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Get to Know: Ralph Schneider

EWIA founder and CEO Ralph Schneider.

Who are the people behind EWIA Green Investments? What drives them, what is important to them? Today, co-founder and managing director Ralph Schneider introduces himself in an interview and describes how and why EWIA was founded, what the African Dream is all about - and what books keep him busy. Shortly after the interview, he is already on a plane to Accra, Ghana.


Hello Ralph! How and why did you become an entrepreneur/founder?I worked for many years in the management of various companies, including Phoenix Solar, Royal Dutch/Shell and various banks. I became an entrepreneur for several reasons. On the one hand, I felt very restricted in my creative freedom by many guidelines and constraints, even as a member of the top management. And even as a board member of a stock listed company, you are subject to an unbelievable number of constraints, and politics and analysts determine your life.

For me, however, it is very much about creative freedom and the opportunity to be able to implement things directly, actively and in a targeted manner. But what is almost more important to me is that I can live the values that I stand behind and that are important to me in "my" own company and that I can make a difference. For example, I don't think about an exit before one has even founded and tax-optimised structures via Malta and Mauritius before the first euro has even been earned. For me, it's more about building a sustainable, solid medium-sized company that is successful internationally in the long term.

Is EWIA your first start-up?In 2012, I had already founded an international project development company for solar power plants together with a venture capital company. I also implemented the management buyout of a subsidiary together with a London-based investment company. But there, too, I quickly came up against limits when it came to topics such as entrepreneurial scope and values. In 2018, the decision finally matured to set up something completely my own. In 2019, all the preparations were already in full swing. In February 2020, shortly before the Corona outbreak, we founded. I am very grateful to work with Wolf-Dietrich Fugger, Timo Schäfer, but also with our advisory board member Manfred Bächler in a founding team that, in addition to the necessary personalities, also follows a very similar impact-driven philosophy. You rarely find something like that.

What problem do you want to solve first and foremost with your company?When I see that no company or large household in Africa can manage without a diesel generator due to unstable and missing power supply, and this on the sunniest continent on earth, then I no longer understand this world. We at EWIA want to provide a CO2-free, uninterruptible power supply for small and medium-sized enterprises in Africa, and we want to do this more cost-effectively than with conventional, fossil-based solutions. Wherever a diesel generator is humming and polluting the air, a solar plant from EWIA could be located.

You are focused on Africa and your passion for Africa is hard to miss. What is it about Africa that excites you so much?I first came to West Africa in 1990. That was the initial spark. At that time, I started from Munich in a former truck of the Paris-Dakar Rally and crossed the Sahara. Then followed trips from Kenya to Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa. Business-wise, I have been involved in Africa since 2013. I could now say Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro in Kenya, elephants bathing in the Zambezi, long desert drives at night through Niger, the wildlife and the landscape in general. What fascinates me most, however, is the optimism of the people, the confidence in a better future and that one can move a lot. In general, the joy of life, which is also expressed in singing and dancing.My second passion is renewable energies, so it was an obvious idea to combine the two. 

What can Europe learn from Africa?When I've been in Africa for four weeks, many of the supposed problems we have in Europe are quickly put into perspective. You get an eye for the essentials again. Then I know what it means to really be an entrepreneur. Almost every second, healthy, young person who has some schooling and a little start-up capital would like to be an entrepreneur themselves. It is natural to run two or three different businesses side by side. We always talk about the American Dream, but there is also an African Dream. But this also means that it is incredibly difficult to attract well-educated people for permanent employment. At the same time, the proportion of women, i.e. women entrepreneurs, is extremely high. In Ghana, we are talking about 40% and more. Family unions and family solidarity play a special role. Children are very important. Even in families with a high level of education and a good income. Our managing director in Ghana has four children and so does our managing director of infrastructure. The average age in Europe is about 42 years in Germany over 44 years. We are the old people's home of the world. But the most important driver of economic growth is demographics. Africa has an incredible demographic return. The average age in Africa is about 19.5 years. Education and training is given a high value. It is not taken for granted. There is no full-court mentality.EWIA's local management still goes to school three times a week in the evenings and they are over 40 years old.

If you didn't work at EWIA, where would you work?There was indeed no lack of lucrative offers or alternatives. As a former investment banker, it was tempting to work in the management of an investment company again. However, during exploratory talks with thoroughly exciting companies, it quickly became clear that the word "impact investments" is merely a nice wrapping for many companies. And that brings us back to the topic of values and "making a difference". In the end, there was no serious alternative other than entrepreneurship.

Do you have role models in the broadest sense?Helmut Schmidt definitely comes to mind. A personality who still fascinates me. For me, he embodies a straightforward Hanseatic with an attitude, who also had the courage to make unpopular and unpleasant decisions. He was also economically very competent, a maker who thought things through and let himself be guided as little as possible by pure emotions. But I was also very interested in people like Alfred Herrhausen and, in the beginning, John F. Kennedy.

What do you consider to be the most important invention of mankind?I think it's the discovery and mastery of fire and the invention of the wheel. But I also consider writing and printing to be very essential. But an invention is never good or bad, it's what you do with it that counts.

Which book has shaped you the most and which is the last book you read?Books have shaped my life since childhood and I have always been magically drawn to libraries. The topics and contents have changed a lot over the years. But off the top of my head I would think of "All Men are Mortal" by Simone de Beauvoir. Not the most exciting book, but it demonstrates very well that many things are relative and finite. Kingdoms come and go. The last book I read was by Joe Chialo, a Tanzanian MP, "The Struggle Continues", and before that "Africa First" by Martin Schöller. And I have a book by Henning Mankell, "The Eye of the Leopard", in front of me right now. 

If you had one wish, for example from a fairy godmother? What would that be?I am a selfish person. To grow old together with my wife and children in good health and without financial worries, and to leave my children and grandchildren a better world than the one we found. Those were two wishes, but I like to negotiate and the second wish is not quite so selfish.

And where do we often meet you at the weekend?As a native of the Saarland, I am naturally fond of wine, culinary delights and French savoir-vivre. So I love to spend time in a good restaurant or simply in a sidewalk café when the sun is shining. Preferably with friends or family. And on Sunday mornings you can find me in the forest, because I don't want to neglect my running training and then have to work off the calories again. Ralph, thank you for the interview!


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