Improving Energy Access in Rural Zambia
As an energy consultant with Guidehouse, Ryan Taylor advises clients on distributive energy resources and energy grid modernization around the world in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. But he has always had an interest in giving back to his community, both through mentorship and other types of knowledge-sharing and service.
In 2017, Ryan and 2016 Fellowship Alumnus and energy activist Paul Nkumbula partnered on a Reciprocal Exchange project to provide solar energy access to rural villages around Lake Bangweulu in northern Zambia. They also worked with U.S.-based engineer Jasmine Pearcey, who served as the project co-lead and led engineering design validation. Years after his Reciprocal Exchange, Ryan continues to use the local connections he made during his trip to expand his energy consulting portfolio and to reach new energy access opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa.
At the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit, we had the opportunity to sit down with Ryan and discuss his work in energy consulting and his Reciprocal Exchange experience. The content of the interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Can you tell us about how your participation in the Reciprocal Exchange has affected your professional relationships?
The Reciprocal Exchange has had a tremendous positive impact on my professional network. A lot of my work centers on meeting with people, talking with them, and spending time with them to understand key issues they are having within their businesses. Spending time outside of my typical work with big utility clients gave me the chance to tackle problems we deal with on a day-to-day basis from a different angle, helping me think critically about the same issues from a new perspective.
Has your Reciprocal Exchange affected your ability to consult across cultures and with different people working in different contexts?
Having the ability to meet people at the level of engagement or within their culture is the most important part of consulting. My Reciprocal Exchange gave me a first-hand look at how to do this in Zambian culture and showed how successful a project can be when you have a good appreciation of the local culture as well as local partners to immerse you in the culture. Connecting rural Zambians and spending time there with a Fellowship Alumnus has broadened my ability to understand what role culture plays in projects.
The Fellowship has given us a direct connection to individuals in a variety of countries and economies on the continent. It has definitely given us a great business advantage and a leg up where we didn’t have one before.”Ryan Taylor, 2017 Reciprocal Exchange Participant
Have there been any opportunities since you’ve been back in the United States to share this new understanding with other Americans in your network?
Absolutely! Prior to COVID, I spent a lot of time at conferences, and my time in Zambia gave me an appreciation for what international business looks like from a different perspective. Now, I am able to talk with people all around the world about what it means to integrate global business perspectives into local cultures, drawing on my experience in Zambia.
Has your participation in the Reciprocal Exchange generated any new markets for your business or any new opportunities for your professional work?
Most people in the energy consulting space will tell you that Africa is a prime opportunity to do business and do good business well. The energy needs there are substantial, and there is a huge opportunity for us to connect to people locally to provide access to energy. The Fellowship has given us a direct connection to individuals in a variety of countries and economies on the continent. It has definitely given us a great business advantage and a leg up where we didn’t have one before.
As told to Alison Boland-Reeves. Edited by Trace Olson and Abbie Wade.