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Angela Homsi is Creating Impact, Disruption and Scale

The story of Angela Homsi, economic development and impact finance professional and Co-founder of Ignite Power, is one of creating positive impact beyond boundaries —tackling issues ranging from Israeli-Palestinian peace building to creating sustainable impact ecosystems in Africa.

“My work is deeply rooted in my early years. As an Egyptian-Lebanese with a Jewish and Christian family, my first years were spent in Lebanon before moving to Egypt and Paris, away from the war,” Homsi says.

“Being part of a multicultural family and growing up between Western and Middle Eastern civilizations in a conflict region, not only exposed me to different cultures, but also challenged me from an early age to try to make sense of the political power struggles around me. I spent a big part of my life in Egypt, having to hide my religion from a young age. That initial uneasiness about my identity stayed with me, to later become my biggest strength and drive.”

Leveraging her business expertise

But Homsi found one setting that brought together different people in conflict with one another — the boardroom. “Coming from a strong business-oriented family, I understood quickly that politics was creating more problems than solutions. Only when I was in business meetings with my parents could we all sit together and look forward to a better future, rather than arguing over the past,” she says.

“I saw the power of business, it’s ability to find synergies and was inspired to build my business capabilities toward that end. Meanwhile, I also felt a need to start sharing my perspective with advocacy work around social issues, bridging divides from an early age, as I could communicate with all sides from a position of trust and belonging.”

 

Leading the way for positive impact investors

In 2003, just out of post-graduate school, Homsi joined Goldman Sachs in London, England, U.K. “I was already into development work, but no one was listening. I was told to go back to my trading desk and make money,” she recalls. While not many people were concerned with investing to tackle societal challenges, the job provided plenty of networking opportunities.

During the course of five years at Goldman, Homsi met Sir Ronald Cohen, an Egyptian-born British businessman who is regarded as the pioneer of global impact investment. Homsi started working with Sir Ronald on economic development in Israel and the West Bank with The Portland Trust, getting involved in cross-border investing ventures between Israel and neighboring countries.

“We are both Egyptian and shared the belief that the business world is the route to peace. We were driven by a sense of mindfulness about social and environmental issues, trying to help understand strategies using a mission-driven finance ecosystem,” recalls Homsi.

A few years later, Homsi got involved in private sustainable businesses at Generation IM, a USD20 billion investment fund. “I was doing sustainable investing deploying capital in order to tackle big global issues. The work reinforced my belief that not only must private capital be mobilized to make a difference, but also that if you want to future-proof your business and outperform, you need to embrace this new paradigm now.”

During this time, Homsi met YPO member Yariv Cohen, who was the president of one of the companies the fund was investing in and their relationship blossomed. Homsi and Cohen became life partners.

A power couple’s journey in Africa

Although they were working and travelling in the same circles, Homsi did not meet Cohen until years later through a YPO connection. “When we met, we decided to join forces at all levels, personally, professionally and in our philanthropy work. One-hundred percent together,” she says. “Our journey included founding and scaling Ignite Power in Africa and establishing an impact innovation investment fund, while also working together on community bridging projects. Like me, Yariv is very passionate about the topic,” says Homsi.

The partnership with Cohen led Homsi to direct her focus more on technology solutions in the emerging world. “My belief from the beginning was to use capital in order to improve things at a large scale. Yariv had a similar vision but more from the ground up operations and in a technology direction,” says Homsi. “Together we complement each other.”

Connecting Rwanda

In the two years since Ignite Power started operating in Rwanda in 2016, it has managed to connect close to a million people. The approach uses solar affordable home systems on a lease-to-own payment plan and has the support from Rwanda’s government plan. The initiative connects 20 percent of Rwanda’s population to off-grid power.

“We have so far connected homes in Rwanda nationwide and deep into rural areas, contributing to the quality of life by helping people access affordable and clean energy however far they are. We have also created thousands of different jobs, for example as sector leaders and village agents in different villages,” says Homsi. “Most of these people have finished paying their credit and are no longer investing their money in buying kerosene but in other business to improve their lives.”

“I saw the power of business, it’s ability to find synergies and was inspired to build my business capabilities toward that end.”

Disrupting the status quo

The concept piloted in Rwanda was a huge success. Larger solar projects are now being implemented across Africa and planned in the Middle East. “From a team of Yariv and Angela, we are now more than 3,000 people,” says Homsi. “It has been a YPO journey with a few member partners who joined along the way.”

The disruptive business model of Ignite Power was a key to the success.

“When we came, the industry model was based on retail and consumer finance with a few technology companies trying to sell products that they have developed, usually early pioneers backed by a development agency,” she says.

“But this was too expensive with zero economies of scale, poor execution on the ground, and a lot of money wasted. We decided for Ignite to link the work to infrastructure, moving away from the start-up and donor-backed ecosystems to a professional mature model.”

By taking the price down by 50 percent, Ignite was able to unlock a huge market that was not reachable before, disrupting the established early players and some of their backers and development agencies.

CEOs must be part of the equation

While they have their work set out, for Homsi there is still a lot to be done.

“We are going in the right direction but it’s still slow. I’m an impatient person and feel that we have to move quicker. We still need to get electricity to 1.5 billion people with greater scale and speed or they will be left behind in poverty or even forced to migrate. While our model is successful, it is a very complex operation from logistics point of view to supply electricity to the bottom of the pyramid.”

Homsi encourages other CEOs from different sectors to reach out. She believes they are part of the equation to accelerate the process of improving lives while finding a vast business opportunity.

“We want people to be happy where they are, in their own country, happy at home. The solutions are here, in terms of technology and economics. Access to basic distributed infrastructure is part of the solution. But we need more industry leaders to get on board to mainstream the impact and to invest. This will allow them to be part of the solution and seize a fast-growing market opportunity sustainably.”

Today, as Homsi focuses on sustainable impact investments in emerging economies, she continues her not-for-profit activities, including chairing Seeds of Peace Global Council, and the YPO Global Diplomacy Network, while acting as founding board member of the Negotiation Strategies Institute.

Rola Tassabehji began her career as a marketing trainee in Unilever Arabia and from there moved into several management roles within the marketing and communications function in Unilever global and regional teams, including brand development manager, Dove, Unilever Africa, Middle East, and Turkey and communications manager, Unilever North Africa and Middle East. Following ten years with Unilever, she relocated to Abu Dhabi, U.A.E and joined the team that launched INSEAD campus in the Middle East as external relations director. Rola completed her undergraduate degree at McGill University in Canada, has a Masters degree from the American University of Beirut and a post graduate degree in journalism from London School of Journalism.