Milken-Motsepe $2 million prize to support clean energy innovators for Africa

Milken Institute and Motsepe Foundation launch competition to reward green entrepreneurs

Students from the Soshanguve Automotive School of Specialisation near Pretoria, South Africa, look at solar panels on a train roof. AP
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The Milken Institute and the Motsepe Foundation have announced a $2 million prize to support innovators and entrepreneurs providing access to green energy in Africa, the institute said on Thursday.

“Our ultimate goal would be to see a dramatic breakthrough change that's going to allow millions or more people to have access, in this case, to green energy,” Emily Musil Church, senior director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at the Milken Institute, told The National in Abu Dhabi before its Middle East summit.

“Somebody is going to transform the lives of people, not just in Africa, but beyond,” she said.

The Milken-Motsepe Innovation Prize programme is a series of competitions to help meet UN Sustainable Development Goals, with a focus on Africa. The first round, launch in 2021, was focused on AgriTech, and will be awarded next year.

“We believe that testing in Africa and making sure that things work for African communities will also allow us to see what sort of solutions people can then scale into wherever they are in the world and adapt to whatever they need in their particular communities,” said Ms Church, who has previously worked with the X-Prize.

Non-profit Milken Institute, founded by former bond trader Michael Milken, said the winners of the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy would receive $1 million, with an additional $1 million disbursed throughout the competition as finalists progress and test ideas.

Registration for the prize is open now. “There is no cost to apply, and anyone, anywhere in the world is eligible to submit their idea for consideration,” it said.

South African mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe and his wife, Precious Moloi-Motsepe, created their eponymous foundation in 1999 to help improve standards of living across Africa.

“We want to see the Sustainable Development Goals reached. We want to have as much reversal of any sort of emissions. We want to see a thriving economy. We want to see more entrepreneurs who are successful. But most importantly, we want the outcome from these technologies to be able to transform the lives of people who need them,” said Ms Church.

Leaders at the Cop27 climate summit, being held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, are working to increase funding for clean energy projects to help support the push to net zero and reduce global warming. The summit has been billed as one for Africa, which has experienced an outsized impact from climate change despite being one of the lowest emitting regions in the world. An abundance of solar and wind resources could help countries on the continent increase clean energy to provide greater access to electricity and close the demand gap.

Ms Church said grassroots efforts from entrepreneurs would support top-down measures.

“This particular competition is saying, 'How can we make sure that these green energy sources are working well, are sustainable, are affordable, reliable, all of those things',” she said. “So, while this is [about] green energy, what the bigger picture [is] and the debate around how businesses can support their own economy, is not what we're here to displace.”

One of the aims of the Milken-Motsepe competition is to help develop infrastructure in remote areas.

“We're actually pushing people … to have significant amounts of green energy, not just for light, which is great [but] we want people to have lots of different sources”, especially for those in areas which are off grid, Ms Church said.

“This has to be serious power for people to start a business, even off the grid that they can have access to serious energy [and] not [just] a small amount.”

Updated: November 17, 2022, 10:16 AM