Today I interview Hannah Olmberg-Soesman, winner of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Energy Personality Award. Olmberg-Soesman received the inaugural award for her exceptional contribution to a sustainable energy future in the region. A dynamic entrepreneur with a background in social work and a master degree in law, Hannah Olmberg-Soesman has managed to bring together the different strands of her professional life and plait them together into new opportunities for communities living in the hinterland in her native Suriname.
Focusing on women’s empowerment, she and her company team have been instrumental in introducing off-grid solar systems to remote villages. This has opened up possibilities for better school education, medical care and small-scale business to augment these families’ income, while at the same time proving that, once the initial outlay paid for, clean energy proves to be a determining factor of local development.
James Ellsmoor: Congratulations on being awarded CARICOM Energy Personality! I noticed that you haven’t always worked in energy, so could you please start by telling us how you entered into the energy sector?
Hannah Olmberg-Soesman: Thank you very much, it was truly an honor for me to receive this award. I have been operating in the solar energy sector for the past 7 years. It has been quite the challenge but has also given me a sense of fulfillment. My husband and I started Guguplex Technologies SAC as a solar energy company not just to provide energy to much needed rural villages in the interior of my country Suriname, but to trigger social, educational, economic and personal development.
With our 10+ years social work background and volunteer work within these villages, we always wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people in the hinterland. It was during these volunteering missions that we came into contact with Markus Theobald, a British social entrepreneur in solar energy. We realized that solar was the perfect solution for both energy supply and social economic development of the hinterland of our country and we made it our mission to be more than just commercial entrepreneurs.
James Ellsmoor: Many of the readers might be unfamiliar with Suriname. What would you like them to know about your country? Why is renewable energy so important?
Hannah Olmberg-Soesman: Suriname is a wonderful tropical country at the north coast of South America. We are very warm and friendly people with a multitude of ethnicities living amongst and with each other in harmony. In Paramaribo, the capital city, we have a Mosque and Synagogue next to each other. My people are as sunny as the sun we have available in Suriname!
Suriname is also a CARICOM member and we have a close relationship with the countries of the Caribbean. Suriname consists of 20% coastal land and 80 % hinterland with ecologically rich forests. Our coastal area receives 24 hours energy from the national grid company, but due to the remoteness, more than 200 villages in the hinterland cannot be connected to the central grid. Most of these villages receive 4 to 5 hours electricity daily between 18:00 and 23:00 from government owned diesel generators.
An interview by James Ellsmoor for Forbes.