Solar module prices have hit a new low. So Akon's trying to bring power to all Africans.

The Senegalese-American hip-hop star wants to solar (em)power Africans.

Since Akon's rise to fame, he hasn't hesitated to use his celebrity for the greater good.

Akon performs at a Peace One Day concert for International Peace Day in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images.


In addition to participating in charitable events like the Peace One Day concert, he founded the Konfidence Foundation to help impoverished youth in West Africa and the U.S.

And he recently added another act of awesome to his repertoire:

Akon's working to bring electricity to 600 million sub-Saharan Africans in rural areas.

Yeah, that's no small feat, but he knows how important it is. Although Akon was born in Missouri, he spent many years growing up in Senegal, where his family lived without electricity. He told Gulf News:

"Not having electricity growing up and then going to the U.S. where I got used to having clean water and light and visiting my family in Africa only to see that not much has changed within a span of 20 years or so is really what inspired me to begin this initiative."

Through the Akon Lighting Africa initiative, Akon is bringing affordable solar power solutions to Africa. Solar module prices hit a record low last year, which means it's easier than ever to expand the use of solar energy in countries with limited funds. So with the help of a $1 billion credit line, the initiative pays for the upfront costs so that electicity providers in African countries can pay back the money over time to the initiative in affordable installments.

The initiative isn't just about power; it's about em-powering. (Yeah, I said it.)

I'm sorry! I couldn't resist. GIF via "The Office."

Access to electricity would obviously be a vast improvement on people's daily lives: Street lights would improve safety, home lights would allow children to do homework later, and the special skills needed for solar power equipment installation would create jobs.

But Akon doesn't just want to improve the day-to-day things; he wants to help Africans innovate with solar energy. That's why the initiative's work includes creating education opportunities for community members to understand the benefits of solar energy.

An example? They've partnered with Solektra International to create a solar academy for local entrepreneurs in Mali — the first of its kind on the African continent.

Akon believes that giving individual Africans access to power will help the continent as a whole.

Mali women make jars under a solar-powered mobile street light. Photo by Habibou Kouyate/AFP/Getty Images.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Akon said electricity is the key to helping the continent catch up to developed nations. He believes that foreign aid can do more harm than good, so he wanted to use the initiative to invest directly in African individuals and businesses. While it's a for-profit venture, Akon shared in a live chat that proceeds go to African banks so the money can stay within the local economy.

So far, they're making great strides.

Photo by U.K. Department for International Development/Flickr.

In just a year, Akon's initiative is operating in 11 countries, including Senegal, Mali, and Sierra Leone.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Akon partially attributes the quick expansion to the fact that countries can see the benefits of solar power before committing to using it. Since the ALA initiative has the funds, they front the money to launch a free pilot program in rural areas. With a risk-free introduction to the benefits of solar energy, countries have been able to make a confident, informed decision to sign on.

And there's more to come: Just this week, the initiative presented in Paris during the UN climate negotiations (COP21) to share the impact they're having.

As an American-born child with family in Africa, I know how big a deal this initiative is. While I'm fortunate enough to have family in Kenya who are among the 5% of Africans in sub-Saharan Africa with electricity (compared to 80% of the whole world), I've seen firsthand how many Kenyans living without it doesn't just limit their own lives; it affects the country as a whole.

I love that Akon is about spreading the power — literally and figuratively.

Heroes

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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