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Sustainability and Entrepreneurship: A Conversation with Hasan Jaafar Co-founder of YY ReGen

Author: Angelik Nehme Published: 01 Jan 2024

Interview n°3 of the Interview Series “Meet the changemakers” with Hasan Jaafar.

Hasan Jaafar

In Lebanon's tumultuous landscape, a new generation of climate-conscious entrepreneurs is on the rise. Hasan Jaafar, Co-founder of YY ReGen, was recently recognised in the prominent  Forbes Middle East 30 Under 30 list for 2023. He is on a path of sustainability and entrepreneurship through YY ReGen, mirroring the resilience and capabilities of Lebanon's youth. YY ReGen is leveraging technology to combat climate change through renewable energy and facilitating agricultural endeavours among farmers in the country's rural areas. Hasan's story embodies a more extensive narrative where the youth is driven to contribute to the community in the face of adversity.


Background, Education, and Experience


Give us a glimpse into who you are, what you do, and the things that drive you.


My name is Hasan Jaafar; I am from Baalbek but have lived my whole life in Beirut. I am a 29-year-old husband and a father of a six-month-old daughter. I hold a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Beirut Arab University and a master's in applied engineering from the American University of Beirut. I have over seven years of experience in the oil and gas and the powerplant sectors. Later, I shifted entirely towards the renewable energy field while co-founding YY ReGen. Since then, I have participated in over fifteen local and international programmes, including incubators and accelerators. As you know, universities focus on technical engineering skills during studies. However, participating in such programmes allowed me to develop essential business skills. 



What made you want to pursue an engineering degree?


I get that question often and always end up with a new answer. Engineering has been my passion since I was a kid. Back then, I used to be fascinated with machines without truly knowing what they were. At school, when a student excels in math, they are geared towards engineering. As a result, I chose mechanical engineering because of its various career potentials. Back then, the situation in Lebanon was better, and international companies recruited top-handpicked engineers, but now things have become increasingly complex. At Beirut Arab University, I was among the top three mechanical engineering students, earning me a full scholarship to the American University of Beirut. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the Lebanese job market, especially with the overlapping crises, increasing competition, and the prevalence of Artificial Intelligence.



Has Artificial Intelligence played a role in your entrepreneurship journey as an engineer co-founding a startup?


As engineers with no web and application development background, AI has helped us enhance our online presence. We used it to build our website and articulate the details about who we are and what we do, and it aided us in marketing to gain insights for campaigns because, as start-ups, we start from scratch. It has made some things easier. I would have laughed if you had asked me a few years back to create a website. But this changed with AI, as I managed our website for YY ReGen.


The Beginning: YY ReGen 


Could you describe the origins and evolution of YY ReGen, emphasising the underlying motivations that led to its establishment ?


YY ReGen was born in late 2020, but it took us seven months to complete the registration process, which is one of the issues we have faced in Lebanon. We are two co-founders: Amer Khayyat, CEO and me, COO, based in Lebanon. Lebanon was battling COVID-19, a revolution, worsening economic conditions, and more. We got to thinking that the government will reach a point when it will no longer subsidise diesel, which happened much faster than we had anticipated. When we finished the registration, things had already gone downhill in the country. 


YY ReGen: A Sustainability Initiative in Lebanon


It is interesting to hear about initiatives born during the numerous crises in Lebanon. Could you walk us through the work that YY ReGen does?


In 2020, we considered ways to manage our private land when diesel was no longer subsidised. On the agricultural front, we transformed our crops from traditional to organic ones, meaning we got certificates for organic crops and could not use chemicals. This shift means that farmers can now export their products to the Gulf and Europe if they are up to European standards, allowing them to generate more income in US Dollars – an essential aspect for making ends meet amid an economic crisis. 


At YY ReGen, we work on sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and water management. But our focus now is on sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. Regarding renewable energy, we focus on solar systems and our project, ReGenR8. In May 2022, one unit of ReGenR8 was created on demand to provide renewable energy for farmers in remote areas who lack the initial capital investment to build solar systems and rely on diesel generators.

 


Hasan Jaafar

That is why we have created ReGenR8 projects. We offer farmers those units to rent solar systems during their season- usually a few months- meaning that we help farmers avoid paying the initial investment. We also offer a discounted price of 30 to 40 per cent compared to diesel generators. We charge farmers based on kilowatt hourly consumption and provide these units as an energy service to those farmers while focusing on Lebanon's agricultural sector. This initiative is the first business model in Lebanon that offers solar panels to be rented and not bought.



What other projects have you established?


We have built the first Agrivoltaic project in Lebanon while replacing the traditional metal structure with 4 tonnes of recycled plastic waste. This Agrivoltaic project could help farmers with a specific piece of land set up solar systems and produce crops beneath the solar panels. For example, some crops require shading, why not lift the structure slightly and benefit from the land under it? We are proud of how the structure is made from recycled plastic waste that might have otherwise been thrown in the sea or dumped at a site. So, we recycled them with another company and used them.


As for the R8 units, in May, we had our first unit as a minimum viable product, which we rented out to a farmer as a pilot customer, and now we have eight units rented out all over Lebanon. Lately, we have begun working with agricultural cooperatives that benefit from these units, and they work with farmers. So, while we are helping the cooperative, the cooperative, in turn, is aiding hundreds of farmers, an entire community. 


"We have built the first Agrivoltaic project in Lebanon while replacing the traditional metal structure with 4 tonnes of recycled plastic waste. This Agrivoltaic project could help farmers with a specific piece of land set up solar systems and produce crops beneath the solar panels." - Hasan Jaafar -

YY ReGen Up Close: The Vision


YY ReGen has vast potential and contributes benefits on different fronts, as it encompasses numerous activities. How are all its aspects managed? And is there any project you have in mind for the future?


We are currently in the research and development phase of a new biogas systems project called Green TaQa, which targets dairy farms to generate electricity from cow manures. We have our prototype, and we are doing some testing. Once we get the desired results, we will duplicate and launch our units in the market.


On the agricultural front, in the lands that we have turned organic, we have beekeeping, and we have organic honey, distributed under our brand name YY ReGen. So, our beehives are in organic lands, serviced by YY ReGen, powered by ReGenR8 units. We also manage olive lands and have extra virgin olive oil.


Our team comprises thirteen people, including an agricultural team, a sales team, and a renewable energy team. The renewable energy team handles the solar energy for residential commercial and industrial entities, the R8 units, and the biogas system we are still developing. The agricultural team works on the organic certifications, treatments, consultations, consulting services, beekeeping, and the honey and olive oil production processes. 



YY ReGen and Global Climate Action



What you have mentioned so far falls under the global efforts to combat climate change. Is there anything else you would like to add in this regard?


Yes. We contribute to numerous relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are SDG 5: Gender Equality, SDG 7: Clean Energy, SDG 8: Economic Growth- since we help farmers rent at discounted prices, SDG 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production, SDG 13: Climate Action, and SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. 


I would also like to mention that each R8 unit we use to replace a diesel generator decreases CO2 emissions by 15 tonnes per year. Now, we have eight units that reduce the emissions by 120 tonnes per year, equivalent to planting 2000 trees annually. We hope to have more than eight units, decreasing CO2 emissions even more.



Have you always known that you wanted to be an entrepreneur? Or did you develop a newfound appreciation for this field upon launching your start-up?


I used to work at powerplant stations in Lebanon and the oil and gas sector. After a while, I wanted to work on my own business. However, that is not the main point. I have a lot of ideas and potential, and I know I can help numerous people and start-ups. I have already mentored start-ups on technical and business fronts.


I trained and helped many students during my studies and supported the employees at YY ReGen by asking them to join programmes for business involvement. In the Arab Youth Hackathon, I was a business and technical mentor for two days for startups. I love what I do now, but it is not without difficulties, as I must think of the business itself and not just the specific tasks I would have had as an employee.



Climate, the Youth, and Prevalent Challenges 



This kind of leadership insinuates a sense of responsibility. In this light, do you have any advice for young people who want to become entrepreneurs?


Starting a new business is an exciting but challenging journey. Believing in your vision is the key to success. Take every challenge as an opportunity to grow and learn. Many have supported me, and many did not believe in my vision. You must remain resilient because now I am in the market. When you face setbacks, remember it is about passion, dedication, and persistence. Nowadays, it is also about innovation and originality. You must differentiate yourself and set yourself aside from others in the market. 



What challenges have you faced with your goal to enhance the use of renewable energy in Lebanon and the MENA?


We started YY ReGen during crises, so the fact that we started this business was a challenge. But the economic crises still impact us because we search for programmes and competitions to secure funds. Had the economy been better, we could have taken a loan and paid it back from the revenue and profits, but this isn't the case. I must invest personally, from the revenues that we are making or from competitions and accelerators. Alternatively, we could find an external investor, which is an option we aren't ready for. Currently, we are looking for collaborations. In addition, when we started, it was difficult to reach the farmers as they didn't have social media platforms, and there was no data on the Ministry of Agriculture and municipalities. Thus, we took the initiative and rode in our car, searching for farmers to validate our project. The positive aspect is that there are many International Non-Governmental Organisations in Lebanon, and we are now collaborating with USAID and ILO. 

"when we started, it was difficult to reach the farmers as they didn't have social media platforms, and there was no data on the Ministry of Agriculture and municipalities. Thus, we took the initiative and rode in our car, searching for farmers to validate our project." - Hasan Jaafar -

All the effort you've put towards YY ReGen during difficult times, and the lack of support must make the start-up's success personal for both co-founders. 


Yes, we started in a tough place. While many people were suffering through the aftermath of the economic crisis and losing their businesses, we took the risk to create ours. There are countless challenges locally, and many entrepreneurs have left to take their companies elsewhere and begin their start-up journey abroad. 



How was your experience as a COP 28 participant? What is your main takeaway?


Our experience was a good one. It gave us extra exposure and allowed us to network. Because of COP28, we have come across opportunities in Malaysia and Japan. We also attended many seminars, workshops, and events, affording us invaluable insights from experts and potential collaborators. At the end of COP, it was mentioned that they had collected a large sum of money to invest in climate action, renewable energy, sustainability, and start-ups in the climate arena. There is a global collaboration there, aiming to mitigate the repercussions of climate change. I am happy to be an entrepreneur in this ecosystem, helping other entrepreneurs. 

Hasan Jaafar

Outlook on the Future of the Climate 


Are you optimistic in terms of climate action? Or is your positive outlook specific to the entrepreneurial front?


I think that the initiatives we are witnessing complement one another and help one another fight climate change. Some countries are envisioning shifting their cars from diesel in the next decade. The fact that there is a vision and a pursuit to change from diesel and coal to hydrogen is positive for climate action. Even attempting to generate electricity from hydrogen is a lot of improvement for the environment, so I am optimistic. However, combating climate change is time-sensitive, and I am unsure whether our generation or the future ones will reap the benefits of the action plan at hand.



Final Remarks


In conclusion, we can see that YY ReGen stands as a model for proactive and impactful responses, offering a localised approach to international challenges. It embodies the youth that takes matters into their own hands, not only to combat climate change but to offer some solutions to marginalised communities that have suffered the aftermath of the economic crisis disproportionately. YY ReGen has gone the extra mile to ensure that it contributes to global climate action efforts while maintaining a standard of efficiency by utilising the available resources innovatively. Even though the future of the climate remains hazy, the efforts and initiatives employed by climate-conscious people are commendable. On a final note, the presence of talented and ambitious young people in Lebanon is inspiring, and it instills hope in a better tomorrow and faith that the country has the potential to fight against its overlapping crises. 


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Hasan Jaafar interviewed by Angelik Nehme for The Conference Corner. Featured pictures provided by Hasan Jaafar.

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