A 48-year-old entrepreneur, Salma Okonkwo, is gradually building what is set to become Ghana’s biggest solar farm.
As head of a multi-million-dollar oil and gas outfit called UBI Group, she has also made giant strides in the energy industry.
She is currently building Ghana’s biggest solar farm, called Blue Power Energy, slated to open in March 2019 with 100 megawatts of energy.
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In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Salma opened up on her humble beginnings to her current feats.
Having been raised in an average home as one of 14 children born to a real estate agent and developer mother and a cattle dealer father, Salma had to go through life the hard way.
However, she managed to complete Senior High School and gained admission into college at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
She graduated in 1994 and briefly worked in California for a food brokerage company, but returned to Ghana in 2003 after being recruited by oil and gas company Sahara Energy Group.
Whiles working with Sahara Energy Group, Salma advised the company hierarchy to open up retail gas stations across the country, but her proposals were countlessly turned down.
Tired of her suggestions being shot down at board meetings, she quit the job and decided to start her own petroleum gas business.
She focused on bringing liquified petroleum gas to the hard-to-reach region of northern Ghana, where many families still rely on burning firewood for energy.
“I don’t stop when the door is being shut. I find a way to make it work. That’s what propelled my success,” she told Forbes.
Salma explained that “it was just too hard to pass up the opportunity” of setting up retail gas stations, adding that the business “looked quite lucrative”.
By 2007, she had a contract to supply fuel to Dallas-based Kosmos Energy, which was followed by another contract with Hess in 2008.
A year later (in 2008) UBI opened its first retail gas station, which expanded to eight stations outright, with 20 others being managed through partnerships.
The blossoming nature of the business led to Singapore-based multinational firm Puma Energy, acquiring 49% stake in two of UBI Group’s subsidiaries (retail gas stations and wholesale fuel distribution) in 2013 for about $150 million.
Salma is currently developing her solar company which is expected to create 100 megawatts of solar power by early next year.
When completed, it will also become one of the biggest on the continent of Africa.
Salma believes establishing this large solar farm in the Northern region would help mitigate the unemployment situation in the region.
Her ultimate goal is to bring cheap energy to northern Ghana through the solar farm, which she hopes will incentivize companies to create lasting jobs there.
According to her, Blue Power Energy has already created hundreds of jobs in northern Ghana and that more than 650 will be created upon completion.
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