Sabera Khan (1971-2021)

16-08-2021, Lusaka, Zambia

Sabera was a true friend and strong supporter of our work. She possessed almost preternatural strategic vision to accompany the experience, knowledge and commitment she wielded toward the development of clean energy markets and the uplifting of the poor and vulnerable in her country and the region.

She was at her most passionate when speaking of her Zambian grandmother in a small village in Northern Province, living still in 2021 without electricity, clean cooking, connectivity or other trappings of modern domestic life. Born in Zambia to South African parents of Indian descent, Sabera Kahn would become a champion of Zambia’s rural poor, bringing a combination of financial acumen, political savvy and sheer force of will to bear in ensuring that her grandmother – not her grandmother by blood or birth, but every Zambian’s grandmother – would not be forgotten by the city-dwellers, development workers and others with whom she worked on energy access programs for the country. On 13 August 2021, Ms Kahn unexpectedly succumbed in Lusaka, Zambia to an infection following a long struggle with Covid-19. 

Sabera’s passing comes as a shock to her colleagues at REEEP and all those she worked with on the Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia and the Beyond the Grid Fund for Africa programmes and the Private Financing Advisory Network. It is unimaginable that this lion of the clean development and finance sector – wrangler of politicians and bureaucrats and fixer of everything from drivers to meetings with village Chieftans in far-flung parts of the country – could be defeated by an infection, after having prevailed over so many challenges and setbacks. She will be dearly missed at REEEP and beyond. 

Sabera was a true friend and strong supporter of our work. She possessed almost preternatural strategic vision to accompany the experience, knowledge and commitment she wielded toward the development of clean energy markets and the uplifting of the poor and vulnerable in her country and the region.

In her work for REEEP, Sabera was part of the core team that designed and executed of the Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia (BGFZ), an energy access programme funded by Sweden aiming to bring clean, affordable, and reliable off-grid energy access to 1 million Zambians in rural and peri-urban areas. Sabera was a consummate ambassador for the programme and its Zambian hosts and beneficiaries, representing BGFZ in events across Africa and elsewhere, including at the Ashden Awards in London, where the programme was awarded in 2019. Her work in this area continued with the establishment of the Beyond the Grid Fund for Africa by the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (Nefco) in her role as Senior Expert and Liaison Manager.

In her day-to-day activities, Sabera took charge of facilitating Zambia’s Off-Grid Energy Taskforce (OGTF), where she spent countless hours liaising between the Ministry of Energy and Office of the Vice President, and between private energy service companies, investors, development financiers and diplomats representing a broad spectrum of the climate and sustainable development space. She was not only a leading expert in clean energy and climate finance in Zambia and Southern Africa, but also an exceptionally committed and talented networker and facilitator. With this background, she managed to thoughtfully convene all relevant representatives from the government (related to energy, rural development, agriculture and livelihood), donors and the private sector. The OGTF has meanwhile become an internationally renowned stakeholder engagement mechanism in the access to energy space in Africa. Since its launch in April 2018, the OGTF has – with strong support from Sabera - successfully facilitated a VAT exemption for LED lights, the drafting of a new national mini-grid policy and the initiation of discussions to improve the affordability of off-grid energy solutions.

Sabera’s expertise was also valued at the Private Financing Advisory Network, where she served as the former Country Coordinator for Zambia as well as the Network’s Gender Ambassador. As Country Coordinator she was responsible for organising the activities of PFAN’s financial experts who provide investment and financing advisory services to entrepreneurs in the climate and clean energy sector in Zambia. As Gender Ambassador she championed strengthening the involvement of women in the clean energy sector Africa and beyond and was committed to furthering the goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Sabera was a loving wife and mother, and behind her strong and dedicated personality was an idealistic and sensitive person. She trusted and believed in the honesty of people and their spirit and capability to change things for the better. And she believed in a mission: to create the capacity, environment and momentum necessary for mitigating the negative effects of climate change and boosting economic development in her country.