquot Elle Boss Award and is a member of the advisory board for scholarships by the University of Oxford. We sat down with this powerhouse woman and spoke about her leadership journey and the future of Africa.

Interview by Vumile Msweli

What has been the biggest lesson you have learnt in your leadership journey?

Well, there are two big lessons I have learnt the first is to trust my instincts, about people, about situations and definitely about investments. Women have a six sense and we often don’t use it to our advantage. The second most crucial lesson I learnt over the years is to listen more and say less. I used to have an obsession with being heard especially because of the under-representation of women in the board room. Earlier in my career I thought it was necessary to speak and be heard but later I realized it is better to listen, understand and speak only when absolutely necessary.

What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier?

There will never be enough hours in a day be content with what you achieve each day even on the days you rest , there is progress.

What are the 3 greatest keys to unlocking Africa’s potential?

Leadership that is about serving the people as opposed to lining one’s pockets.

African governments creating an enabling environment for business to function.

African governments staffed by younger leaders, Africa is a continent with a big youth population yet led predominately by leaders who with all due respect have served their generations. I strongly believe younger and more energetic leadership is required for progress.

What do you see as the greatest opportunity on the continent?

Inter African trade. We are so obsessed with exporting and trading with everyone but ourselves. AfCTA is a promising step in the right direction however there are still so many hurdles including the usual African bureaucracy especially around border permits for the movement of goods as well as a lack of regulatory harmony across the various African countries. Once we get this right I think we will be a better position to determine our own growth and prosperity.

What would you say is your organization’s biggest asset and why?

Our wind projects which are amongst the largest on the continent, as well as our project pipeline both in SA and Nigeria.

What do you see being Africa’s largest export to the world in the next decade?

Well through the brain drain we have already exported some of our greatest minds sadly. I’m more interested in what we are going to export to each other and I think due to the difficult environment in which we operate African business has had to be innovative and I think we can learn a lot from each other especially in the fin tech space where I have seen a number of great innovations.

What are the top 3 industries to look out for and why?

Energy, Tech and Health Care. Energy because it is the backbone of an industrialized nation, tech because it is central to growth and industrialization and health care due to the global pandemic we are currently facing and the fact that health is paramount to the function of any economy.

Which African country inspires you the most and why?

Rwanda it built itself up from one of the greatest tragedies, it is not a country well- endowed with mineral or hydrocarbon resources but with effective leadership it has managed to build a strong and innovative economy.

Where do you see the future of energy?

I am hoping to see a more liberalized power sector with African owned independent power producers having direct access to the market. I see the utility model in its current form becoming obsolete.

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