Social Entrepreneur Spotlight: Hastings Mkandawire
Perseverance is a common attribute among social entrepreneurs. And it is through perseverance that Hastings Mkandawire was able to overcome challenges and establish a successful social enterprise.
As Flame Tree Initiative prepares to launch its first off-grid DELab, we interviewed Hastings to learn about his entrepreneurial journey. He founded Turbines Development Enterprise in the late 1990s and refined his business skills by participating in Flame Tree Initiative’s DELab in 2015.
FTI: How did you decide to start a business in the energy sector? What was your motivation?
HM: After I built the first hydro-power for my home, many young people were asking me to build them a similar system for their home. So this is basically how I started. Many young people were greatly admiring what I had built for my home. Looking at statistics, 90% of Malawians have no electricity. This gave me a great opportunity because the energy market is very big in Malawi.
FTI: Please tell us about Turbines Development Enterprise.
HM: The idea to start developing small scale hydro-power systems was naturally instilled in me in late 1990’s. From that time, I was building very small hydro-power with an average power output of 1kW per single installation. I started my business without a name to call it because I never expected it would grow into a business. In 2014, I was selected to go to USA to participate in a fellowship program called Mandela Washington for Young African Leaders (YALI). During the fellowship program I was awarded $25,000 to purchase a workshop and some equipment to improve my hydro-power activities. In the same year, I called my enterprise “Turbines Development Enterprise” (TUDE).
FTI: What are some of the impact you have seen as a result of TUDE’s services?
HM: So far, I have designed and installed more than 50 small turbines, directly connecting more than 3,000 people. Beneficiaries have access to cheap and clean power for lights, radio, television, phone charging and other devices. Working hours have been extended. During the night, people have extended their working hours and children are studying more.
I have also trained more than 20 young people in hydro-power designing, developing and installation.
FTI: What are some of the challenges that come with running your enterprise? How did you overcome these challenges?
HM: My level of education is very low. I have not been educated in the hydro-power industry. All that I do is just self-taught. [In addition] the main challenge of launching my energy venture was the lack of capital. But after winning a YALI grant, my business got better.
FTI: Why is access to energy so important?
HM: Access to energy is very important. In my home village, before my home was electrified, charging a mobile phone was a very big problem. My father used to walk about 15km to get to the nearest place where his phone could be charged. Some other people walked even longer than my father did. This made some other people sell their phones whilst other people lost interest to buy one. Because of this, it made people to travel 15km to make phone calls. But now almost everyone has a mobile phone because charging is very easy.
FTI: What are your goals for the future?
HM: My future goal is to set up a bigger energy facility that will be able to
connect about 1 million people to power. The other goal is to set up a bigger renewable energy training center - to produce many system designers and developers advancing young people beyond [jobs such as] installers and repairers.
Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Hastings!