2020 Q1 – Wiping the Sadness Off

By Afnan Hannan
April 06, 2020

It really burns that some people don’t have access to toilet paper in Australia. We feel for them and we also feel for the 900 million people who still don’t have access to electricity around the world. So at Okra we’ve spent the last few weeks wiping away the sadness and figuring out how we can make the best out of a bad situation. Here are the updates…

This is how off-grid families will be supported.

Network up-time is higher than the national grid (at 99.8% on average) but not all is rosy. Even isolated off-grid communities are being forced to practise social distancing (particularly in the Philippines) – they’re on lockdown which breaks our heart because they’re not able to make any money from selling their catch to the mainland.

Our discussions with community leaders indicate they’ve lost about 60% of their income on average. For now, the communities are making regular mobile payments for power but we’re monitoring the situation closely. We know how important energy is to keeping economies running and our partners have taken quick measures. Entrepreneurs Du Monde has even decided to temporarily halt payments. Everyone’s doing their bit to help!

People in off-grid communities, like San Isidro, are also in lockdown. Their economy is even more isolated than it was before and they’re not allowed to leave their island, but ice-candy sales continue 🙂

Not all heroes can travel, let alone fly.

At the distribution level, our partners are the heroes because they’re responsible for network up-time even when they can’t physically get to the field. To support them we fast-tracked the release of Okra Harvest, our new web platform that provides remote mission control of all Okra grids. Our partner’s Entrepreneurs Du Monde, ILAW and One Renewable Energy are using Harvest to monitor data and remotely diagnose issues so they can dispatch the nearest maintenance agent that’s available. How cool is that? (Let us know if you want a demo of Harvest)

What’s happening in China

Whilst most ex-pats were leaving China, our team decided to go there in February to make sure our production lines stay on so we can continue to get energy access to the last-mile. After a slowdown, our manufacturers are now at 100% capacity and more of our next-gen Okra IoT pods are ready to ship! If you want help with sourcing or manufacturing right now, we’ll point you in the right direction!

How to get women to help you keep the lights on? Facebook?

With widespread mobility constraints, no one has been able to reach the field in the Philippines so we’ve been working with ILAW to deploy geo-targeted Facebook job-ads aimed at locals living in Okra energised sites.

We spent $7.24 AUD on the job-ad campaign, resulting in 29 residents of San Isidro inquiring about joining the operations and maintenance team, and guess what – they were all women. Did we just figure out the most affordable way to attract localised talent to handle O&M in remote areas?

If infrastructure installation slows down, what else is there to do?

Well…lots actually.

Now is the time we’re doubling down to work closely with regulators, license holders and investors to come up with robust long term plans. The beauty of the situation is that it compels us to improve at using digital tools to set up and manage projects remotely. This is what it looks like to build a pipeline of projects, with the help of Village Infrastructure Angels, using geospatial tools and machine learning algorithms that detect off-grid households.

We have also put together a playbook for field teams to use as a resource for learning about best practice when launching and operating smart grids. This can even be used to remotely train local staff who’ve been recruited digitally.

By the way, this is how we work remotely at Okra – use these tips & tricks if you don’t already!

Remote work isn’t always glamorous but probably a sigh of relief for some of us (no more bumper-to-bumper traffic in Manila, right? 😂). We can only stay productive as a team if we have systems and tools to help us. Okra has been a remote working company, across 3 to 7 countries at any given time, for the past 3 years, so we’ve tried and dumped a range of tools. The goal here is:


  • Optimising our company culture across various remote working locations
  • Keeping all communications visible and flowing
  • Maintaining accountability and responsibility ownership across workflows

Slack – a chat and file sharing platform that keeps us within arms length of one another 24/7. Overcommunication is made easy with Slack. We use the #donut plugin to randomly match team members for virtual coffees once a week 😉

Google Calendar & Hangouts – We publish all of our google calendars publicly and encourage teammates to schedule meetings whenever they want. During this especially isolated time, we’ve recently allocated multiple daily 15 minute slots for staff to engage in some virtual watercooler banter.

JQBX – This is a fun one. Using Spotify, you can host company-wide radio sessions where all team members can queue tracks that get everyone’s head bopping to the same rhythm.

Miro – If you think you can’t brainstorm unless you’re in a room together with a whiteboard, think again. Imagine if you had a whiteboard of infinite size that everyone can draw on simultaneously – that’s miro. Even when we frequently found ourselves in rooms together with a whiteboard, we still elect to use Miro to squiggle and push post-it notes around on our laptops, because digital is simply more collaborative, faster, saveable and extensible

AirTable – This tool is incredible – if you’re our partner then you’ve probably already seen automated issues being triaged here by your field teams. But AirTable is a lot more than that, it allows you to structure tabulated data in many beautiful and useful ways so you can manage multiple company processes. We centralise our Objectives and Key Results in AirTable so that everyone knows what we need to be working on, and we also put out one-click survey forms through AirTable so that all responses are automatically fed into a format we need to see them in.

Google Sites – we maintain a company-wide wiki here to keep our processes transparent, up-to-date and easy to access.

Google Drive (Sheets, Docs and Slides) – Come on, just use it. The days of Microsoft documents are over.

We’re all in this together, toilet paper will be back soon and we’ll eventually conquer the virus! Keep your head up, stay safe, and keep making the future bright!

Thanks so much for your time, please feel free to respond directly if you have any thoughts, questions or just want to say hi 🙂


Affy has a simple vision: to get energy access to everyone in the world as fast as possible. After working in the tech industry in Australia, he saw an opportunity to break down the technological barriers to global energy access by leveraging IoT and A.I. He’s since been named Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia and won multiple other awards for catalysing disruptive social impact with Okra.