AfricaLive: Do you believe this is the right time to discuss the infrastructural needs of Africa?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: It is the right time because we have needs but not enough solutions being offered. We need to partner with international companies and bring them here so that we can get started on this journey and gain together. It’s always good to ride the trend of a growing economy and a developing continent.
AfricaLive: Filatex has been integral to the growth and development of Madagascar. What has been your motivation to keep going?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: Having been raised in Paris, I came back to Madagascar in my mid-twenties and immediately noticed the difference. The underdevelopment was glaring and lots of things were just not here. It’s a pity that lots of African CEO’s look to foreign economies to invest while neglecting their home economies. If we believe in our countries and what can be achieved on this continent, we can start to make progress.
When we got started in real estate, people would say that we were wasting our time engaging in the local market because buyers and investors would be in very short supply. Six months after we put out our real estate product offerings, we were sold out. There is value here if you can package solutions properly and show people the value of our countries. Our achievements in real estate and energy speak for themselves and though we have had challenges, it’s all worthwhile.
AfricaLive: What are some of the opportunities you see for yourself when it comes to real estate and energy and what goals do you seek to accomplish?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: We have been producing energy with heavy fuel from 2005 to 2019. Our goal is to transform our power plants from using heavy fuels to going full solar by the end of 2021. We also intend to onboard new clients from new markets. If we can provide proper solutions in Madagascar, then we can do the same in other countries as well.
AfricaLive: What markets are on your radar when it comes to working cross-border?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: We have partners that are prepared to work with us and take risks with us. Going into big markets in other continents is always good, but at the moment we are firmly focused on Africa. We are trying to convince players within the continent to invest in our projects so that we can achieve faster. For the moment, we are looking at West Africa in places like Cote D’Ivoire where we have our largest project outside Madagascar. The West African region has been kind to us and we hope to extend our reach there. It’s always good to be diversified but we want to spread into countries that are less risky than our country Madagascar.
AfricaLive: What do you think is the role of the private sector and by extension Filatex, when it comes to de-risking Africa?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: The private sector has a role to play when it comes to studying the needs of the country. We have been using the same methods of infrastructure development that haven’t served us well enough for decades because there just wasn’t enough research done. Our role is to, therefore, bring forth a new way of doing things that will usher progressive development. We must devise ways of attracting investors and convincing financiers to provide the needed capital. When we started all those years ago, attracting investors to Madagascar was very difficult. Today, it is not as difficult as it was because we have made some progress in our development. People out there are realising that Africa has a lot to offer despite the risks, and our message is being embraced.
AfricaLive: What are some of the challenges you see in the infrastructure and energy solutions sector in Madagascar and the rest of the continent?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: We need comprehensive studies done so that we can have a clear picture of what is needed and how that must be addressed. The cost of production has to be factored in as well as the reliability and applicability of the solutions. At Groupe Filatex we have embarked on some pioneering initiatives in the energy space. We cannot tell others what to do but we can advise, inspire, and lead others to follow a new sustainable path.
AfricaLive: What are some of the developments you are undertaking at the moment in terms of research and innovation?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: We are constantly seeking to innovate. For 2021 a principal goal will be to replace the roofs of all our free zones with solar panels, thus having one of Africa’s largest roof top solar projects, producing 10MW of clean energy plus battery storage, installed on the roofs of our Free Zone in Antananarivo. Moreover, we are working on delivering Madagascar’s first ever wind energy and 25MW of mini off-grid solar plants in rural areas.
AfricaLive: What are some of the skills that need to be developed to see your sector grow?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: We have education gaps throughout the continent and this is holding us back. The difference between fast-developing African countries and those that drag their feet has a lot to do with education. There are a lack of universities and qualified workers in sectors like renewable energy, as this a new industry for Madagascar. The private sector has a role to play here to help close this gap. It is not sustainable to keep bringing in expatriates to do the job because it’s expensive and doesn’t help address the skill gaps. We must, therefore, take the initiative and seek to develop local capacity, notably in the renewable energy space.
AfricaLive: What do you think should be the relationship between the private sector and academia?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: Synergies between us and academia are needed. We have to be deliberate in finding the opportunities that will allow us to work with the students and universities. We need to create new diplomas focusing on renewable energy and sustainable development, so that the next generation has the knowledge to face challenges ahead. Moreover, we need to encourage entrepreneurship and support local Malagasy companies. Groupe Filatex takes this mission very much to heart – the development of Madagascar should not be done solely by foreigners but also by Malagasy people.
AfricaLive: Even as renewable energy becomes a huge topic of conversation, there are still lots of private sector players still utilising traditional forms of energy. Do you believe these players can make changes and move with the speed that is required?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: Well, they have to try! It took us about a year to complete all the protocols we needed to make the shift to solar. So yes, private sector players can and will move fast if they do their research and do all that’s required. As a top player in the energy sector, we want to lead by example at Groupe Filatex to show that by working effectively alongside the government, the renewable energy transition can be done quickly and easily in Africa.
AfricaLive: What does a sustainable future look like to you in the African continent when it comes to energy and infrastructural development?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: A sustainable future for us will hinge heavily on our ability to access cheap energy. If we took a year to develop our solar power plants, which is shorter than most other places do it, then the capability is there. It becomes a question of motivation and political will to do it in different countries.
AfricaLive: If you were to bring together leaders and stakeholders from the relevant sectors in Madagascar, what major issue would you ask them to unite around?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: I would bring up the skills gaps present and point to the fact that our education systems are not addressing this well enough.
AfricaLive: What is your outlook for the company in the next ten years?
Hasnaine Yavarhoussen: We want to remain the biggest and most important energy producer in Madagascar. We believe that we will have expanded our reach to other places and that is already underway. Our company is also set on art development. We want to develop and showcase our art so that we can make ourselves relevant in the global art scene.