For several years, Doris has collaborated closely with energy stakeholders in Ghana through her work at the Energy Commission. She has integrated and advocated for improved energy access, sustainable development, electric mobility, climate change, technical energy research, strategic planning, and guiding policy formulation in Ghana’s energy landscape;
Hello Doris, thank you for joining us today, and welcome to this episode of Words That Count. Thanks to Angela for the recommendation
Thank you for having me, Winnie, I really appreciate it. It is nice to be here talking to you. Let’s go on the journey together.
To open the discussion up, give us a little background about yourself and we shall dive into the details later
My name is Doris Edem Agbevivi, I live in Accra, Ghana, and I work with the Energy Commission of Ghana as a Senior Officer in Energy Efficiency, more specifically in Vehicle Efficiency. So, I am the Project Coordinator for Ghana’s e-mobility Initiative called the Drive Electric Initiative.
I am interested to know what a normal day looks like for you, on average
Funny enough I can’t say I have a normal day. The uniqueness of my work is that every day comes with its tasks and responsibilities. There are times I wake up to come to the office, only to be diverted along the way to attend another meeting. Sometimes I find myself entering my office at 6 pm! But it is beautiful because I get to interact with people, especially those in government, to make policies viable. My work can only be possible through meetings because it involves both public and private institutions. A person like me is very grateful for virtual meetings.
My day is typically filled with a lot of meetings, both in-person and virtual, getting documents out, working with donors, and responding to a lot of emails. My days start as early as they have to and end as late as necessary. I should say a normal day revolves around attending all out-of-office meetings and trying to get the work in the office done at the same time. These days I am trying no leave the office before 8 p.m. to have a work-life balance.
So, to answer your question, my work involves all spheres, haha. I work on getting the funding from the donor partners, then lead the operations of whatever project we are working on. I oversee the execution of projects in all aspects; technical and all other non-technical tasks. My job is to make sure all the work is done; administrative, procurement, paperwork, all of it. My work is a lot but I love it because of its collaborative nature, both locally and internationally.
That surely is a lot of work, and I admire how “simple” your expressions are while talking about it
I am not trying to push the narrative of “whether it is stressful or not get it done”, no! When you see me talking about it this way is because my passion inspires my work actions. If it was without passion, it sure would have been too much. Even with passion, I still encourage people to take breaks – short breaks help a lot. Break, Breath, Begin.
What inspired you to choose a career path in energy?
I like this question, haha. I recently saw students from my former school – Accra Girls Senior High – breaking off for holidays. Some were carrying their luggage into tro tros, some into taxis, and others in private cars. I shared a picture of that with my friends and it sparked off a conversation about our own days in school. Most of them pointed out that I used to make them look “stupid” in Physics class, haha. According to them, I used to solve the questions like they were nothing serious. Despite their analysis, I never thought I would be where I am now while going through school.
My journey started on a path of STEM and STEM has brought me this far. Because STEM is holistic, it allows you to choose where you want to go – it is not restrictive. I started off in STEM and later went ahead to learn Economics. Angela (a colleague from Accra Girls) started in business and later joined Mathematics. STEM is just a gift that keeps on giving. Yes, it might start off as a difficult journey but you just have to find that passion in you and have fun with it. I am only where I am because I studied science in school.
In Accra Girls, I studied Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Elective Math, Core Math, Social Studies, and English. Because of this, I could go on and do anything I wanted. STEM allowed me to stretch my brain and gain the capacity for multiple challenges. That is why I was able to graduate with first-class honors with a Business Finance degree at the university.
For my master’s, I decided to study energy economics – something different from my bachelor’s, but doable because of my background.
With a degree in Business Finance and another in Energy Economics, how did you move from the classroom to the work environment?
By being open to the uncertainties of the journey and going with the flow. By not holding onto certificates only. For many STEM courses, the correlation between school and work is not exactly in what we study but in its essence.
What has been the most challenging experience for you on your journey into energy?
I had a lot of financial difficulties along the way. That is one of the reasons I did not become a medical doctor. I graduated with six A1s and two B2s. With these grades, I could go to any course but I failed because of financial challenges. The core of this challenge was a blessing in disguise. If I had everything, I would have gone to medical school but that challenge brought me here. It was hard to get support without declaring myself “brilliant but needy”. So, I took the path as life presented it.
I worked for a year before joining the university but still did not go to medical school because the money I had saved would not sustain me there. It was conducive for me to join the business school because Legon was in Accra, and that meant I could still work and go to school at the same time. I worked all through my four years in school and paid every single bill. Because I did not take a loan, I had to work and save money ahead of semesters.
I managed to come out successful and today I talk about the experience with a smile. Life in retrospect is such a blessing! However, during that time, I cried a lot because for sure it was not an easy road. I looked at the unfairness of life! Why would someone be that brilliant and not have anyone to support her? At the same time, I realized that no one was coming to my rescue and that challenge led me on this path.
Focusing on this challenge, what was your source of strength and motivation then? What helped you not give up?
Now that you ask, I think it was my mom. I was less than six years old when my mom passed. Her being a teacher before made me feel like I owed it to her to make something of myself. I felt like she started something that I needed to finish. But then again what was there to lose? I either had to do something or continue living in the unpleasant version of life that I had then. Yes, I owed it to my mom but most importantly I owed it to myself to make me proud.
I realized that we all had 24 hours and 365 days. Yes, others might have started off better than I did but we are all running the same race now and I had to win. Along the way, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided to change my story. I knew that life always brought us all to a converging point. Once I knew that and accepted my fate, became happy (albeit sad sometimes) I started meeting supportive people who were aligned with my path.
From that experience, I developed a habit of writing down a challenge for each year. If I want to buy a specific car, my account has nothing to do with this challenge. But, my mindset immediately switches into “solution mode” to enable me to save up for that car. I think because I faced so many challenges growing up, my body got used to the adrenaline of “What is the next challenge?”.
Let us talk about moments where you felt like your work in energy was appreciated. Anything prestigious that we can celebrate with you
It’s quite a number of those, haha.
I wear different hats, really. So, in my work environment, I would say, addressing the United Nations, being at many of the UN’s high-level political fronts, and being part of the UN technical advisory group on energy. I am also a Yale Climate Fellow since 2022. Negotiations at COP are also something I embrace. I was also invited to WHO’s first world air pollution conference as a result of my work with them as a consultant.
The epitome of everything is being able to create, conceptualize, and run the e-mobility Initiative. Seeing how it has become a name in all spheres. Conceptualizing something as someone in the public sector is very challenging because not everybody embraces it and accepts it. As part of this initiative, I was able to organize Ghana’s first e-mobility conference. It has been gratifying and fulfilling to bring awareness to e-mobility in Ghana and push our climate efforts simultaneously
Outside of work, my most prestigious experience has been as a mentor and teacher. I still teach to date, as a home tutor. I graduated another student in April this year, whom I started teaching at four years of age. She turned eighteen and will go to the UK for her undergraduate degree. As I mentioned before, had I had money, I wouldn’t have taught these students. I would have missed out on this experience to have a lifelong impact on other lives.
I was also honoured with an invitation from my alma mater the School of Business at the University of Ghana as one of the guest speakers for the 43rd Management Week Celebration in June 2023. A decade ago, while I was sitting in a crowd of students, I would never have thought that I would be addressing this crowd, speaking on a subject that was dear to my heart; climate change.
From our conversation, you wear many hats! But I would like to know how you spend your spare time when you get it
I enjoy painting, not because I went to painting school but took a brush and canvas and started painting. The next thing I knew, I was selling some of my paintings. This is something I got serious about during covid.
I am also a mom to several plants, something that comes from my love for nature. So, on most relaxed mornings, you will find me sleeping in the grass while reading a book with a cup of tea. Connecting with nature calms me down. And that’s both here and in the sky. I love being on the plane, especially at night, for this purpose. Seeing the stars, thunderstorms,…you know!
There are many more but let me say one last one, I love traveling a lot – I have been to every continent. I have a travel blog that has been dormant for some time but the content is still there. As part of my travels, I love trying out the food, meeting new people, getting lost, etc.
Do you have a favorite quote?
It is not a quote because I don’t know who said it but I learned it from the Japanese. “Whatever comes, let it come. Whatever goes, let it go”. Whenever I am about to take action about something, I wait for inspiration. Once I have that then I know it has to be done. No matter how long it takes. And when I make the decision to do what I have the inspiration to do, I am guided by the statement that “if it has to be done, it has to be done well”. I do not do half-baked jobs.
Lastly, “dealing with people should always come from a place of love”. This has nothing to do with how they treat you! You do it for yourself. If I can’t do it then I go back to the previous quote – I don’t do it at all
Throughout the interaction, you have thrown pointers of encouragement. But, I would like you to give a word of encouragement for a young girl who wants to work in energy
Don’t study STEM with the aim of getting something specific in a STEM-related field, rather study STEM because of the world of opportunities it opens up to you. Just let STEM open up your faculties and possibilities in this world. Go in with an open mind, not a specific focus on one career path. Trust the journey but have fun along the way. By fun I mean, finding fun ways of learning atomic numbers, the periodic chart, etc. Take it from someone who studied Physics, then went into accounting, and is now into energy. Take the journey seriously but have fun along it and see where it leads.
Thank you so much, Doris, for the inspiring story. We look forward to learning more about your work in energy and wish you all the best on this journey.