Since taking the wheels in May 2023 as CEO of Energy Capital & Power, the leading African investment platform for the energy sector, Devi Paulsen-Abbot has hit the ground running in a move geared towards leading the Africa-focused investment platform to ‘feats of firsts’ in its market segment.
Paulsen-Abbott is no stranger to the media and event management industries. For over two decades, she has leveraged her profound understanding of emerging markets to design and manage hundreds of international specialty events and media products all around the world.
During her tenure as Vice President at dmg events, a leading organizer of face-to-face events and a publisher of trade magazines, she developed the company’s event portfolio in Southern Africa.
In 2010, Spintelligent, the multi-award-winning, integrated live events and media business operating from Cape Town, South Africa, announced a milestone in its evolution. The announcement was its acquisition by London-headquartered Clarion Events, which has been delivering market-leading customer outcomes and experiences since 1947.
Paulsen-Abbott was part of the team that finalized the epic acquisition. Prior to that, she spearheaded the sale of Hypenica to DMG Events. Hypenica was the company she co-founded, which owned a portfolio of five exhibitions focused on the construction and transport infrastructure sectors in South Africa.
As a passionate advocate for the growth and development of women in Africa’s energy sector, Paulsen-Abbott has her fingers on the pulse of the much-discussed topic of women in the energy sector. She hopes to see an energy sector where women are given a chance to bring a unique perspective and skillset that can help produce innovative solutions and positive change. She shares her thoughts with Africa Executive.
How would you describe the importance of women in Africa’s energy sector as an advocate for their growth and development, and why..why do they appear underrepresented in leadership positions?
Women represent half of the African population and are essential to the continent’s success in the energy sector. Women’s perspectives and experiences in the energy sector are often undervalued and underrepresented, mainly due to the persistent and institutionalized gender inequality in many African countries. Despite their contribution to the energy sector, women’s leadership positions in the industry remain limited. It is key to ensure that women have a seat at the table to discuss, create, and implement policies and plans for the energy sector, and to receive training and support to reach the highest positions in the industry. Such efforts would lead to more equitable representation and a more effective and efficient energy sector in Africa, with women playing an integral role.
Why have there been fewer leadership position for women in the energy industry?
The energy industry has traditionally been a male-dominated field. Women have not had the same access to resources and opportunities as their male counterparts, and are far less likely to be appointed into leadership roles. Some of the factors that have contributed to this lack of opportunities include gender-related biases, lack of industry-specific mentors, lack of networks and support systems, and lack of relevant qualifications and experience. Additionally, cultural and social attitudes towards women in the energy industry may also be holding them back, as traditional gender roles often dictate that women should not be in leadership positions. There is also a lack of institutional support for women in the energy industry, particularly in terms of finding access to senior positions. Despite these factors, there are positive trends towards an increased presence of women in leadership positions in the energy industry, which is promising for future progress.
Do you think this will continue to grow over time?
However, due to increased awareness around the importance of gender parity in the workplace, and the institution of new initiatives to attract and promote women in the energy industry, the gap for women in leadership roles has been closing in recent years. With increased efforts to empower and attract more women into the previous male-dominated energy industry, it can be expected that more leadership positions for women will be available in the future. Initiatives such as mentorship and support networks geared towards women in the energy industry, gender-balanced recruitment and promotion processes, and greater access to capital for women-owned businesses can all contribute to better gender equity in the industry. With this in mind, it is likely that the trend towards more gender equality in leadership positions in the energy industry will continue to grow.
Why do more women need to be in positions of leadership in the energy industry?
Women bring a unique perspective and skillset to the energy industry which can help to produce innovative solutions and positive change. Diversity of thought and approaches is an incredibly powerful resource and can help to create a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous energy infrastructure for the future. Women in leadership roles also serve as an example to promote career advancement and inspire the next generation of leaders.
What potential benefits could result from the increased participation of women in the decision-making process and overall strategy in the energy industry?
- Increased diversity of perspectives in energy policy making. Women’s lived experience and perspectives can counterbalance the prevailing male-dominated view of the energy sector by bringing a range of alternative, often more user-friendly, approaches to energy-related decision making.
- Better adaptation to consumer needs. By involving more women in the decision-making process, energy companies can gain insights into the needs of both female and male consumers to better devise custom-tailored solutions.
- Greater risk management. By involving more women in the decision-making process, energy companies can benefit from a more balanced approach to risk management. The presence of more women in energy management can help identify and address potential risks that might have been overlooked due to the absence of a more diverse range of perspectives.
- Improved innovation. By opening up the decision-making process to more women in the energy industry, companies can benefit from the experience and perspectives of a more diverse group of stakeholders. This can make for more creative and innovative solutions, that could potentially lead to better, more sustainable solutions for the energy sector.
- Reduced gender inequalities. Finally, the increased participation of women in the energy industry could contribute to a reduction of gender inequalities, as the contributions of women to energy solutions are more fairly and fully recognized.
Since assuming leadership of one of Africa’s most important platforms for energy development; what big changes do you believe will occur during your tenure?
As an ever more attractive emerging market, Africa’s population is predicted to double in our lifetime, presenting a valuable opportunity for the energy sector to progress through a period of big changes. Meeting energy targets and objectives is both a challenging and important endeavour, demanding strong leadership and strategic policies that are backed by international backing for African countries to thrive. The right strategies will ensure that Africa meets all energy-related goals on schedule and with complete success; it promises to be a thrilling experience to be part of this exciting evolution.
What do you think is the most appealing aspect about joining ECP?
The entrepreneurial spirit of the team and their unified mission of driving economic enablement, to ensure equitable access to energy across the continent
What are your thoughts on energy transition in Africa ?
Energy transition in Africa needs to be both ambitious and practical. We need to be pragmatic and recognize that extractive industries play a critical role in economic growth in the region. Although we should strive to be responsible and shift to more sustainable practices where possible, we need to also be realistic and find ways to make the most of existing extractive industry and our valuable commodity resources. Finding an equitable solution that works for different countries requires an innovative approach and careful evaluation of each nation’s energy resources
What is your assessment of ECP’s impact since its inception?
ENERGY CAPITAL & POWER has had an impressive impact since its inception, most notably facilitating billions of dollars’ worth of deals continent-wide in the sector. We have provided key meeting places and critical platforms for networking, thought leadership, and knowledge sharing. In addition, we have successfully partnered with governments and private entities to open new pathways to attract funding to and showcase the amazing opportunities available in the continent. Our organization’s key achievements include being the go to platform to facilitate essential capital to projects, spurring the development of critical infrastructure, and ensuring transparent, reliable access to energy for the continent. Furthermore, our platforms advocate for the support of communities transitioning sectors with a focus on sustainability, comprehensive training, technical assistance programmes, and a lens on local content
How would you describe ECP’s standing in the continent’s energy sector?
Energy Capital & Power’s standing in the continental energy sector is to facilitate trade and economic development for the sector, and to provide a positive narrative about the opportunities in frontier markets across the continent.
What do you believe is the most promising possibility for ECP?
Energy Capital & Power also works to promote business tourism in the energy sector by bringing key stakeholders together at a single platform to exchange ideas, drive economic growth, and foster innovation. By bringing together regional and global players to discuss issues such as energy policy, technological advancements, and market outlook, we can help create an enabling environment for business-to-business interactions. Our conferences provide a platform for companies, investors, and professionals to share knowledge and collaborate on ground-breaking initiatives, which can help drive economic development based on the opportunity that business tourism in the energy sector brings.
Is there an ECP endeavor that stands out as a game changer?
An ECP endeavour that stands out as a game-changer is our commitment to entering frontier markets and collaborating with governments to open up opportunities. An illustration of this is our involvement in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation. We have been working with the government to create a favourable environment for foreign and local investments and economic growth. Our efforts have encompassed bringing together stakeholders to provide capital access, constructing the country’s infrastructure, and supplying technical support to local entrepreneurs. This is a game-changer since it can make a profound and sustainable difference to the lives of those residing in the country. It leads to poverty reduction, job creation, and economic development. It also serves as an exemplar for other countries, highlighting the significance of investing in the economies and people of frontier markets.
What are ECP’s major issues, and how are you approaching them as you settle into your new role as CEO?
Our greatest challenge is simplifying the process of accessing and entering countries for our stakeholders. Obtaining visas is difficult for many of our partners, so we are striving to collaborate with local governments to make the process easier. This should be a universal goal, particularly as we work towards regional collaboration within the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area
What are your top priorities for ECP’s growth?
We have achieved impressive growth on our website new site – with 50,000 viewers and 45,000 subscribers. To capitalize on this success, we will continue to focus on providing excellent content for our highly receptive audiences. Additionally, we will bring together different stakeholders that may not traditionally collaborate, in order to promote growth in Africa’s energy sector
The year 2022 was a watershed moment for renewable energy and climate policy. What does all of this imply for the industry and energy transition?
In 2022, some saw a watershed moment for renewable energy and climate policy. This was dubbed the era of “freedom energies”, as German finance minister Christian Lindner put it. Investment in new technologies and facilities for renewable energies are investments in our future – however, it is likely to lead to what is termed ‘greenflation’. As economies around the world adapt their production processes to reduce carbon emissions, an increasing amount of metals and minerals are required, such as copper, lithium and cobalt – electric vehicles alone use more minerals than their conventional counterparts.
The shift to a greener economy is therefore likely to account for a large part of the growth in demand for these vital commodities. Unfortunately supply of such metals and minerals is currently constrained in the short and medium term, meaning prices have risen significantly over the last few months; lithium prices for example have increased by over 1000% since 2020. Export restrictions on Russian commodities are further compounding pressure on commodity prices in the near term. This evolutionary process is thus likely to lead to an economic paradox – faster and more urgent shifts to a greener economy will get more expensive in the short run. Until supply catches up with demand, greenflation is likely to lead to upward pressure on prices of a broad range of products during
How has ECP differentiated itself in what has become a highly competitive market?
ECP has distinguished itself through its commitment to ensuring that our platforms generate a return on investment for both buy- and sell-sides. Our focus is on making sure deals are completed, new records are achieved, and that we provide a positive outlook on the possibilities in the frontier markets of Africa.
How many events has ECP put on so far?
In 2023, we hosted South Sudan Power in June and we are now working towards a busy Q3 and Q4. During this period, we will be hosting Angola Oil & Gas in September, MSGBC Oil, Gas and Power in Mauritania in November, Critical Minerals Africa in South Africa, Libya Energy & Economic Summit in November, and the Global Black Impact Forum in Dubai, UAE. Furthermore, we are working in close partnership with the African Energy Chamber for their African Energy Week, which will be held in Cape Town, South Africa.
What is ECP’s one overarching belief about what it is doing?
ENERGY CAPITAL & POWER believes that investing in energy infrastructure projects is essential for driving economic transformation and social progress.
How do you intend to lead an ECP that’s already at peak performance?
Our focus is to develop and capitalize on our existing strengths while working closely with our incredible team to identify achievable and realistic goals and objectives. Together, we are striving to maintain a culture of innovation, learning, and collaboration in order to remain motivated and inspired to reach our peak performance. Our partners, customers, and stakeholders are at the core of what we do, and we are committed to continually improving so that we can fulfil our promise to them.
Can you recommend a book that influenced your career? How did it affect you?
I am an avid reader, so it is hard to pick just one book. However, Growing Influence by Ron Price and Stacy Ennis stands out for me. This work of fiction, written for a nonfiction audience, follows the journey of Emily, a woman passed over for several promotions by her discriminative boss. Mentorship from an unexpected source, a stranger named David in a coffee shop, helps guide Emily to become the leader she is meant to be. With insightful gems on how to govern oneself with integrity and win influence, as well as practical advice on how to develop leadership skills, Growing Influence is a true business fable, impacting and transforming readers. Along with the key lessons of timing, logic vs. emotion, energizing others, adversity, and passing on knowledge, this book is one I can highly recommend.