Meet 32 year old Cristiana Benedetti Fasil, researcher and economist turned social entrepreneur. She is the Head and Co-Founder of Social Venture Africa, an enterprise working to economically empower women in rural Ghana through the provision of solar powered water disinfection and solar powered cell phone chargers.
In 3 sentences only, who is Cristiana?
(Laughing) I am many things: I like to be a very strong and determined woman. I am also an economist and researcher and a very curious person
What does your organization do?
We work to solve two major issues; the lack of electricity and of clean drinking water in West Africa. We address both issues through the use of solar power technology and involving the local community where we will foster women economic empowerment by training them to become solar power experts or engineers.
We believe that every woman should take control of her destiny both financially and intellectually. We therefore, through the project Charge up Ghana, intend to train women into micro-entrepreneurs. This will be through training programs, with a local partner, on how to be electricians and solar power specialists in the production and distribution of affordable locally sourced solar powered devices that will be sold in rural Ghana.
What is your role?
I am the Head and Co-Founder of Social Venture Africa. I am the responsible manager of our activities. This includes the day to day managerial tasks, as well as development of a viable long term business strategy together with the other board members.
What inspired you to start your venture? Why Ghana and how has that journey been so far?
I am a Ph.D. economist and have spent several years working in macroeconomics, growth theory and development. My work largely involved writing research papers where I developed abstract mathematical and computational models without seeing the direct impact of my work. In 2012, due to a number of personal reasons, I decided to spend the summer as a volunteer in Ghana with my partner. Little did I know that this would be a life and career changing experience. Being there was a reality check, you never realize what a luxury it is to have electricity and clean drinking water at your disposal until you are in an environment where these are not readily available. Witnessing people having to travel long distances to only charge their cell phones and pay for it and realizing that diarrhea caused by dirty drinking water can result to death and in Ghana it is children who largely affected and this is heart-breaking to witness. These are issues that you hardly think about in the West. We want to address these issues and also empower women.
The social venture is still young, we started a few months ago working with the idea. As a career change, it has come with its set of challenges, as any start-up in the initial phase would face. Nonetheless, it is interesting and exciting to witness and feel the support of the people. So many people believed in our idea and this has been encouraging and being part of SE Accelerator provides that extra push to move to the next level.
What’s your next step? What’s your dream/vision?
The immediate next step is to put effort in increasing the network that I have both in Europe and West Africa and obtain the funding to implement Charge up Ghana and scale up the project to enable start a pilot for the water disinfection.
We hope in the beginning of 2015 to establish a school for electricians and solar power experts where we plan to enroll 20 women so that at the end of the training they can choose to continue in the sector as electricians or choose to get into higher education.
For the water project we hope to be able to implement it in 50 villages of the Volta region and collect data to evaluate scientifically which market institution will lead to the highest adoption of the solar disinfection method and will lead to the highest health impact.
Today we are registered in Sweden, I would like to expand and have offices in west Africa that introduce market based solutions with the ultimate goal of empowering women.
What challenges do you see as an upcoming entrepreneur?
Being based in Sweden and working on a development project based in West Africa is a challenge. Two main challenges we face is having a good team and good partners. Today I have a very strong partner in Ghana that has worked in the region for 10 years and we work together to develop our network in rural Ghana. My team has a strong drive and a lot of motivation with competencies in economics, impact evaluations and strategy development. These are important for us in order to understand the market.
Why are you participating in the SE Outreach Accelerator? What were/are your expectations? What are your needs? How has your experience been so far?
I learnt about the program through a friend and since I had just moved to Stockholm, I thought it would be a great opportunity to acquire a set of skills that I had not had a chance to develop and a great opportunity to enrich my network in Sweden. So far it has been great and very hands on. All the workshops have been very focused and practical giving me all the tools to bring Social Venture Africa to the next level. The program has been very stimulating especially with the possibility to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and exchange experiences and learn from my fellows.
Any good tips you want to share with the outer world?
Never give up!