Things were going well -- Samson loved using his technical skills again, and the company leadership was impressed by his work. Several years after he started, the construction firm sent Samson to represent the company at a conference in Paris. Unfortunately, Samson was not a fan of France-- in our conversation, he described its “unwelcoming environment.” He thought back to his days as a taxicab driver, and remembered a European friend who was more to his taste-- a German who often visited Addis for business, and would call Samson to drive him around. Samson hadn’t seen his friend since he stopped driving his taxi, so-- hoping to hear a familiar voice--he gave him a call. As they chatted about life, Samson mentioned how he disliked France and his friend urged him to abandon the remainder of the conference and to instead visit him in Germany, where an international solar exhibition was happening.
Easily persuaded, Samson took the advice and eagerly made his way to Germany. When he arrived at the expo he was astonished by the innovation and potential of solar energy-- this could be the future of Ethiopia, he thought. At this time, nearly 85% of the Ethiopian population lived in rural regions and only 1% had access to electricity in those areas. He asked himself, was he doing the right thing if he stayed in construction? Or should he make a transition into the solar industry?
Inspired by the expo, but unable to afford to leave his construction job, Samson returned to Ethiopia and spent his spare time teaching himself about electrical engineering and solar technology. One contact at a time, he began reaching out to solar companies, hoping to establish business connections for himself-- with varying degrees of success.
Despite the difficulties of working long hours at the construction firm and advancing his solar business, after several months Samson felt he had learned everything he needed to in order to sell solar systems. He created a business plan, and then set out to execute a proof of concept with the Guji tribe in the western part of Ethiopia, where some of his friends and their families were going to celebrate the Ethiopian Orthodox holiday, Meskel (translated literally as “The Finding of the True Cross.”)
When he arrived, Samson spoke to his friends about how solar lanterns could provide brighter and cleaner lighting and are an improved alternative to kerosene lanterns that emit pollutants that are health hazards. He attempted to persuade his friends to purchase solar kits as an alternative to the traditional Meskel holiday purchase-- a cow for slaughter. Samson told his friends’ families that although this Meskel would be a little different, the benefits from solar would last for years. After Samson gave his pitch, his friends said they were interested in the solar kits… but they also wanted a cow. It took a couple of days of discussions, but eventually five families forewent tradition and purchased Samson’s solar kits to celebrate Meskel.
Samson installed the solar systems on their homes free of charge. When he turned the light on in the house, he still remembers seeing “pure happiness” in his friends’ faces as the bright electric light filled their living quarters. He realized that he had found his true calling -- to promote electrification in Ethiopia with solar energy.