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Women in Charge: Meet Sandra Chukwudozie the 30-year-old trailblazer on a mission to redefine energy access in Africa

When Forbes Africa announced its list of 30 Under-30 trailblazers for 2022, one name stood out from the pack. Sandra Chukwudozie is CEO of Salpha Energy, a courageous young woman on a mission to deepen access to affordable solar home solutions in Nigeria’s poorest communities.

She had left a budding career at the United Nations to face a dilemma that tested her tenacity and commitment, in what she calls her “moment of rebellion”—to prove to herself that she could blaze a trail of her own initiative, rather than simply ease into the family conglomerate.

Tell us about you, what drives you and how you came into the clean energy space.

From a young age, I was exposed to the energy industry through my family’s Oil and Gas conglomerate. However, I gained a new perspective on energy when I started my career at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. I learned that energy had to be clean, safe, and sustainable. Even more, closing the energy access gap had to start by reaching the furthest behind first.

It was at that time that I found myself finding an outlet where I could actively work on effecting change. This change was none other than the energy transition. As a young woman in Nigeria, I understood the importance of having a dream this big, the impact it would have on the country and the flame it would ignite in the hearts of young people; the underdogs, the underestimated who had something to prove. I wanted to channel the energy of the youth to usher in this change.

What are the systems and processes for the methods in your company, including the tiny bits that your customers don’t see?

Salpha is a leading Nigerian indigenous company that designs and distributes a range of affordable and quality-conscious solar home systems in West Africa. The business model is premised on providing reliable electricity to homes and businesses that enable them to scale up the energy usage ladder.

We operate a flat organizational structure, where colleagues in diverse departments work as a team towards executing complex projects. Allowing decision-making authority to team members makes their job more challenging and leads to higher levels of empowerment and engagement. This further reinforces a self-disciplined attitude and sincerity towards their role in the organization.

Sandra Chukwudozie, Image by: Deji Oluokun

Renewable energy potential in Nigeria is vast, but do you think it could ever meet the rural energy needs in the country?

Nigeria’s electrification rate is ~57%, leaving 85 million Nigerians without access to electricity, mostly in rural areas which stand at 66 million people.

Evidence shows that the least-cost approach for achieving universal access in Nigeria involves an integrated mix of National grid extension, solar mini-grid, and solar home systems.

Over the past 5 years, the solar market in Nigeria has grown rapidly at an annual growth rate of 22% and emerged as one of the fastest growing in Africa. That has been supported by a combination of demand factors (inadequate and unreliable grid power supply, supportive govt. policies, growing adoption of clean energy sources) and supply factors (cost competitiveness of solar, increased investment into solar, emergence of innovative business models)

These statistics leave me optimistic that rural energy needs in Nigeria will be met.

Do you think Nigeria and Africa at large is doing enough to improve clean energy in the country and continent respectively? What actionable plans can be taken to affect this?

In recent years, pronounced progress in expanding access to electricity was made in several countries, notably Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. As a result, the Sub-Saharan Africa population without access to electricity decreased to about 588 million in 2021 from 640 million in 2010. Despite improvements in Africa’s electrification rate, the population growth has resulted in a steady unelectrified population of 550-600 million people. Projections show that Africa is not on track to reach universal electricity access by 2030.

Putting Africa on the path to improved clean energy access requires implementing more progressive policies and scaling investment which will considerably increase the industry attractiveness.

More specifically in Nigeria, in two key areas

  • Sharpen policy focus by introducing tariff waivers at the ports for all renewable energy components to attract investments, create downstream jobs, and build scale.
  • Provide access to financing, subsidies & grants to improve customers' ability to pay in rural households.
Sandra Chukwudozie, Image by: Deji Oluokun

How do you measure success, and do you consider your company a success?

I measure success by tracking the growth that has taken place and pausing to reflect on lessons learned, but I try not to be fixated. I always affirm to myself that “I am able to achieve greater things than I have ever experienced, realized, imagined, manifested in my life”. So many of my achievements have been through grace, beyond my wildest expectations.

When I founded my company Salpha, my mission was to provide access to clean energy for Africans and harness the talent and passion of young Africans who wanted to make a difference. Initially, I didn’t have the resources to pull off such an ambitious feat, but today I am extremely proud of my team and our achievements so far.

Today we are proud to have become a leading Nigerian Indigenous Company in the sector. We got qualified and signed the output-based Fund grant agreement under the World Bank funded Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP).

We also secured $1 million in funding from All On, an investment company backed by oil and gas giant, Shell. We have powered over 450,000 People and created jobs for 800+ Sales agents, Installers, Technicians, Payment collectors, and counting!

What is the mantra that has been the secret to your success thus far?

“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”

As a Forbes Under 30 lister, you achieved success before 30. Did people discredit you because of your age? And do they still discredit you?

Being a young person with a vision that is challenging the predominant status quo, especially in Africa is tough because on one hand you are told that “you have no experience” and on the other hand the resources to execute are limited and the odds are stacked against you. What kept me going was following my own authentic path and believing in myself and my vision even when people doubted me.

I’ve always viewed myself as a rebel with a cause, solving issues that are plaguing the African continent and impeding growth, so I learned quickly how to tune out outside voices and focus on actualizing my vision.

Sandra Chukwudozie, Image by: Deji Oluokun

You have experienced both worlds, is there a significant difference between the Nigerian and American workspace? What are the differences, if any?

There is definitely a huge difference between both workspaces! Americans are very punctual, if the meeting is scheduled for 10:00 A.M, they will be seated by 9:55, whereas if we talk about Nigerian work culture and mentality - “African Time” is allowed (Translation - 15–30 minutes delay is fine). In Nigeria being late is considered a symbol of being important.

Americans do not follow authority as such. A person of a younger age could get hired for one of the highest positions based on his or her knowledge. Employees at higher posts also do not show their superiority and behave normally with everyone.

In Nigeria, we follow hierarchy with all our hearts. Starting from our families, we believe in paying more respect to the one who is older than us, and we follow the same pattern in our workplace. We also create a division between designated people of our level and the people working below us. While a lot of Nigerian workers require close supervision, sanctions, and coercion in driving compliance with organizational rules, Most Americans are self-driven and motivated.

It is believed that the next generation is more interested in products that are simple and honest. Do you have a take on this? If you do, what’s your take on it?

As a millennial, I agree that there is a shift. My generation is unapologetically saying they want to change the paradigm of what corporate responsibility looks like. We are looking beyond physical products and trying to understand the company’s values, mission and purpose and what it is trying to build for us as a society.

My generation in most cases is willing to pay a premium for sustainable goods with a story that makes us feel guiltless about consumption. The key driver of this shift is both from a geopolitical and a climate perspective. More than ever there is a stronger emphasis on sustainability.

Sandra Chukwudozie, Image by: Deji Oluokun

Do you think a woman needs to be daring to be fashionable or can a woman achieve being fashionable in simplicity?

Fashion is unique to everyone, whether man or woman. The uniqueness of every individual is what makes the whole. I believe that no one should be confined to a set of rules that imprisons their personal style. As the world keeps changing, the lines keep getting blurred; what we find daring today could be a norm in the future, and what some find daring could be simplicity to others and vice versa.

How would you describe your style? Does getting dressed ever feel like work to you?

I’m on a style journey, but it also goes without saying my style is intended to build reality to my tagline, which is chic, classy and clean. Anyway, I am simple and sophisticated – I always believe in simplicity with a dose of sophistication in attaining a great look. In my closet, you will always find a statement handbag, a classic blazer, high-waisted Jeans and a pair of sneakers.

What’s your perception of body image? Do you think one’s attitude to life would be different if they could shake those anxieties about body image?

More recently, one of the major contributors to body dissatisfaction is social media. It portrays images that are filtered and edited and tends to show the ‘highlights’ of a person and their life. These images promote an unrealistic appearance ideal that cannot be achieved in real life.

Empowering ways to promote a positive self-image is to avoid comparing yourself to others and focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents, which can help you accept and appreciate your whole self. Lizzo Beating is a classic example of someone that has maintained a message of positivity, self-love, and acceptance in the midst of heavy criticism faced in the media for what she wears and how she carries herself in the public eye, mainly due to her body type.

Sandra Chukwudozie, Image by: Deji Oluokun

Can you tell us about your current state of mind?


Being named one of Forbes Africa's 30 Under 30 class of 2022, young African trailblazers was a humbling and life-changing moment. I am vibrating with a renewed sense of purpose and vision.

Can you tell us about your other passions? Also, tell us about possible ventures in the future.

One of my less pronounced passions is personal development and effective communication. In 2018, I became a certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Master Practitioner from the NLP Centre of New York.

The training was instrumental in building my character, helping me change unwanted habits, and transform negative emotions as well as being more sensitive and empathetic to others, which was very vital in my leadership journey. I have also mentored several young professionals, helping them transform limiting beliefs and instilling empowering beliefs as well as empathetic communication.

I am working with my fellow Forbes Listed counterpart Ifan Michael on his autobiographical short Film titled “The boy who never falls”. For those people who have gone against the grain to fight for their beliefs and succeed after all the hardships that they faced in their life, this movie is for you. Watch out!

What is your next big step?

Our audacious target at Salpha is to provide 30 million people across the African continent with access to clean energy by 2030. The journey to achieving this feat will involve regional expansion plans to include more countries across western, eastern, and southern Africa. Hiring the right team and global partnerships across the value chain. I am proud to contribute to building the next generation of Africans ushering in a fresh paradigm to the challenges of Africa.


Photography: Deji Oluokun

Art direction/ Styling: Ifan Michael

Accessories: Fabjewels

Make up: TMT by olayinka

Outfit: Weiz Dhurm Franklyn

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