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Women in Climate Change 6 – Doris Edem Agbevivi    

Women in Climate Change 6 – Doris Edem Agbevivi    

Doris Edem Agbevivi has worked at the Energy Commission for Ghana for over seven years and is currently the Lead Project Coordinator for the Drive Electric Initiative there. She is also a Yale Climate Fellow, travelling the world to speak at events and inspire the next generation to tackle the climate crisis.  Her story is one of resilience and determination, including working as a teacher to pay her way through university.  Here she speaks to CCG’s Peter Allen.

Tell us about the focus of your work at the Energy Commission and how it intersects with climate change, please.

I run a project that is fast becoming a national programme, called the Drive Electric initiative. It’s a programme I conceptualized and brought to life to promote e-mobility while ushering the country into an era of green and sustainable development. As you are well aware, transport electrification will play a big role in achieving NDCs and our climate targets given the high emissions from this sector.

How much progress have you made?
We launched it in October 2019 and the next year all the dreams I had just came crumbling down because of COVID-19. Nobody could meet up with me and everything just went quiet.  But as soon as I could in 2021, I started back up and I organized Ghana’s first ever e-mobility conference. I got funding for it, we had a lot of participants, and I managed to bring the private and public sectors together. Together we explored the challenges and opportunities of introducing electric vehicles to Ghana – the charging infrastructure, the price of the electric vehicles, the lack of awareness.

That’s great.

On top of that, there was an exhibition of electric vehicles and people drove them for the first time.  There was a lot of good will and excitement about what this could do for the country. Specifically, manufacturers needed to know that there would be a secure supply of electricity and currently we have an oversupply of that. We needed to find a way of using that, so electrifying the roads would do that and feed into our climate targets. 

Fast forward to a while later and I had written this whole concept paper on the policy incentives to introduce both monetary and non-monetary incentives to the public, and I had to submit it to the Ministry of Finance through the Ministry of Energy. One hurdle we had to work on was the charging infrastructure framework because EVs are like a chicken and egg situation between the vehicles and charging availability. So, I set out to push a public private partnership agenda in order to do that.  In 2022 I organized Ghana’s first public charging forum and brought experts from Dundee in the UK who I had met during COP26 and the IEA 3rd Pilot City Forum in Dundee. I also brought technology experts from the Netherlands and the IEA to create this huge collaboration and get the private sector interested. 

Due to a lack of data, research and policy for EVs in Ghana at the time, I set out working in collaboration with several key institutions and academia in Ghana to put together the first baseline study for the country. We (the team from Energy Commission and all stakeholders led by me) picked about eight representative regions and travelled from the south to the north of Ghana to conduct surveys. This baseline study has had institutional timelines and work that needs to be done to advance e-mobility and it fed the development of standards. I sat on the steering committee and helped to draft the National EV policy for the country.  I also led and worked with the Ghana standards authority to adopt 49 international standards for EV charging for the country. Gradually the number of charging stations is being built up.  All this has been in just four years.

Congratulations.  That seems like fast progress.
We managed to get a parliamentary incentive granted for electric buses last year and we got incentives for the assembling of electric bikes because we are also trying to create green jobs for our economy. We’re also working on a demonstrative solar charging infrastructure project funded by one of our development partners here at the Energy Commission in addition to work on EV charging regulations. So, lots of things are happening and I’m really looking forward to it.

Tell us more about the range of vehicles you’re trying to electrify.
Basically, it’s all vehicles but the incentives focus on buses and two and three wheelers for a reason; with buses you get to have a lot more people from low incomes on board and, as many people know, Ghana has a lot of two and three wheelers. To combine decarbonisation with economic growth, we are trying to incentivise the assembly of these two and three wheelers here from imported parts. 

There are more charging stations coming, especially the DC fast chargers, and I look forward to how that is going to transform the market once the regulations that we are working on here, come in.  This will mean that the charging infrastructure market will be sanitized and safe for the consumer. So I think the market is going to look exciting in the next couple of years.

What is your energy profile in Ghana, how do you generate your electricity?

It’s a mix of hydro and thermal, and we’ve got solar. It used to be a huge amount of hydro but now it’s about 40%. The thermal plants used to run on heavy fuel oils but now we use gas.

So that makes you more resilient than being reliant on just one generation source.

Yes, that makes you more resilient than if you’re just relying on hydro; if you have a drought, you don’t have any electricity, but it also makes you more climate friendly using gas as a transition fuel.

Are there any areas of electrification or reducing emissions in transport that you think are still going to be difficult to transition, like freight or industrial traffic?

During COP 28, I was on a high-level panel with one of the World Bank transport leaders and I remember we were having this conversation about the electrification of freight trains etc. However, it would require a huge amount of investment. Those areas will have their emissions reduced but for now the focus should be on buses; it’s our low-hanging fruit.

There is an argument that for lorries and trains, hydrogen could be a better option because electric batteries would take up too much space. Is there any exploration of hydrogen in your in your plans?
Yes, I’ve seen a couple of hydrogen conversations and research ongoing here, so I don’t think it’s so far-fetched for us. I remember sitting on a hydrogen bus in Aberdeen in 2014 during my studies, I never thought I would be pushing clean transportation for Ghana 10 years down the line.

OK, let’s talk about your experience as a woman working in the climate change sector.  Some of the people I’ve spoken to, I think they have been the literally the only woman in the meeting.  Has that happened to you?

Oh yes.  I’ve been to quite a number of events because of my role and I speak all around the world.  I find that I’m mostly the only woman in the room, the youngest person in the room, and the only black person.  I see these things a lot.  In the initial stages I was a bit uncomfortable with it, but I think over time when you’ve seen it for so long, you just become OK with it and do everything you can to bring others along.

You’re the triple whammy – young black and female.

Yes, it’s the triple whammy.

What is your organisation like, in terms of its attitude to women?

I would say they are progressive to an extent; I have been allowed to create projects and follow them through.  I get to have a lot of work to do and there are still a lot of inequalities around it.  In every room you are too ‘something’, right?  In most of the rooms I find myself in, I am viewed as too young to be listened to initially, but that changes quickly albeit with a bit of effort. The people making the decisions are 10 or 15 years ahead of me.

Is being young a bigger issue than being a woman in this case?

I wouldn’t say it’s a bigger issue for them.  Most people like it because if you’re a woman, you’re delivering good work and other people can ride on it, right? But for me, I would say they are both an issue.

I understand.

So then they can say: “oh she’s a woman, we promote gender”, even if they don’t really. They support it when it suits them.  I think being a woman is quite distinct and I believe we have to talk about the ills of it. I get to have a whirlwind of things happening in one month. Sometimes in these roles you cannot even get to take days off for an appointment, time of the month or a break.

I would really like to see the creation of roles that respect the need for people to take a pause and rest.  The work life balance is important and that is what I think affects women a lot. I would wish for more opportunities for women to just have a better work life balance.  I don’t think we should be shy about saying we want a break because it’s a rejuvenation process that allows you to come back stronger, right?

I feel that the work life balance shouldn’t just be because a woman has a family or doesn’t have a family.  It should be because we are human beings and for human beings to deliver the best possible, they need to have rejuvenation, they need to rest and come back again.


We have created this whole stigma around resting so that people have annual leave left over from previous years that they’ve never had time to take.  Yes, it’s fun to be a woman in this role, but it means there’s a lot of work and that can be quite frustrating.

If the work culture of an employer is that everyone should be seen to be working hard or that women are given more work to do, to prove themselves, that’s difficult to challenge as an individual.

I’m beginning to like the culture where we’re beginning to work remotely because that’s a real help with this problem. I think it helps to be able to work from home, or from a different location, to give you a change of scene and routine.  I admire those nomads who travel the world with a backpack, working from wherever they are and having fun at the same time.  I think the idea should not just be about working but working with fun.

In my experience, when women return to the workplace part-time, they are super-efficient because they’ve become mothers and they’re used to multitasking, getting things done very quickly. They’re actually brilliant in the workplace.

Because you work so intensively, do you have any kind of support network of other professional women. Who do you go to when you’ve had a bad day?

That’s really a huge question you’ve asked me. I tend not to go to people, I go and meditate it out, and find a way to ground myself again. I do this thing where I take a little bit of time away from something when it’s absorbing me too much. I take a cup of tea (I love tea) and walk in the grass barefooted at the back of my office, hotels, or at home. People who pass by will be looking at me and me wondering, because it’s not a thing here in Ghana but really it grounds me.  I love nature.

Professionally and personally, when I need to pick someone’s brain, I’ve always had people that come into my life at the right time.

Tell me more about them.
Well, a typical example was a friend I met back in Ethiopia doing one of my UN conferences, his name is Alan and he lives in the UK.   He introduced me to a professor in Houston called Gökçe. I can talk things through with her. She came to Ghana to do work in the energy sector, and I showed her around. We just clicked and since then we’ve been talking so much. I’ve visited her in Houston, and I gave a talk there in 2022. It’s been beautiful, I was just with her in COP 28 in Dubai. She is one of the people I discuss things with. 

I also met a woman at COP, called Tatyana, who became like a mentor and helped me tackle professional issues in my career. Jackie, who is a Professor at the University of Columbia Climate School, is another good friend of mine. I went to Columbia to give a talk and subsequently we’ve been working together. She came to Accra in January, and we had dinner and watched football and had the best time. I believe that it’s all about people and collaboration.  I don’t know what I would be able to do without partnership with people helping me to get things done.  Professionally, I would also say my Director as well as the past and present Executive Secretaries of the Energy Commission have also encouraged and supported this Initiative and my journey.

Finally, but equally important, for more emotional issues I go to my sisters Gifty, Kafui and Sika,
and friends who help me a great deal.

That sounds like a very effective network of colleagues you’ve developed. Now, let’s talk a little about your early life. Growing up what was your main ambition?   

My main interest was always to be a pilot! Now that I travel quite a lot, I think I understand why I have this amazing relationship with the skies when I’m up there – it’s because I always wanted to be a pilot.   I was a science student and because of that ambition, I tried to do geography, maths, physics so I could be pilot-ready. Then somewhere along the line I was doing too well and so everybody wanted me to become a doctor because of my high grades.

But I got tired of the whole doctor thing. Around the same time that I was thinking of university, I became an orphan. I didn’t have the money to pay for school fees, so I had to leave school to do side jobs to pay my tuition and support my living expenses. I was mostly a home tutor. I have tutored and prepared kids for SATS, IGCSEs, IBs etc for the past two decades!

You know, it’s not really about being intelligent, it’s about having the support base, the right environment, the right opportunities. That point in my life could have led to very different things. Fortunately, I was strong enough to teach and save money to go back to school, but I know that it could have been very different. Because of this, I have never looked down on people because I know that we don’t just carve our own path, a lot of things have to fall into place for us.  In my case, I went to university only because I paid my own fees and supported myself for four years by teaching.  Others may not have the same opportunity.

That shows amazing resilience on your part.

All of that has made me quite tough and it’s made me confident to stand on my own.  I ended up pursuing business administration; I studied debit, credit and finance at Business School and got a First-Class degree, so I felt that I had an aptitude for finance. I started working at the Ministry of Finance and got interested in all the different funds there including the Petroleum funds of Ghana and the energy sector. That’s what led me to do my Masters in Aberdeen in Energy Economics before coming back to Ghana. I joined the Energy Commission upon my return and somehow, my path led on to clean energy work and the e-mobility initiative. I also went to Yale and became a Yale Climate fellow. My Yale Climate fellowship is one of the great experiences I have had in my climate journey, even participating and negotiating at COPs 26,27 and 28. So, I fly around the world and that feels, in some way, close to my early ambition to become a pilot.   

What does the Climate fellowship involve?

It’s a hybrid fellowship for young climate-passionate senior and mid-career professionals at the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs.  It brings together experts in climate as well as creating a community of young individuals from the emerging economies, to advance climate change.

I applied for it knowing that I’m a climate champion and I could create a community of like-minded individuals.  And I believed that I could do and have more impact in advancing the climate agenda. I’m a good public speaker, so I get invited to a lot of conferences and events. I’ve worked in so many energy committees, policy groups and subcommittees both locally and internationally, so I have great experience to share, and I want to make sure young people especially understand the Climate Crisis. I gave the guest speech on climate change at my alma mater last year encouraging the University of Ghana Business School students to take climate action. That was a proud moment; the culmination of passion, drive and giving back while encouraging the next group of climate champions.

What would you say, then, to the next generation of young women, if they’re thinking of trying to help address the crisis?

One main thing: be passionate about something! When you are passionate about something, you will find ways of making it work. Men or even other women may be gatekeepers, but a gatekeeper cannot in any way take away a passionate person’s love for what they’re doing. I was passionate about the climate and I conceptualised the drive electric initiative.  Now we are doing something in Ghana about that.

I get to make an impact just with a matchstick.  I’ve always believed that with just a matchstick one can make an explosion, so I will say that to every young girl: look for your matchstick and know that when you find that matchstick, it’s your matchstick.  You don’t need to go looking anywhere big, it’s just around you: love for the planet, love for nature, something that you decide to do, like planting trees around your house without anybody telling you to do it.

Make sure you make an explosion with your matchstick and be determined to follow through on the explosion because it’s going to cause a disruption and people who cause disruptions have to be the ones who are tough enough to follow through on them.

That’s brilliant. I can see why you’re a public speaker and a Climate Ambassador.  Thank you so much for sharing your fascinating story with us.

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