Women Champions in the Energy Sector

Using digitalisation to address West Africa power grid challenges
October 12, 2021
The awarding ceremony of the WFEO GREE Women in Engineering Award 2020
October 15, 2021

This portrait is part of the West Africa Energy Program and Women in Energy (WIE)- Ghana’s series on women champions in the energy sector, featuring women who have overcome barriers, defied stereotypes, and succeeded in their chosen professions.

“Women in the sector must actively participate in creating the spaces that maximize their contributions.”

 

Harriette Amissah-Arthur
Executive Partner, Arthur Energy Advisors

 

Co-founder of Arthur Energy Advisors (AEA) Harriette Amissah Arthur shares her journey from childhood math enthusiast to facilitating the financial close of the first project financed independent power plant in Ghana.

Raised in Accra by a single mother, the youngest and only girl among four siblings, Harriette (Dartey) Amissah-Arthur learned the value of determination and perseverance early in life. School work and household chores left her with little time for hobbies and extracurricular activities. In school, Harriette developed a deep love for mathematics from a young age because she loved the logic and its application.

Harriette pursued engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology for her bachelor’s degree in order to apply her math education in a practical way. She was not uncomfortable with being the only female in her engineering class because she was used to being the only girl in most situations growing up.

After college, Harriette’s mandatory national service with the Volta River Authority (VRA) led to full-time employment thereafter. Her first assignment was at the powerhouse of the Kpong Generating station, a 160MW hydro plant. As the first woman to work in a VRA powerhouse in a technical capacity, Harriette recalls “the gentlemen made me aware of the uniqueness of my situation.” Overall, she considers it a good experience. “It was very practical and interesting…but not just wanting to be considered a ‘pretty’ head, I had to ensure I knew what I was doing at all times and that meant in many cases, especially in the first few years staying ahead of the curve.”

 

Harriette with AEA staff
Photo credit: Ms. Amissah-Arthur’s personal photo archive

 

Harriette spent the next seventeen years of her career at the VRA, rising in the ranks from Engineer Trainee to Principal Planning Engineer in the Transmission Department. She gained experience in the field as a power engineer, and as a planning engineer first supporting and then leading strategic decision-making. In all these positions, she was usually the only female engineer in her department.

In 1999, Harriette pursued an MBA at the University of Ghana, convinced it would give her a broader perspective in her field. She felt that with the technical aspects of her career well covered she needed more formal training on planning and finance. Shortly after completing her degree, took on a consultancy assignment with the Kumasi Institute of Technology Energy and Environment (KITE). Harriette soon found herself fully immersed in development work, which gave her the opportunity to meet beneficiaries of her work face to face as she travelled to remote rural communities all over Ghana and West Africa. She also travelled extensively internationally to raise funds for these communities.

 

Harriette speaking at the Ghana Energy Summit in 2019
Photo credit: Ms. Amissah-Arthur’s personal photo archive

 

She counts her time at KITE as being one of the most eye-opening in her life. “It made me more intentional about life. It put a face to the work I was doing in the energy sector. You remember the faces of the people you are working to help as you develop projects, and especially as you present the projects to international audiences, fundraising for these communities. A big part of this experience still drives me today.”

In 2009, after almost 10 years at KITE, Harriette joined Arthur Energy Advisors (AEA) on a full-time basis, a company she co-established with her husband in 2001. At AEA, she has led some notable initiatives: facilitating the financial close of a 340-MW combined cycle power plant – the first project-financed independent power plant in Ghana, the execution of a 2000-community, US$350million, US EximBank-funded project, the first competitive bid for grid-based solar, instantly reducing feed-in tariffs by over 40% and the development of a roadmap for the implementation of the West Africa Clean Energy Corridor Program.

Harriette with her husband Jabesh and two sons Jabesh and Jermyn at Jermyn’s graduation in 2011
Photo credit: Ms. Amissah-Arthur’s personal photo archive

 

As a woman who has been in the Ghanaian energy sector for several decades, Harriette thinks that women have many opportunities to advance into technical and leadership positions today if the ‘artificial’ barriers are removed. “To accelerate this change, women in the sector must actively participate in creating the spaces that maximize their contributions.”

Harriette has two words of advice for women who want to pursue careers in the energy sector. “First, take ownership of what you’re doing. Seize opportunities for learning and limit the influence of anything negative. Women can and should be intentional about creating as well as participating in spaces that reinforce them.” And the second piece of advice? “Have good balance in your life. Society makes women juggle many things and dictates how we juggle them as well. As women we can be creative about how we execute our roles to achieve our fullest potential. Don’t feel guilty about setting up and utilizing support systems.”

 

Source: USAID.GOV