Last June, platinum-selling music artist Akon reportedly suggested that he might attempt to launch an IPO for his New York-based Solektra International solar company.
The Senegal-raised singer’s company is said to have structured some $400 million worth of solar deals to date, including the massively successful launch of the Akon Lighting Africa initiative in February 2014, in which he has 200,000 small solar projects and provides lighting in 14 African countries.
Those countries are Senegal, Niger, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leon, Benin, Guinea Equatorial, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Namibia, Madagascar, Kenya and Nigeria.
As Akon toured abroad, he found that one of the biggest obstacles toward earning money was the lack of electricity — many of the countries where he wanted to tour simply didn’t have the infrastructure to support the sort of big concerts and festivals he was used to playing in the states, particularly after dark, according to Forbes Magazine.
So about four years ago, he teamed up with fellow Senegalese-American Thione Niang and Malian entrepreneur Samba Bathily to create Akon Lighting Africa.
The initiative now touts staggering progress in the movement to illuminate a country where millions remain without power: 100,000 solar street lamps installed across 480 communities in 15 countries, along with 1,200 solar micro-grids and 5,500 indirect jobs created.
It’s been a novel approach compared to previous efforts in Africa, most of which focused on setting up 20th century electric infrastructure.
“The majority of them was focused on the grid,” Akon told Forbes.
He said he saw an opportunity for Africa to skip directly to localized solar power, just as much of the continent when from having no phone service at all to having cellphones.
“Clearly our main focus was the rural areas outside the city,” he told the magazine. “The challenging part was really getting the leaders there to kind of understand what we were trying to do because solar, at that time, was fairly new and very expensive.”
To foot the bill, ALA partnered with China Jiangsu International, which facilitated a $1 billion credit line for the project.
Akon said Jiangsu became interested in the venture after tariffs in the U.S. and Europe made it prohibitively expensive to sell Chinese solar technology in the west. Under the agreement with ALA, Jiangsu provides solar arrays and bills African governments, allowing them to pay back the outlay in three to five years, according to Forbes.
Last year, Akon told Bloomberg News that the lighting project has taken much of his time, but he’s thrilled by the results.
Akon, whose full name is Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam, was born in St. Louis and raised in Senegal until the age of 7. He’s produced two multi-platinum albums, been nominated for five Grammy awards and collaborated with stars including Michael Jackson.
His music videos have racked up hundreds of millions of views online, according to Bloomberg.
Since releasing his last album seven years ago, Akon’s built his solar business with credit lines of $1 billion from Chinese backers. The venture has structured about $400 million of solar deals to date.
“This project consumed so much of my time, I didn’t even realize that seven years went by,” said Akon, who lives in Los Angeles and visits family in Senegal. “I’ve been out of the loop, focusing on the Lighting Africa project.”