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Surfing The Waves Of Four Crises

If you ask Rocio Fonseca, SF ’14 , how she is tackling the present crisis, don’t be surprised if she retorts, “Which one?” Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fonseca, Chief Innovation Officer of the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO), was navigating three other nationwide challenges—severe economic inequality, social unrest, and the climate crisis. The stakes on each are high. Chile must rapidly innovate its way out of 200 years of institutional siloing or face even more serious economic, social, and public health and safety consequences.

Rocio Fonseca, SF ’14

“Leadership must be collaborative to tackle all these crises simultaneously,” says Fonseca. “No individual could master even one of these challenges during normal times and certainly not during a pandemic. That’s why we’ve tried to reduce each of these problems to its component parts and created multidisciplinary teams to address specific aspects of each. This approach allows us to work in parallel and greatly accelerate our activities.”

Building trust across multiple generations
Fonseca says that a big part of her job at present is helping people in small- and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) understand the need for innovation. “A majority of Chilean SMEs believe that technological innovation is just for large corporations,” she says. “To make inroads, we must win the trust of multiple generations in family businesses and modest enterprises. And that requires a lot of personal engagement.”

CORFO is a public agency, and Fonseca is required to meet annual targets for her outreach efforts. “Before the pandemic, our typical in-person business roundtable or training course included approximately 50 enterprises, and our goal for the year was to connect with 800 companies,” she explains. “When the lockdown began, my boss offered to lower that requirement. Instead, we expanded our use of existing technologies and began connecting with regions of the country we’d never reached before. By the end of June, we’d engaged with more than 5,000 enterprises.”

The energizing effect of a positive vision
CORFO’s programs for SMEs are very practical and highly relevant to surviving the pandemic—creating an online presence, generating new sources of income, and reducing costs. “Once we establish a relationship,” says Fonseca, “we have the opportunity to impart a positive, longer-term vision for Chilean society. For many, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard about the circular economy or how greening their businesses will add overall value to the GDP.”

Fonseca’s annual budget includes roughly USD$60 million in grants to help SMEs go green and adopt innovative technologies. “Beyond the money, though, people are inspired by the fact that invention is a way of capitalizing on all our strengths and promoting the very best our country has to offer. They’re beginning to see these multiple crises in a new light—this is the biggest opportunity for transformation in Chilean history.”

 

Lessons From The Second Law Of Thermodynamics

Thad Allen, SF ’89

In the realm of crisis management, few leaders have as venerable a reputation as Thad Allen, SF ’89. Former Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Allen has been summoned by the country’s leaders to tackle the most formidable challenges of their presidencies. Former President George W. Bush called on Allen to reboot the disastrous Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, and when the Deep Water Horizon oil spill defied containment, former President Barack Obama asked Allen to take the helm. In each case, he turned around the situation with stunning alacrity.

Today, as Senior Executive Advisor at Booz Allen Hamilton, Thad Allen’s legendary wisdom is still very much in demand. And it stands to reason he has definite ideas about the core requirements of leadership in the throes of a global pandemic. “It all boils down to the second law of thermodynamics,” he says. “The world is becoming more and more complex, more chaotic, more ambiguous. Globalization—on both a micro and macro level—is driving this. So is climate change, which is launching an increasing number of weather-related catastrophes—and, of course, technology, especially social media.”

But Allen makes it clear that we must run toward these challenges, embrace them, understand them, not put our heads down and wish for things to normalize. “Status quo is an oxymoron,” he says. “Every microsecond on earth, we are in a different world.” Catastrophes like hurricanes, nuclear fall-out, and pandemics don’t respect borders, he adds. “Oceans don’t know which coastline belongs to which country. Ebola and COVID-19 don’t stop at the border and wait for a visa. The world has evolved. Yes, globalization has opened up transmission paths for pandemics, but we’ve seen many benefits from globalization as well. When you look at an international crisis and try to solve it with a political point of view, you will inevitably get the wrong answer.”

Technology has advanced beyond us
Technology, Allen says, is also global, spilling across continents and time zones without heed of national boundaries—and it is expanding more rapidly than the legal frameworks and international laws that must govern it. “The sophistication of technology is accelerating and, with it, our inability as a society to adjust to it. Our governments, law enforcement agencies, and other legal entities are falling further and further behind while the consequences of that inadequacy become more critical.”

We’re a digital society, Allen adds, “but we don’t know how to be good digital citizens. It’s like when humans discovered fire and were burned by it. The internet has become an ungoverned jungle. The fact is, however, that you can’t remove yourself from the digital environment. That ship has sailed. We’ve democratized data, but it’s a power we don’t yet know how to manage.”

Not surprising, Allen is somewhat obsessed with “black swans”: rare, unpredictable events with severe consequences that were obvious in hindsight. “We need to increase our understanding of how to perceive and adapt to complex situations. Novel events like this pandemic will continually challenge us and our legal and political frameworks, many of which are no longer relevant in the 21st-century.”

He notes that smart decisions are based on the best available science, but the intrusion of politics means that scientific solutions have become proprietary. Sharing knowledge—or even vaccines—across borders is becoming a greater and greater challenge. “When we mix politics and crisis management,” Allen warns, “we fail at both.”

One of the lessons humanity needs to learn, Allen believes, is about collaboration. “What is the answer to turbulence? Quite simply: coproduction. No single person can solve the complex problems challenging the world today. It has become a matter of working together to create frameworks and coproduce outcomes. That’s the overarching paradigm in all the efforts I’ve been involved with. Figure out a value proposition, bring it to bear, and unify the efforts. The best crisis management is the product of team effort.”

 

 

Creating a human-centric organization in a volatile global arena

Reaching back to his childhood in Monterey, Mexico, Mauricio Chapa, SFMBA ’19, can remember the ways the company he works for now shaped his life. Chapa is Division Vice President for Talent and Compensation at Sigma, a division of ALFA, the seventh-largest company in Mexico. Chapa worked at ALFA for six years before transitioning to its subsidiary and says the company’s powerful commitment to community is one of the factors that motivates him to remain part of the team.

Mauricio Chapa    SFMBA ’19

As a child, Chapa’s parents took him to the elaborate family-oriented complex that ALFA developed for the community, which includes gardens, an aviary with rare birds, and the state-of-the-art science museum and planetarium that fostered Chapa’s appreciation for science and technology. In fact, it led him to pursue his MBA at MIT.

When Chapa was a student in the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA Program, he was taken aback at the astonishment of his classmates when he talked about ALFA’s commitment to community. “ALFA has always believed that what’s good for the community is good for ALFA—that the success of both are inextricably linked.”  Chapa explains that the company’s core ethos hasn’t changed since it was established as a brewery at the close of the 19th century. ALFA’s generosity of spirit makes his life as an HR executive more rewarding, he says. The challenges of motivation and retention, for example, are easier when employees feel that the company is invested in their wellbeing.

Redefining community in a global organization
But community in 2020, he points out, has very different ramifications than it did back in 1890. Today, workplace culture must transcend physical location. ALFA and its subsidiaries have a footprint in more than 25 countries. Employees in Argentina, Poland, and India, for example, can’t take advantage of the extensive amenities available to its employees in Monterey. How do you instill a shared, cohesive culture and a strong sense of community across so many different time zones?

In addition, ALFA has in its stable a very diverse set of industries—aluminum auto components, petrochemicals, oil and natural gas, and refrigerated foods—each with its own subculture. How do you retain a unified corporate culture across industries and continents? “It’s all about technology,” says Chapa. “ALFA is launching a digital platform to bring together everyone under one umbrella so they can bond, interact, collaborate on a project, converse, share ideas—even recipes. The generations that are coming into the workplace now are comfortable forging strong communities through social media platforms.”

Merging companies and company cultures
Chapa notes that during his career in HR, he has been especially aware of the challenge of preserving culture following a merger or acquisition. “It’s one thing to merge two companies—quite another to merge two company cultures. It’s essential to respect the existing culture of the company that is being acquired but, at the same time, make sure the employees of the new entity share the values of the company they are now a part of. The challenge requires awareness and sensitivity. There are no two scenarios alike, so it’s important to take each case separately and deal with it thoughtfully.”

It’s a delicate but crucial balance, Chapa says, and one that requires careful thought and strategy. “When do you centralize, and when do you decentralize? That is one of the key challenges of multinational companies. How do you get the most out of diverse synergies while reinforcing common values and avoiding cross-cultural misunderstandings and mismatches?”

He cites another human resources challenge for multinational companies—working from home. “The ability to work remotely is actually mandated by the government in some countries,” he notes, “while workers in other countries simply don’t have access to an infrastructure that makes working remotely possible. You want to have a policy that applies equally to all employees, but sometimes that simply isn’t possible. You have to find a way to mitigate that inequality.”

Your employees are your customers
Bottom line, Chapa says: A good human resources department regards its employees as its customers. “Organizations should want to establish a healthy relationship with its employees from the outset and work continually to keep them happy. There used to be a sense that the company was doing you a favor by employing you. That mindset has been turned on its head. We are continually refining how to connect with workers.”

What that signals, Chapa says, is that the era of the one-size-fits-all benefit plan is over. “HR must connect with employees, understand their personal situations, and be able to work with them to provide individualized benefits that enable them to do their best work. Maybe they need housing closer to work or help finding childcare. As with any customer, it helps to know who you’re serving, what they need, and what motivates them. The result? Happier employees who are invested in the company. In the end, they just perform better.”

 

Finalists in the MIT Solve Challenge converge on New York

The MIT Solve Challenge, the legendary social impact pitch competition, reached its much-anticipated conclusion on September 22 during UN General Assembly week in New York City. A diverse group of 60 finalists will converge to present solutions around four global issues posed back in May. More than $1.6 million in funding will be available for the selected Solver teams.

MIT Solve advances sustainable solutions proposed by tech entrepreneurs to address the world’s most pressing problems. It issues four global challenges each year. In 2019, those challenges are the circular economy, community-driven innovation, early childhood development, and healthy cities. The goal is to identify the teams that show the most promise to solve some aspect of the challenge and drive transformational change. MIT Solve then links the innovators to its global partners—private, public, and nonprofit leaders that can help make the often audacious visions a reality.

The innovators who have reached the finals in New York will pitch their ideas to a live audience as well as a panel of judges. Those selected will work closely with Solve partners—cross-sector leaders like Starbucks, HP, Johnson & Johnson, and Save the Children. These partners will help the innovators pilot, scale, and implement their tech-based solutions.

Past Solve participants have included Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Eric Schmidt, technical advisor and board member of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, Indra Nooyi, the former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, curator of the MIT Solve Arts and Culture Mentorship Prize.

The MIT Solve Innovation Fund
MIT Solve made headlines in the spring when it announced the launch of the Solve Innovation Fund, a $30-million-dollar philanthropic venture fund that will invest in early-stage entrepreneurs who appear poised to solve a global challenge. Noubar Afeyan, a member of the MIT Corporation and the founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering has already committed up to $3 million to the fund.

“Solve’s mission is to tackle global challenges by helping early-stage innovators from all around the world connect with each other, tap the strength of MIT’s innovation ecosystem and, crucially, gain the resources to transform their ideas into impactful solutions,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “The Solve Innovation Fund is an inspiring step to providing Solver teams with the capital to deliver their solutions at scale.”

Learn more about attending the MIT Solve finals—and about participating in the next round of challenges.

Bloomberg announces $500 Million Climate Change Initiative

Michael Bloomberg

“Fifty years ago next month, the Apollo 11 lunar module touched down on the moon. It’s fair to say the crew never would have gotten there without MIT,” Michael Bloomberg told the assembled at MIT’s commencement ceremonies this month. “I don’t just mean that because Buzz Aldrin was class of  ’63 here and took Richard Battin’s famous astrodynamics course…the Apollo 11 literally got there thanks to its navigation and control systems that were designed right here at what is now the Draper Laboratory.”

Bloomberg’s compelling address was packed with perspectives about history and science, leading to blunt observations about the race to combat climate change—and an announcement that he is putting his money where his mouth is. He revealed that his foundation Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has been working for years to rally cities, states, and businesses to get serious about climate change, is committing $500 million to the launch of a new national initiative called Beyond Carbon. The goal: to move the U.S. toward a 100 percent clean energy economy as expeditiously as possible. “We intend to succeed,” he added, “not by sacrificing things we need, but by investing in things we want: more good jobs, cleaner air and water, cheaper power, more transportation options, and less congested roads.”

An immediate and inescapable challenge
Climate change, he noted, is today’s equivalent of the man-on-the-moon challenge—but with greater consequences—the future of humanity. “Our most important and pressing mission…is not only to explore deep space and reach faraway places. It is to save our own planet, the one that we’re living on, from climate change.”

He told the audience of graduates and their families that scientists and technologists have already pioneered the technology to tackle climate change—to power buildings with solar and wind power, to power vehicles with batteries charged with renewable energy, and to power factories and industry using hydrogen and fuel cells. He added that such innovations don’t require an economic sacrifice. “Just the opposite, these investments, on balance, create jobs and save money.”

The question he posed to the commencement audience: “Why the hell are we moving so slowly? The race we are in is against time, and we are losing. In the past decade alone, we’ve seen historic hurricanes devastate islands across the Caribbean. We’ve seen ‘thousand-year floods’ hit the Midwestern and Southern United States multiple times in a decade. We’ve seen record-breaking wildfires ravage California, and record-breaking typhoons kill thousands in the Philippines. This is a true crisis.” Scientists, Bloomberg said, understand that there can be no delay in taking action.

In response to those who believe that climate change is only a theory, he quipped. “Yeah, like gravity is only a theory. People can ignore gravity at their own risk, at least until they hit the ground. But when they ignore the climate crisis, they are not only putting themselves at risk, they are putting all humanity at risk.”

Learn more about Bloomberg’s speech and his plans for Beyond Carbon.

 

 

Bridging the Gap Between Farming and Finance

When conceiving their new AI-powered agriculture financing venture Traive, cofounders Aline Oliveira Pezente SFMBA ’18 and Fabricio Pezente SFMBA ’18 were motivated by a startling fact. Global food demand will increase 70% in the next 30 years, with annual investments of at least $80 billion needed to keep up with the demand (according to a World Bank study). Much of the burden—and many of the opportunities for investment—lies with mid-range farming operations.

Aline Oliveira Pezente SFMBA ’18

Aline Pezente, who has spent her career in Latin America’s agriculture and commodities sectors, notes that small to medium-sized farms account for 70% of all commercial agriculture in Brazil and in the world. “Farmers in this category are particularly vulnerable to liquidity crises,” she says. “They are typically too big to qualify for significant government support, but too small for capital markets. Most traditional lenders view them as risky investments. Our goal is to bridge the gap between the borrowing needs of medium-sized farmers and the difficulties lenders face in collecting all the relevant data points necessary to risk assessments.”

Not one to one, but many to many

Fabricio Pezente SFMBA ’18

Lenders face two problems when considering these mid-range farmers, according to Traive CEO Fabricio Pezente. “This is a very complex sector,” he explains. “If you are not literate in how agriculture works, you will have no idea how to collect the data you need to assess credit worthiness. Then there’s the problem of connecting with these farmers. They’re widely scattered across Brazil, and it is very costly for banks to go out and find them.” Fabricio understands the lenders’ perspective well, having spent 15 years with Credit Suisse in Brazil before entering the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA program.

“Rather than tackling these challenges with one-to-one matching of farmer to lender, we’re utilizing artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to connect many to many,” says Fabricio. “Our platform uses AI tools to aggregate real-time agricultural data and to process the information for potential lenders. Because no lender wants to finance a single medium-sized farmer, we bundle investments across diverse sectors and scales— soybeans in Argentina, wheat in the U.S., coffee in Colombia, and corn in Brazil, for example.”

Technology that facilitates financing facilitates more technology
The main source of technology is the AI to process the credit risk assessment and generate the bundled portfolio of loans. The company is in the process of combining AI and a confluence of application programming interfaces (APIs) and microservices to create an autonomous platform that is equally accessible to financiers and farmers. “Because the execution of agreements and the transfer of funds are handled by blockchain solutions, our model reduces the friction and costs associated with traditional intermediaries,” says Fabricio. “And with continual updating of agricultural data and loan terms, the transactions are transparent for everyone involved.”

The other revolutionary aspect of Traive’s model, according to Aline, is how they approach the credit risk assessment to provide pre-planting financing. “Traditional agricultural bank lending in Brazil is based on what a farmer has performed in the past and not necessarily on their full potential. Under that model, the incentive for farmers is to cut costs before planting—cheaper seeds, less soil-friendly pesticides, and so on. None of which contribute to greater or more sustainable yields. With increased credit availability ahead of planting, farmers are more willing to invest in seeds, fertilizers, and other technologies that promote higher yields and more sustainable practices. It’s a fundamental catalyzer for the levels of production we need to achieve in the coming decades.”

Global Blockchain Hackathons

The spinoff effect of MIT research into blockchain technology is already influencing the development of new ventures. The Blockchain Challenge (TBC), cofounded by CTO Natalie Gil SF ’17 and CEO Silvana Lopez SF ’16, was inspired by both Gil’s independent research project under MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson during her year in the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA program and Lopez’ desire to go beyond the hype. Launched in 2018, TBC unites global interdisciplinary teams—entrepreneurs, programmers, psychologists, economists, and others—to build the “next cool thing” in blockchain.

Natalie Gil SF ’17

“My work with Simon led me to MIT’s D-Lab and the Digital Currency Initiative,” says Gil. “As I learned about technology development ecosystems in Latin American countries, I realized that the environment was well suited to the creation of innovative blockchain applications. The combination of new digital infrastructure, good local programming talent, and rising governmental interest in tech development make Latin American countries ripe for blockchain uses cases.”

 Forty-eight hours with programmers and potato farmers
TBC has set its sights on expanding access to shared resources and creating incentives that promote more inclusive financial systems. “So far, all our use cases tie back to some form of distributed ledger,” Gil explains. “The underlying technology is fairly consistent. It’s the integration of diverse data collectors and relevant network participants that defines the distinct challenges of each case.”

Gil points to the recent TBC Peruvian Potato Challenge—an event hosted by the World Potato Congress—as an example of how blockchain technology can effectively integrate community knowledge with pioneering digital tools. The 48-hour hackathon in the Andean Mountains at Cusco, Peru brought together  agricultural engineers, agronomists, economist, biologists, and other technical experts. “Many participants have a foot in both worlds—technically trained daughters and sons who inherited ancestral knowledge from their parents,” Gil says.

The Peruvian government backed the initiative, and IBM partnered with TBC to provide technical expertise in coding and blockchain. “Because potato farming represents 13% of Peru’s GDP—and the livelihood of more than 700,000 families—the capacity of blockchain to promote inclusion could be game changing,” says Gil. Participants ultimately zeroed in on a common issue to address: how to manage plant disease outbreaks and grow crops more efficiently. Potential solutions incorporated geo-localization, image-recognition technology, machine learning, and data analytics—all supported by a blockchain platform.”

Broader lessons about blockchain
Gil emphasizes that the challenge, along with TBC’s other use cases in transportation and finance, are still in the proof-of-concept phase. “As with all responsible deployments of new technologies, we believe it is essential for strategists and developers to be thoughtful about setting expectations and managing deployment. As we learn more from our fieldwork about the promise and pitfalls of blockchain, we need to establish guidelines and regulations that protect participants and ensure the widest possible benefit from the technology.”

 


 

Blockchain Beyond Cryptocurrency—Promises and Pitfalls

At the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, the Global Blockchain Business Council announced that 40% of investors believe that blockchain could be the most important innovation since the invention of the internet. Shortly thereafter, the editors of Sloan Management Review (SMR) asked its panel of experts to answer a related question: In the next five years, will blockchain have a transformative effect on finance in emerging markets?

Simon Johnson

Of the 25 experts surveyed by SMR, nearly 60% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this premise when their responses were weighted for the level of confidence in their opinions. A mere 27% of the panel agreed or strongly agreed. Panelist and MIT Sloan Professor Erik Brynjolfsson said, “So far, at least, the use cases have been driven more by hype and outright scams than practical benefit.” Fellow panelist MIT Sloan Professor Scott Stern noted that “while there are important potential use cases … in the absence of a separate fundamental innovation, this will be an incremental rather than transformative advance.”

At MIT Sloan and across the Institute, skepticism is more often the beginning—rather than the end—of conversations and explorations. In fact, blockchain is inspiring a surge of research and invention in the MIT community these days, including by faculty members and MIT Sloan Fellows alumni. In the articles that follow, we hope to set aside the mystique surrounding blockchain and discuss some of the principles and pathways that could lead to productive uses of the technology beyond cryptocurrency. In future articles, we will circle back to focus on blockchain developments in the realm of monetary exchange.

Jump-Starting America Proposes to Lift All Boats, Not Just the Yachts

The American economy looks relatively sound on the outside, but the reality is quite different, say Simon Johnson, Faculty Director of the MIT Sloan Fellows Program, and coauthor and MIT Economics Professor Jonathan Gruberin a new book due in April: Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream.

In this somewhat radical and highly anticipated prescription for the U.S. economy, Johnson and Grubernote that job opportunities and economic growth are increasingly concentrated in a few crowded coastal enclaves. Corporations and investors are disproportionately developing technologies that benefit the wealthiest Americans who live in the most prosperous areas of the country. The result of these developments is the destruction of middle class jobs in middle America. To turn this tide, they say, we must look to the lessons of the original American success story and embark on a plan that will create the industries of the future—and the jobs that go with them.

Impact on the economy of the “Big War”

Johnson and Gruber look back at the middle of the 20thcentury when massive public investment generated breakthroughs in science and technology that helped win World War II, innovations that then propelled the most successful economy the world has ever seen. Private enterprise built on these breakthroughs to create new industries such as radar, jet engines, digital computers, mobile telecommunications, life-saving medicines, and the internet. And those breakthroughs became the catalyst for broader economic growth that generated millions of good jobs. As Johnson and Gruber say, “We lifted almost all boats, not just the yachts.”

Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson tell the story of this first American growth engine and provide the blueprint for a second. They believe that their visionary, pragmatic, and possibly controversial plan will lead to job growth and a burgeoning economy in regions across the country that have been left behind.Jump-Starting America is the untold story of how America once created a legendary—and enormously successful—economic model and, most important, how it could be done again.

 

Lighting the world: MIT graduate student invents scalable solar

It’s tough to be competitive within the global marketplace when your company languishes for large spans of time off the power grid, but it’s a problem that people in many developing nations face. In his native Zimbabwe, Prosper Nyovanie says that life was continually lived in work-around mode as frequent electricity outages plagued the country. Realizing how crippling this was to Zimbabwe’s economic culture, Nyovanie set about looking for a solution. He found it in a scalable solar electric system that expands with demand.

Nyovanie, who majored in mechanical engineering as an MIT undergraduate, discovered his calling when he took the course Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies, which explored the production, distribution, and consumption of energy. The experience inspired him to minor in energy studies and eventually led to the birth of Voya Sol, the company he cofounded to enable individuals to build their own solar energy micro-grids from the bottom-up.

As an undergraduate, Nyovanie took on a UROP with Martin Culpepper in the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity and realized that the success of his ideas were rooted at the intersection of business and technology. In a recent interview with MIT News he recalled, “One big thing that I liked about the class was that it introduced this other complexity that I hadn’t paid that much attention to before, because when you’re in the engineering side, you’re really focused on making technology, using science to come up with awesome inventions. But there are considerations that you need to think about when you’re implementing [such inventions]. You need to think about markets, how policies are structured.”

Now a graduate student and fellow in MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program, Nyovanie is building that pivotal combination of skills. Through the LGO program, he will earn an MBA from MIT Sloan and a master’s in mechanical engineering. He is also a fellow in the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT.

Global fieldwork in key markets

Before cofounding Voya Sol with Stanford University graduate student Caroline Jo, Nyovanie worked at renewable energy company SunEdison as a process engineer and analyst through the Renewable Energy Leadership Development Rotational Program. He rotated between different roles at the company around the world, including a stint as a project engineer overseeing the development of rural mini-grids in Tanzania. When SunEdison declared bankruptcy, Nyovanie continued his discussions with rural electricity providers in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Nigeria before eventually founding Voya Sol with Stanford University graduate student Caroline Jo.

Nyovanie believes that their scalable, personalized solar solution is the first of its kind. If all goes according to plan, they will provide customers with all the components necessary to independently assemble a solar energy system that can power their own homes, connect to their neighbors’ systems, or even build out a community grid. The first country to test the product? Zimbabwe, of course.