Lucia Bakulumpagi is a visionary entrepreneur who hails from Uganda. She is the founder and CEO of Bakulu Power, a Ugandan-based power company. The fascinating thing about Lucia is that she is a returnee from Canada. For most Africans in Canada, the African continent generally brings to mind ruthless warlords and starving children.
Also, some Western media paints the African continent as the home of human misery. The majority of African Americans and Africans in the diaspora grew with these perceptions. As a result, many fear to either visit or return to Africa—regardless the urge to connect with their ancestral land.
But Lucia Bakulumpagi did not allow these fears to hold her back. All it took was just one visit to her country of origin, Uganda, she discovered an opportunity and resolved to return to Africa. Lucia’s story is definitely one of those you would want to know. We explore her background and life in Canada as well as reasons for returning to Africa. Also, we’ll tell you more about her power company, vision, and what she thinks about Africa.
Lucia Bakulumpagi Background and Journey to Canada
Lucia was born in Kenya. At that time, her parents had fled their country because of the Ugandan Bush War. While still a child, her family moved to Canada as refugees. She grew up in Canada and completed her primary and secondary education there.
Afterward, the Ugandan returnee graduated from the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor’s degree in public administration. Then, she got an opportunity to join the University of Cambridge (in the UK) where she pursued an executive program.
Career in Canada
While at the university in Canada, Lucia Bakulumpagi began her career in fashion. She was told she was not thin enough to become a model. However, the visionary entrepreneur will not take NO for an answer. She believed her height qualifies her to represent people and brands. Her inner guidance did not disappoint. She qualified and represented different categories including makeup artists and food stylists. All along, she was driven by her desire for fashion.
After returning to Canada from the UK, she worked as a fashion and entertainment agent in Canada for several years. At some point, she got a job offer from UNICEF Canada and took it. However, she later quit the job to pursue an MBA program in New York. The dream of having a fabulous career in fashion was the motivation behind her action.
At that time, she planned to travel to Uganda hoping to find one of her late parents’ friends or relative who would pay for her MBA program. While planning all that, Lucia learned that she was pregnant. This was a shocking and disappointing moment in her life. She thought of abandoning her study plans but her sister encouraged her.
Lucia Bakulumpagi’s Visit to Uganda
At the age of 25, Lucia visited Uganda while pregnant. This was a turbulent time in her life. She stayed with her extended family for four months in Gayaza. Her cousin used to live near a landfill and as such, the place would always have garbage. So, whenever she visited her cousin, she would always see improperly disposed waste, and that caught her interest. She says,
“It was not that bad but growing up in Ottawa you did not see that. It just fascinated me for some reason and it was always on my mind.”
After going back to Canada and giving birth to her daughter, she spent much of her time reflecting on her experience in Uganda. She read a lot about waste management while thinking about how to solve the waste problem. In the end, she found a way to use the waster to generate renewable energy. Overall, the experience Lucia Bakulumpagi had in Uganda entirely changed the course of her life.
The Reasons for Her Return to Africa
Lucia Bakulumpagi returned to Uganda to actualize her idea of using waste to generate energy. Before coming back to Africa, she had read about how people from across the world use waste to produce energy. This provided her with a solid base for launching an energy company in her ancestral country. Leveraging her experience growing in Canada with better waste management system, she was determined to make an impact in her home country.
Lucia Bakulumpagi was aiming to kill birds with a stone. That is, eradicate waste and at the same time provide energy to the community. Secondarily, her action would create jobs and eliminate disease outbreaks that are caused by poorly managed wastes.
Lucia Bakulumpagi Energy Company – Bakulu Power
Bakulu Power is developing energy infrastructure in Uganda. It not only designs and installs energy systems but also operates them for commercial and residential clients. Founded in 2015, the power company’s office is located in Kampala. However, its projects are specifically in the Buvuma district on Lake Victoria. According to Lucia,
“We choose this particular district because it doesn’t have any electricity right now…it is one district that has no presence of the national grid. Buvuma district is made up of islands and the law is different over there. At the micro-level, we design systems for homes, hotel, or manufacturing companies to help reduce their reliance on fuel or the grid, which is technically unreliable in our country. At the macro level, we develop mini-grids and sell the electricity to the entire community per unit.”
What is so interesting about Bakulu Power is the fact that Lucia had no background in the power industry. Yet, she saw and felt the need to step in and do something to help bring electricity to rural areas in Uganda. Lucia chose to specialize in energy because it is a fundamental requirement for development. Initially, Lucia Bakulumpagi wanted to focus on generating power from waste. But later on, she began thinking about solar energy. So, the company also uses solar as a source of energy.
How Bakulu Power is Funded
Lucia Bakulumpagi got the initial capital from her savings and support from her siblings. She argues that entrepreneurs do not always have a perfect idea at the beginning or money hidden somewhere. She stresses that,
“You start to build on the idea and nurture it with whatever money you have.”
Bakulu Power does not have any external investors, but the founder is actively seeking funding to take the company to greater heights. She expresses that in the modern world, people clearly know the need for rural electrification. So, it is not like proposing something completely new or one that doesn’t exist. However, she acknowledges that it’s not easy, but she is determined to secure external funding for the company.
The power company aims to develop three solar mini-grids that will supply electricity to over 8,000 Buvuma residents. The CEO explains that these mini-grids are perfect for this district as extending the national electricity grid there would be too expensive. Lucia also notes that,
“Because there is no electricity , other major infrastructure is also not there…No sanitation, no piped water, the high instances of HIV/Aids, no bank, there aren’t even any government schools there.”
Thus, the company wants to run projects that will improve the quality of life in the district. For example, Lucia Bakulumpagi is championing the establishment of a biomass production plant that would provide clean cooking fuel for the locals. Also, the entrepreneur is aiming to create and implement collaborative energy projects that will empower women, engage communities as well as contribute to environmental sustainability.
What Challenges does Lucia face at Bakulu Power?
The major challenge the CEO faces is the lack of funds to do all that she desires. In this regard, Lucia has met many investors who are into green energy, supporting women and African projects. But the response from most of them has been “your project doesn’t cost much money”. The reason is that a typical investor in the energy space usually thinks of a dam. But Lucia is very positive about securing external funding in the future. According to her,
“There is a lot of money in this world…so let me just kind of have an open mind and you just never know your next partner or where things gonna come from.”
Another challenge the African returnee faces is the fact that she doesn’t have a background in the power industry. She acknowledges that running the company hasn’t been without challenges because of that. She said,
“I have gone to a meeting where people literarily laughed at me. Your self-esteem just takes the beating. But then, you lick your wounds and keep going.”
To bridge this gap, she works closely with several engineers at her power company. Also, she reads a lot about the industry.
Lucia Bakulumpagi‘s Message to Aspiring Entrepreneurs?
The CEO advises everyone who wishes to become an entrepreneur to follow their heart. Also, she recommends that one should learn as much as possible in their area of specialty. She says,
“Follow your heart. Learn everything you can and remain open to learning. Don’t ever think you know everything because you don’t.”
Where else has Lucia Bakulumpagi Featured?
Even before Lucia’s company was two years old, it was already attracting attention. In 2017, Lucia was one of Forbes’ 30 most promising young African entrepreneurs. Her power company will not only bring electricity to the homes of residents but will also transform fishing and other economic activities in the Buvuma district. The entrepreneur has spoken in several international forums including the 2018 Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue and WTO Public Forum of 2018.
The story of Lucia Bakulumpagi shows that one person can make a difference in the life of a community. She is among the African returnees making a significant impact in their own unique ways. These individuals have established remarkable enterprises and initiatives that will transform the African continent and reignite its economies. She calls on the African diaspora to take the daring step of visiting or returning to Africa and be part of the transformation.
Although the success stories in Africa have not caught the attention of many in the West, it’s just a matter of time. What is that singular action Africa needs to take to earn the respect of the Western world? Let us know what you think in the comment box below.