What Is Steve Case Doing to Bring Solar Power to Africa?

Steve Case's moment has arrived. The AOL founder has been talking forever about the power of markets and for-profit social enterprises to solve big problems, and now it feels like everyone else is finally seeing the light, too, with impact investing catching fire. Meanwhile, Case is ramping up his own investment firm Revolution Growth, recently hiring three new vice presidents.

The challenge of providing cheap renewable energy in developing countries is one issue Steve Case is thinking about—along with a lot of other billionaires, these days. This month, Case reportedly teamed up with Virgin Group's Sir Richard Branson and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore to invest $19 million in Kenyan-based, solar energy start-up M-Kopa.

With their stated mission "to make high-quality energy affordable for everyone," M-Kopa is no stranger to high-profile investors, having already attracted major contributions from heavy hitters Safaricom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. M-Kopa seems poised to meet and surpass its goal of reaching a million East African homes by the end of 2017, having already connected over a quarter million homes in three different countries.

Steve Case has long been interested in solving some of the most basic problems facing poorer countries. For example, he's previously donated for water and sanitation projects. And earlier this fall, we wrote about an investment his firm made in a for-profit social enterprise that aims to ensure better blood supplies in developing countries. 

Related: Why This Life-Saving Medical Device Won $100,000 from Steve Case

Long before impact investing took off, Case and his wife Jean advocated tapping into the resources and strategies of the private sector to power social change. It's been interesting to watch other wealthy donors come around to this outlook. Most notably, Mark Zuckerberg pledged to use the entirety of his $45 billion fortune to improve the world during the course of his lifetime—choosing an LLC as the vehicle for this misson. The classification affords Zuckerberg the flexibility to invest that money in for-profit ventures, while simultaneously allowing for lobbying, an interesting twist to the new philanthrocapitalism that has been met by some with a certain level of cynicism. 

But back to that solar investment in Africa. One surprising aspect of this move is that it comes around the same time as the announcement of the new Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a collection of many of Case's tech peers, including Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Benioff, just to name a few. The coalition aims to use the resources and expertise of both the public and private sectors in order to "help accelerate the change to the advanced energy future our planet needs."

One name not on that list (yet): Steve Case. What's that about? 

Given the BEC's clear commitment to a partnership between private business and government, and the inclusion of so many in the tech community, it's unclear why Case has not aligned himself with this outfit, or perhaps vice versa. In fact, Case's long-time friend John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers is a member of the coalition, and even shares a seat with Case on the Bloom Energy board of directors, which Case joined just last year. Whatever the reasoning, it will be interesting to monitor Case's continued activity in the energy sector and how his impact investing connects with that of others active in this space. 

Related: Sorry, Bill Gates, But Billions for Energy Research Is Not How to Win the Climate Battle