By: Thandiwe Kubere

Climate change, through the drastic changes it has brought to the environment, has proven to be a matter of global urgency. As a continual effort of encouraging and enhancing Lesotho’s private sector readiness for a clean energy transition project, UNIDO in collaboration with the Government of Lesotho, held a Global Cleantech Innovation Program (GCIP) awarding ceremony which rewarded deserving innovators with cash prizes to kick start their projects.

This initiative aimed to boost Lesotho’s private sector’s capacity to innovate and invest in clean energy solutions, strengthen private sector capacity, create a conducive environment for cleantech investment and develop investment-grade cleantech solutions.

Lesotho Cleantech Innovation 2023 Awards, followed the call for applications in April this year, where over 100 Basotho innovators expressed interest while 32 successfully submitted their applications. From July to November, 17 semi-finalists made it through a rigorous selection process and were enrolled in the cleantech business acceleration program, participating in various workshops such as the National Academy, interactive global training sessions, and targeted business clinics to improve their business models.. 

Giving his remarks, the Honorable Minister of Energy Professor Nqosa Mahao declared he was extremely pleased to mark and celebrate this great milestone by enhancing Lesotho’s Private Sector readiness for a Clean Energy Transition Project. The key objective of the project is to support cleantech startups and SMEs to leverage investments and funding targeted for climate action to keep Lesotho at the frontline of technological development – turning good ideas into innovative products, services, and ultimately, jobs.

“I am incredibly happy to be here to celebrate the very first year of successful cooperation between entrepreneurs, academia, industry, development partners and government agencies in nurturing and advancing cleantech innovations in Lesotho”, he said.

He further acknowledged mentors for their steadfast support in helping the entrepreneurs develop their business models; the experts and partners for contributing the knowledge and expertise required to establish a scalable business in Lesotho.

Professor Mahao noted it is essential to acknowledge the adverse effects of climate change faced by Lesotho. Lesotho is experiencing frequent and more ferocious floods, droughts, and storms and the most vulnerable are suffering the most if the nation misses an opportunity to transition to a low-carbon energy system. He said Lesotho’s carbon footprint will continue to rise in efforts to meet the demand for access to energy services, the country’s energy dependence on imports will be heightened, adversely impacting the country’s ability for continued economic growth. These challenges require urgent action and innovative solutions.

The Project demonstrates the Government of Lesotho’s commitment to supporting innovation and working with the private sector to accelerate the country’s climate action and clean energy transition efforts. A key objective of the project is to support cleantech innovators and leverage investments and funding targeted for climate action to keep Lesotho at the frontline of technological development – turning good ideas into innovative products, services, and ultimately, jobs.

“We could not have made it this far in the project without the immense support of United Nations Industrial Development Organisation’s (UNIDO) GCIP. Through GCIP and its partners, UNIDO has provided our entrepreneurs and innovators with fundamental business development skills, critical in developing and scaling up their cleantech solutions. So, allow me to express my appreciation to the GCIP team in Vienna led by Ms. Olga Rataj”, he said.

GCIP Project Coordinator Marorisang Makututsa mentioned the main purpose was to strengthen the capacity of the private sector start-ups, medium or large scale businesses, as well as provide innovators with cleantech accelerator training. A training period and a national webinar, were held in presence of mentors and experts, giving innovators a platform to consult on different areas of business and how to make sustainable innovations which succeed.  She enlightened Lesotho was the sixth country to join the network and was affirmed to be doing great.

Makututsa revealed there were sixteen semi-finalists who withstood the challenging process and therefore becoming potential contributors towards achieving the sustainable development goals.

Throughout the program, there was a diverse range of cleantech innovations which tackled various environmental challenges; from renewable energy solutions, waste management and beneficiation, water efficiency, smart building & innovative building materials, thermal solutions to climate-smart agricultural practices. These innovations were said to not only have the potential to transform Lesotho’s economy but also contribute to global efforts in combating climate change and achieving sustainable development goals.

Hon. Mahao expressed that though the country may be facing challenging and uncertain times, there are real opportunities for Basotho who are willing to embrace innovation and technology.  The project whose results were witnessed; was in line with many other initiatives the Government is pursuing.  He mentioned; the Youth Empowerment Program – SEBABATSO aimed at linking innovative youths to opportunities for mentorship and seed funding was recently inaugurated by the Honourable Prime Minister this year.

In addition; the Renewable Lesotho Project with funding from the European Union and GIZ is aimed at accelerating the deployment of renewable energy technologies and attaining the country’s energy self-sufficiency. Lastly, the Competitiveness and Financial Inclusion (CAFI) Project, with funding from the World Bank and implemented by the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism includes capacity building and funding facilities for entrepreneurs.

Hon. Mahao said, “I would like to acknowledge the very special status of these awards and the role they play in promoting innovation. I commend and congratulate the entrepreneurs and innovators who have taken up the challenge to develop these solutions. You should be extremely proud of your achievements and the contribution you are collectively making to Lesotho’s economic well-being”.

The cleantech innovations showcased tonight were not just ideas, but tangible solutions that address the pressing climate change challenges. They hold the potential to transform Lesotho’s economy, enhance resilience and climate adaptability, and contribute to global efforts in combating climate change.

At the event, discussing on how best the government can work in collaboration with the private sector, a panel of experts stated that Lesotho does not have a necessary sustainable approach. Mr. Lesaoana Monyane advised both the government and the private sector to find long term strategies and coordinate resources in a way that will sustain the country in the long run. He declared the civil societies make sure that innovations are environmentally friendly and are maintained.

From, Lesotho Renewable Energy and Energy Access Project Mantopi Lebofa said it was important to note the role each one plays if the country hopes to achieve the sustainable development goals. “NSDP I describes energy sector, which says SDGs cannot be achieved without energy. In the era where we are left with 7 years to 2030, we are left with policies we do not know because they are summarized. There is poverty in the energy sector, meanwhile our country needs energy and we need a healthy planet.”

Amongst the challenges mentioned were lack of finances to bring innovative ideas into reality; network infrastructure and expensive mobile data, whereas technology is vital in connecting and sharing ideas; environmental challenges- revealing that we are at a stage where Basotho have not gotten to understand the importance of keeping the environment maintained and in an enabling state; and that policies put in place do not connect and fail implementation.

Therefore, to help mitigate the challenges, the awarded innovators were urged to collaborate and see each other as partners instead of competition, meaning they should capacitate and share skills with one another. They were advised to not only seek investors but funders because sometime investments come with a lot of unnecessary pressure. They were further encouraged to keep up the good work they have started and work together to grow big.

Giving his closing remarks, on behalf of the Government of Lesotho, Hon. Mahao expressed gratitude to the GCIP, which proved instrumental in providing financial resources to support the implementation of this project. He said, “My Ministry is also grateful to UNIDO and its strategic partners for their significant support in developing Lesotho’s cleantech innovation ecosystem and its responsiveness. Together, we can continue to drive innovation, collaboration, and sustainable development in Lesotho and make a positive impact on our planet.”