(Summer ’16) Laura Adelman, G
Laura Adelman (G, Management)
Laura will be working in business development for a solar microgrid company in Nairobi, Kenya—PowerGen Renewable Energy. She will be supporting business development, strategy, operations, and marketing based on her professional utility background and MBA coursework at Sloan. The existing company, PowerGen, was founded by Harvard graduates in 2011 and has since installed over 150 systems to electrify communities in East Africa that previously did not have access to grid power through a combination of solar, storage, and microgrid technologies. The company aligns with the national and global targets for electrifying East Africa using renewable resources and I would be a part of making this global impact by providing business support to the team.
Check back for her updates!
Reflection Post, September 17, 2016
Walking around the Sloan campus these first two weeks back in school, a refrain of “how was your summer??” echoes through the hallways, classrooms, and cafeteria. I am one of the lucky second year MBAs who can answer “Amazing” every time and have yet to get sick of telling and retelling stories from my summer in Nairobi. Many of my friends and classmates knew I had an incredible summer from the pictures I had posted of feeding giraffes, petting an adopted baby elephant, riding an ostrich, watching lions playing & feeding, climbing epic volcanos, etc. but the amazement of my summer ran deeper than the animals I met and adventures I had. I had never before been able to see my work so tangible make a difference.
This summer strengthened my career ambition to drive the availability of and access to clean energy. This summer shifted my perception of the value of energy to different communities. While I entered the internship assuming that access to energy was universally a factor to improve quality of life, I quickly learned that the value of electricity also varies by region and we cannot assume that we know the value of electricity for others. While we thought that customers would value our electricity for improved reliability, we often heard that what they valued most about our service was that it meant they could stop using diesel generators which were loud and often smelled bad. This realization did not change my view that electricity improves the quality of life for communities, but it did shift my thinking to realize that everyone, and every region, defines “quality of life” differently. Back at MIT, this understanding that even values that appear similar could be nuanced and varied will help me work as a more open-minded teammate.
Only home for a month, I already can’t believe that I spent my summer in Nairobi—I will likely never live abroad in as foreign of a place for as long of a time, and I am so grateful to have had this mindset shifting experience as a highlight of my time at MIT.
Final month countdown! 7/29/16
Today’s calendar gave me the startling reminder that I only have one more month in beautiful Kenya before heading back to my second year at Sloan. I’ve taken this final month countdown as an opportunity to reflect on everything that I’ve had the chance to see and experience through my role this summer. The highlight of the role so far though has to be the site visit that I had the chance to go on a few weeks ago. Since accepting this role in March, I knew that our mission was to electrify East Africa using solar microgrids, but until I spent the time to visit an installation site I could not possible comprehend what this work means for our customers.
The journey to site, an island on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria, began at 6am when my taxi picked me up to travel through thick traffic to the Nairobi City Center to wait for my bus. After boarding, my 7.5 hour journey began, including roadside stops for corn and double lattes along the way. The bus ride felt to me like my summer experience- a bit challenging, no frills, but overall way more comfortable and smooth than anticipated. Upon arrival in Rongo Town, near Kisii, I was greeted by one of our local consultants and guided to a guest house for the evening. In the morning we met at 6am for the final 3 hours of our journey to site which included a taxi, bus, motorcycle, and motorboat! Upon arrival, the first sense that kicks in is smell. The island has an economy based on selling dried fish about the same size and odor of sardines. After leaping from the boat to land, the consultant and I headed to the local pub for a drink. Kidding. We did go to the pub, but because our local village leader runs two pubs and a phone charging station so we met at his establishment to talk about the grid’s impact. We worked through a business SWOT analysis on how he could expand his pub + charging businesses and talking about market gaps that his friends and neighbors could address through new enterprises. He talked about how refrigeration could lead to restaurants serving food on island for the first time. That video halls provided a source of income for those otherwise without. That lights allowed him to serve the fishermen when they returned from the lake from 9pm -11pm and allowed his business to flourish.
All of these examples seem obvious, but when sitting with George and hearing about these improvements in his business and quality of life since getting connected to our power, I realized the magnitude of the work that we do for people. The way Americans appreciate having power after an outage was the way the customers we spoke to appreciated having electricity every day. We still have lots of work to do to provide access to financing, appliances, and technology to allow our customers to best utilize their power for productivity, but after seeing our system in action I feel even luckier than I felt in March when I accepted this offer.
On a lighter note, here is a list of the amazing tourist experiences I have also had in the month since my last post:
1) Went on safari in the Masai Mara with my parents and saw the Great Migration in action; thousands of wildebeest, dozens of lions! And RODE IN A HOT AIR BALLOON.
2) Visited the coast with coworkers and with friends from Sloan, staying in beautiful beach houses with even more incredible beach views
3) Went to a concert at the Ngong Race Course and heard Estelle perform
4) Met my elephant “brother” that I adopted for my parents
5) Climbed an artificial rock wall at the farmer’s market
6) Went to America for a weekend for my best friend’s wedding
7) Swam in the Indian ocean x4
8) Swam in a swimming pool x2
9) Starting kickboxing classes at my gym
10) Spent a day driving on the left side of the road
(Almost) Month 1 Update 6/27/16
Many amazing things have happened since my last post! Most amazing perhaps is that the last two weeks have flown by so quickly here that I haven’t had a moment to post. As far as work goes, through a combination of uncovering bottlenecks and devoting attention to known issues, I think that the team here, the other fellows, and I are making some noticeable gains in process efficiency. Meanwhile, I’m also discovering how fun it is to work at a leading company in the industry as numerous large tech partners have started to express interest in “little” PowerGen to support the work we are doing to electrify Africa. It’s exciting to be at a company that is transitioning from start-up to established industry player and I think if this success and growth continues the “interns” next summer will be working for an entirely different scale company! Besides impressing me with their growth in the field, my coworkers impressed me with their skills on the ice– 5 of us went to Kenya’s only ice hockey rink after work one day and ended up scrimmaging the Kenyan National Ice Hockey team, and being recorded by the BBC sports network!! Who knows if the footage will air, but a pretty incredible experience.
My weekend travels also have begun to take me further away from my Nairobi base. I spent one weekend exploring the Sheldrick Elephant Center (where I adopted myself a baby brother elephant) and hiking through Hell’s Gate National Park near Lake Naivasha. We did not see any of the lake’s famous hippos, but now that I know they cause more deaths per year than lions I’m OK with missing this siting. While leaving the park, we opened the sunroof on the Subaru for a little safari and saw giraffes, zebra, warthogs, and baboons. Despite the reflection by Beryl Markham that zebras are a useless animal, which I admit, they are, those were my favorite to see in the wild because the families had calves with them, still fluffy and striped in brown rather than their sleek black and white elders.
This week I’ll be heading back to the USA for a friend’s wedding, hoping when I come back Kenya feels as much like home as it does to me right now!
After settling in to my new home, I headed off to work to start my new job at PowerGen Renewable Energy. My roommate and I started the week on a good note by joining the office gym before our first day– mostly because we both hate the scorching hot water that our shower at home delivers at a moderate trickle. I spent the first few days onboarding with three other summer MBA fellows (HBS, Wharton, and Hass) along with three other new full time employees for a rookie class of 7. We spent time meeting with each of the execution team leads, our founders, the administrative teams, and our workshop teams. The training highlight of the week was visiting our workshop and getting to see our systems put together. The system the team was working on was built inside of a container that was going to remain on site to be re-purposed as a retail kiosk for the local community. It’s awesome seeing these little things come together that are so simple but add such value.
I also received my two work assignments for the summer; one focused on process efficiency and the other on customer engagement. It’ll be great having the chance to complete these projects as it means working across multiple teams and understanding how the company works as a whole. It’s great to work at a small company for the first time, especially with such a strong team. Everyone there works incredibly hard, staying late and going on long site visits, but the environment remains fun, supportive, and collaborative. On Friday night, one of our founders invited the entire office over for a welcome BBQ for the new members to the team. Needless to say, I’m already having quite a different experience than when I worked in corporate America before MIT– in fact, this environment feels much more like being part of my Core team at Sloan.
I spent all day Saturday in Ngong Hills with two of my coworkers. These hills are a bumpy 45 min drive from Karen and include 7 peaks that rise up with views back to Nairobi and beyond. On this particular day, there was a rare drizzle so our views were dramatic through occasionally breaking clouds. I thought I had signed up to hike 2 or 3 of these peaks, the guys dragged me across all seven! Along the way we made friends with some Kenyan recent college graduates who enlightened us on how to not get scammed by boda-boda (motorcycle) drivers and which American celebs they love (Rihanna, Beyonce, Bieber, Khloe K, Kylie K…) and who they hate (Kim K) and that they love man pony tails, ew. After the hike, I took my first boda-boda ride into town where we found a real taxi to take us the rest of the way back to Karen. I had about 20 minutes to rest up then wake up to shower and get ready for the evening. That night, I attended the Oxford-Cambridge Ball at one of Nairobi’s finest country clubs. After sleeping in the next morning, I met up with other HBS interns for another day’s adventures.
On Sunday we did an activity that I knew well in Saratoga: went to a horse track! For 200KES ($2 USD) you can attend the Ngong Race Track and spend the afternoon lounging outside watching the horse races. I lost a grand total of 400 KES ($4 USD) but had a lovely, relaxing end to my action packed first full weekend in Kenya.
Heading into this week, I’m looking forward to diving deeper into my projects at work now that I understand the company a bit better and taking excursions to explore more of Kenya than what I’ve already seen around Nairobi 🙂
Arrival Update! 6/5/16
Almost exactly 36 hours ago, the guards opened the (first set of) gates to let me into my summer home in Karen, a region of Nairobi, Kenya. Despite the early hour, 4am local time, and the 20 hours of travel it took from my door in Cambridge to my gates in Karen I had a new surge of energy when we arrived and I could finally see where I’d be spending my summer. My poor roommate woke up in the middle of the night to let me in and give me the “grand tour”– our house has two bedrooms, a 4×4 kitchen, a toilet/shower room, and actually a decent living room complete with couch, coffee, table, and refrigerator! Besides my bed canopied in mosquito netting, my favorite part of the house is our front patio, we have a small table and chairs where I am sitting now to write this post and occasionally saying Habari Gani (how are you) to our three neighbors and the stray dog that we think probably lives here at this point.
I’ve spent the first weekend settling in to my new home, time zone, and job for the summer. After unpacking yesterday, the co-founder of my summer company, PowerGen Renewable Energy, took me and my roommate (an HBS PowerGen intern) to an incredible brunch in Kenya to chat about our upcoming onboarding sessions, fill us in on the latest board meetings, and welcome us to Kenya with an incredible meal of “Hot Lightning”, a dish of roasted potatoes, bacon, sliced apples, fried egg, and a slightly spicy syrup. After brunch, we strolled through the Saturday farmer’s market to pick up produce and then swung by a mall to deal with more mundane chores. Unlike American malls, this mall, the Karen Hub, was completely open air and included a tent with kids painting their own artwork and a scooter shop renting motorized scooters, hoverboards, and automated giraffes for kids to ride! Our errands complete, we rested up then met up with a few more from our PowerGen team in Nairobi for a friendly pool tournament which the Americans did terribly in compared to our Kenyan coworkers- I blame the different sized pools and cues over here!
Today, I checked out the Giraffe Centre in Karen and then returned home to prepare for my first day of work tomorrow. As I think about the upcoming weeks with the PowerGen team, I feel daunted by the amount I do not know about the current Kenyan power system but excited about the huge opportunity ahead. The company has grown to over 50 full time employees with 4 summer interns. They have already completed 150 installations providing electricity to many East Africans for the first time in their lives. I’m excited to join them in this effort to provide solar energy to more of the continent but also to learn about conducting business in a fast paced startup environment. Everyone I have talked to so far from the company has impressed me with their immense drive and commitment to the company. I’m excited to be on a team like this that reminds me of my classmates at Sloan; driven, passionate, but still a lot of fun! My first impressions of both the company and the country make me thrilled that I made the decision to live here for the summer as an amazing learning & growth opportunity.
I look forward to learning about my summer projects and continuing to discover Kenya!