Amina Ali defied cultural expectations about her career and entered the energy sector. There, she helps improve women’s lives in Sub-Saharan Africa through energy-related product innovation, making her a clear role model not just for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, but all year round. Below, she tells her story.
I have always had this strong urge to make a difference – but never really knew in what sector or industry I would work. Those called to make a difference usually gravitate towards becoming a doctor, nurse or lawyer – speaking from an African perspective – as these are the appraised career choices.
However, I was lucky enough to find myself exposed to a sector, which, to be honest, I initially did not know existed. I don’t ever remember the word ‘energy’ floating around in any of my science high school modules – or anywhere in the prospectus of the university where I obtained my first degree. Yet, chance happened to me, and I found myself immersed in a sector that I regard as the epitome of bringing a difference to the lives of millions of people. People whom I will most likely never meet.
I find myself at the forefront of ‘Sustainable energy’ – working at a company that manufactures cookstoves and distributes them for free in rural areas across Sub-Saharan Africa. I have had the opportunity to leave my laptop on my desk and step out into “the field”, which is a term we use at Ener-G-Africa, and have a chance to meet the people worth getting up for every morning.
There is nothing that I am more passionate about than women’s empowerment. I go above and beyond to celebrate anything that a woman does. My heart smiles when I see women in STEM doing and achieving great success. My eyes swell with pride to see women carrying fewer loads of firewood and spending less time out in the woods because of the innovative way that the cookstoves that Ener-G-Africa provides have been designed. I think of the young girls who now have time on their hands to attend school and grow up to join us in the boardrooms. It all has got to start somewhere, and this surely has to be it.
What did I do to be where I am? Adapt. Our lives will be measured by our ability to adapt. We need to adapt as people, adapt to our environment, adapt in our spiritual lives, and adapt to the different dishes that life will hand us. But what will keep you grounded is standing true to your purpose? My purpose has been to make a difference.
The difference I have seen in the energy sector, specifically in the clean-cooking division is the reduction of spinal, nerve, and muscle damage from the heavy loads of carrying firewood. There has been a reduction in the risk of rape and physical abuse, falls, and attacks from animals while collecting wood.
Additionally, there have been health improvements from reducing exposure to PM 2.5 and other toxic elements when inhaling biomass smoke while cooking.
And above all, this leads to less deforestation, which links up to less damage at the time of natural disasters—making an absolute difference from the bottom-up.
How did I get here? Chance. When life offers you an opportunity, you grab it with both hands. If it changes your life, you let it. Nobody said life would be easy – they only promised it would be worth it. And making a difference in the lives of thousands of people is sure worth it.
Amina Ali is Group Operations Manager at Ener-G-Africa, one of the leading manufacturing energy companies in South Africa and Malawi.