• 10/13/2022
  • Reading time 4 min.

Svenja Zösmair at Sustainability Day 2022

Sustainable energy and water supply in Africa

Svenja Zösmair is a doctoral candidate at the new TUM Professorship for Family Business Culture and Ownership. Her concerns about sustainability have not only led her to completely change her diet, but also to do volunteer work on behalf of the "TU eMpower Africa" organization. She will present her project at the first TUM Sustainability Day.

PhD student Svenja Zösmair is COO of TU eMpower Africa. Sebastian Kissel / TUM
"Volunteering is a personal enrichment," says PhD student Svenja Zösmair, who is COO of TU eMpower Africa.

"I come from rural Bavaria and I never would have believed it was possible to completely give up meat," says Svenja Zösmair, but then she discovered sustainability and began to think about what she as an individual could do to help protect the climate and the environment. Another factor driving this change in her was the pandemic, during which she says she experienced a kind of deceleration.

The result of these two factors: For several years now, Svenja has been living vegan. As she became more involved in sustainability, Svenja became increasingly aware of how much she could actually do. "I began to feel more and more like a cog in the machine which could achieve so much in collaboration with other like-minded individuals." Svenja's enthusiasm for this lifestyle is so great that she wants to address the values and moral concepts of sustainability in her doctoral thesis. She plans to pay special attention to the situation in the corporate world: "This creates a connection between psychology and economics," she says.

Working for "TU eMpower Africa"

But that's not enough. Svenja, who grew up near Bavaria's Lake Tegernsee about 50 kilometers south of Munich, says she loves challenges. "So many casual jobs I've had got boring so quickly. I'm looking for diversity and the excitement of getting up every morning without knowing what the challenge of the working day will be."

She found just such a challenge with the organization "TU eMpower Africa", where the 25-year-old has been Chief Operating Officer (COO) since August. The group emerged from a student initiative at TUM in 2016. Although the registered association ("eingetragenes Verein")[JEC3] is in the meantime independent, it still maintains a close connection with the university it was formed at.

The aid project works to help establish sustainable energy and water supplies in African countries. The objective is to use renewable energies in providing people with access to water and electricity. But Svenja's focus is primarily on the long term: "We don't just bring by some food and take off again," she says. Instead the goal is to inspire the local population so the project eventually "takes on an independent life of its own."

Education on location

Svenja says that it's not always easy to convince famers in Zimbabwe, Ruanda or Ghana to accept the new ideas the organization introduces. One always has to show that sustainable technologies are also financially advantageous in the long term, she adds. "In the best case, a spark is ignited", and the other inhabitants of a place are also infected by the project idea.

In regions with serious water shortages, famers benefit more than anything from the year-round irrigation. "Then they're no longer dependent on the rainy season," Svenja points out.

Project leverages TUM expertise

Svenja says that it's a long road to achieving this kind of result. "Once the financial prerequisites have been settled with the sponsors, the search for the right location begins, since not every location is equally suitable." Then a market analysis is conducted in order to determine for example whether or not the agricultural products in the region have the potential to sell well.

"These complex analyses and preparations call for the visions of all the members," says Svenja. Approximately 30 young people work for the organization, contributing their expertise and experience to the project. This includes using knowledge from their universities: For example, at TUM scientific degree theses can be written in connection with "TU eMpower Africa". The research results are then used on behalf of the organization.

"Leveraging synergies is important," Svenja observes, "which is why the close connection to the university is also very important." During her tenure as COO she plans to work on strengthening exchange among the various project groups that are working in the individual countries. "When you depend on a variety of different skills, it's also good to learn from one another."

Volunteer work as personal enrichment

Svenja Zösmair points out that this is why "TU eMpower Africa" is always on the lookout for new members who can enrich the organization with their own know-how. She says the volunteer involvement makes her feel that it's possible to make a difference. "It's a personal enrichment. When getting more deeply involved in sustainability, you quickly feel powerless if you're alone. But that doesn't happen when you work together with other people who have the same attitudes you do."


Further information and links
  • On October 27, 2022 Svenja and the colleagues in her team will present themselves at the first TUM Sustainability Day.
  • They'll be glad to answer your questions and will also provide a closer look at their organization. TUM Sustainability Day will begin at 10:00 am at several TUM sites.
  • TU eMpower Africa e.V.

Technical University of Munich

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