Colette’s ability to design, conduct, and analyze renewable energy projects has driven her career to greater heights. She is currently an international expert in renewable energy. ;
Hi Colette, thank you for sparing time to share with our audience about your career life
Hi Winnie, it is an honor for me to have my story featured on your website.
Our audience would like to know who Colette is
I am JAFF Colette Kwatika from Cameroon, currently working as an Energy Expert at Norwegian Capacity (NORCAP) and deployed to IOM – UN Migration in Nigeria
Give us a brief history of how you ended up as an energy expert
My parents priced education highly and often reminded us that education was the one inheritance that could never be taken away from us. Consequently, I learned to give my studies prime importance at a very tender age.
I grew up in Bamngoiy (a small rural village in Kumbo) with no access to electricity at home. Electricity was a luxury enjoyed solely by settlers along the Kumbo-Oku Ring Road. Living in total darkness without access to modern communication and wearing charcoal-ironed clothes in the 21st century are realities that set me aflame with finding an electrification solution for off-grid locations. As an adventurous child, I experimented with everything I learned in school; food and nutrition, handwork, and science experiments. Obviously, this meant causing lots of havoc and getting disciplined but never giving up.
I was always trying out activities society defined as “for boys” for adventure. I was that rebellious little girl that would intentionally try out everything. Moreover, when told that something was not for girls, I became more determined to disproof that ‘myth’ by doing it. And I often felt very fulfilled after succeeding. Having a scientist for a dad strengthened my resolve and solidified my conviction that there is a solution to every problem. I witnessed most of his experiments first-hand. My astonishment was when I watched his homemade wind vane rotate to produce electricity. His blades were made from roofing sheets. That being the first one I ever saw a wind vane, I was all lost in wonder. These childhood experiences motivated my career choice.
After obtaining my Advanced level, I failed to gain admission into the lone engineering school (POLYTECH) in my days. So I undertook a bachelor of science degree in Physics and later a masters in Renewable Energy Engineering Technologies.
While undertaking my master’s degree, I implemented solar energy solutions in off-grid locations around Yaoundé for subsistence farmers with some coursemates. I later co-founded Green Tech Engineering Services Ltd. At Green Tech, we seek to increase access to reliable energy throughout the Cameroon national territory. We all know how capital-intensive providing clean energy is! I knew that a for-profit company would not meet the needs of providing electricity access to off-grid low-income communities. This was a challenging moment in my life. It was finally possible to provide electricity access with my skills and expertise. However, I lacked funding and the appropriate mechanisms that would increase the affordability of clean energy solutions for last-mile users.
In 2018, I participated in the TechWomen Exchange Fellowship and walked right into the resolution of this puzzle. Before the fellowship, an alumnus of the fellowship (a good friend and collaborator on my STEM outreach activities) advised that I join GRID Alternatives on some of their community service activities during the fellowship. This particular experience is what resolved my puzzle. It allowed me to work with GRID Alternatives’ highly skilled experts and learn about the organization and its mission. After this experience, I had clarity on where to go and what to do. I was to establish a clean energy NGO that would respond to the needs of the last mile users in a similar fashion.
Upon my return, I knew I had to move from the public-private sector space to the humanitarian sector space. I, however, still had one big question to answer! “Was my expertise relevant in the humanitarian space in my country”? I had to study the operations of humanitarian actors and identify the skills I needed to acquire. Consequently, I went on a sabbatical and plunged myself into self-development to refine and align my core values and goals with what I would require to start a career in the humanitarian space. In 2021, I started my career in the humanitarian sector in Kumbo – a challenging humanitarian environment, that afforded me the singular opportunity to learn the technicalities of delivering humanitarian assistance in fragile contexts.
That is a different level of determination! I am sure there have been some challenges on your journey to becoming an energy expert. Let’s talk about that
I have experienced so much inspiration and support throughout my journey that I tend to see challenges as new opportunities and invitations to step up my game; a resilience I think I learned during my adventurous early years when I was simply unstoppable.
Nonetheless, I have faced huge criticism, discrimination, and discouragement, since my choices led me down a road that is seldom traveled by women. Sometimes, these could be disguised as expressions of concern which have often proven to be more difficult to identify. They would gradually sow their seed of self-doubt and make you disbelieve your potential or become overwhelmed by imagined and/or real obstacles. Lingering thoughts of self-doubt would so cloud your mind blot be a concept I must confess.
You have mentioned your background as a foundation for your inspiration. What else motivates your zeal?
My solid foundation from home had somewhat prepared me to row my boat steady through the raging tides amid several challenges, negative opinions, and discouraging experiences. I learned at an early age that I could achieve whatever I truly desired and worked for with determination. I still replay my parents’ advice in my head today when I am tempted to give up. “Colette, you are your greatest limitation and worst enemy to your dream”. This often feels like a wake-up call from my Mum in the biting harmattan cold at 5 am, just when I want to cuddle away in the warmth of my coverings.
Today, I realized those warm coverings could be anything that would deter me from pursuing my dreams and I truly understand the words “you are your own enemy.” I have to choose either my comfort zone or my approaching bright dawn, whichever I choose, I am fully responsible for that choice.
Tell us about some of your prestigious moments as an energy expert
I reckon my greatest achievements as the connections I make and the lives I impact. Seeing how my contributions impact lives and helps them advance gives me joy and a sense of fulfillment. I am surrounded today by a network of high-achieving individuals, some of whom I tutored in mathematics as classmates way back in high school. This is what gives me a sense of fulfillment; empowering others and self to full potential.
I was a Cameroon ambassador to the Physics Young Talent Search Symposium in Taiwan in 2006 and a TechWomen fellow from Cameroon in 2018.
Who is Colette if not at work?
A daughter, a mother, a sister. In a word, I am a family woman. I also volunteer as a career mentor and coach for the next generation of women in STEM especially. My other passion is for well-decorated spaces, something I do as a hobby.
What’s your favorite quote?
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” John 15:9
How do you encourage a young girl who wants to become an energy expert?
I will summarize my encouragement in two words: Self-confidence and Determination. It is a rugged road, the weather is harsh, and the environment is hostile! The discouraging forces are sometimes so overwhelming that only a strong conviction will keep you going. Additionally, you need an unwavering determination to follow through to the end. This couple of values will see you through cloudy days and dark nights of the long journey. Keep in mind that Every problem has a solution! So, you should never give up.
Thank you very much, Colette, for sparing all these minutes for us to learn about how one can become an Energy Expert. I appreciate your efforts and wish you the very best. Looking forward to future collaborations.