Kenyans have faith in the future and rarely complain. That’s one reason why Haijo Kuper, Director of Ubbink East Africa, is so content there.
Aided by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ubbink Group, which hails from the rural eastern Dutch town of Doesburg, established its solar panel manufacturing plant in Kenya in 2011. The company has created local jobs and supplies solar energy (including solar-generated electricity) to Kenyan consumers. As Kuper points out, "That, in turn, contributes to sustainable economic growth in Kenya. Ultimately, it will enable people to stay active longer."
Knowledge transfer in Kenya
The idea of setting up business in East Africa came from the CEO of parent company, Centrotec Sustainable AG. Kuper explains: "From the very beginning, our company’s business operations have been built on corporate social responsibility. Rather than making occasional philanthropic donations, we preferred to bring technology and jobs to the region. That’s how you enable people to develop their own potential and their country. Kenya is a pretty obvious choice since it’s the region’s leading country and a solid manufacturing base. It’s stable and you can use English to communicate."
From rechargeable batteries to solar panels
Specialised in energy efficiency and indoor climates, the Ubbink Group has subsidiaries in such countries as Germany, England, Italy and the United States. In Kenya, the company launched a joint venture with Chloride Exide, a producer of rechargeable batteries and importer of solar panels. Working within the framework of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency’s Private Sector Investment Programme (PSI), the partners also submitted a successful subsidy bid for innovative projects in developing countries.
Positioning in an emerging market
The panels are assembled in Kenya with components made in Europe and Asia. The company has a staff of 85 internally trained employees. Half are women, which is unusual. In addition, two-thirds of the staff are first-time paid employees. "That", says Kuper, "reflects how welcome investment is from the Netherlands." Continuing, he drives the point home. "This is socially responsible enterprise with an emphasis on enterprise. We foresaw the growth of the solar energy market in Africa. Our underlying goal here was to position our company in time within this emerging market."
A real Kenyan company
"Our solar panels are slightly more expensive than the panels from China that are currently flooding the African market", Kuper notes. "We’ve built up a reputation for European quality, which puts us in a strong position. Please don’t misunderstand me, however. I’m not saying all goods from China are poor quality." The service Ubbink offers local clients also distinguishes the company from competitors. "What’s more, Kenyan clients like to work with us out of a sense of national pride. Although our roots are in Europe, we’re also considered a real Kenyan company. The Kenyan staff, who are trained at our Dutch branch, manage the plant. This mode of operation has undeniably contributed to that sense of connection with Kenya."