My grandparents, Harry and Terri, were born and raised in Manchester England in 1914 and 1916. They built a business selling household appliances door-to-door in low-income areas. My dad, therefore, grew up in the back of a truck, going door-to-door collecting payments and delivering products. They didn’t really have much of a choice of what to do, because they were born into a low-income migrant family and had to make ends meet in any way they could.
The other side of my heritage lies in the French alps, where my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins to this day, cook huge pots of stews, cheesy mixes and steaming vegetable soup over an open fire. Again, they didn’t really have much of a choice in their lifestyle, stuck in a mountainous valley with little education. And it turns out they used a pretty dangerous and polluting form of cooking. I didn’t realise either of these until I was older…
…and I came to Kenya. Almost all of the food I ate in the road-side hoteli, in my in-laws’ houses, which they opened to me, and in the homes, schools, offices and even hospitals of everyone I came across. Charming? Yes. Dangerously polluting, toxic and damaging to children and women especially? Absolutely yes.
Five years before I came to Kenya, Tania and Maria, two young graduates from America, came to Kenya – they beat me to it. And they met Alex, who had been earning a living since he was orphaned at the age of 7, rummaging through piles of rubbish. Here was what seemed like an even bigger problem than burning biomass.
Tania and Maria became friends with Alex. This is him now. He’s not scavenging for scraps, and he’s not on the streets, but he’s training youth and women from informal settlements across Kenya to sell clean burning cookstoves door-to-door. He now has a mountain of opportunities, he’s not stuck in a situation he doesn’t want to be in, or struggling to make ends meet. He’s empowered, and he now empowers hundreds of youth and women each year as our head sales and entrepreneurship trainer.
Young men and women get to learn from other young people how to sell, how to manage their finances, and how to bring life-changing sustainable products to their slum communities. 5% of all those that we’ve trained and recruited, almost exactly 50ù of them have been women. However, almost 86% of our top sellers are women. The women who turn up on day 1 of our monthly trainings often have children, plenty of life experience, low education levels and bucketloads of drive. What they lack is capital, mentoring, and a support structure.
The first step is to recruit youth and women door-to-door and through existing groups structures, and then provide a free two-week training on sales and marketing, environmental awareness and products we sell, especially cookstoves. We have female trainers amongst our team, and almost all of our Branch Managers across Nairobi and Mombasa are women, all of whom have been promoted from our pool of talented sales agents.
Their marketplace? The informal settlements, or slums, that they come from. More than 800,000 people live in the Kawangware slum in Nairobi. Thousands die each year from smoke inhalation, carbon monoxide poisoning and fires, and dirty cooking is one of the biggest culprits in climate change, deforestation and black carbon emissions. And those who suffer most are women and children; those who spend the most time cooking, collecting fuel, and inhaling noxious fumes and chemical compounds that can kill and systematically cause health damage.
But with a few steps, a sales agent can bring a clean cookstoves that reduces emissions of CO2 by 50%, reduces fuel expenditure by another 50%, and even reduces cooking time by 50%. So what makes women so successful at selling clean cookstoves and solar lamps? Women are uniquely placed to influence other women in their communities, and bring peer-to-peer information that can affect decision-making at the household level.
Customers spend a small amount of money with us, and save a huge amount of money. We’ve saved customers over $7.4million in charcoal, and taken the equivalent of 40,000 cars off the road. Or, if you prefer, prevented 250,000 from being chopped down to prepare your daily ugali, sukuma, or porridge.
This is our model. We benefit the unemployed youth and women we train and provide with a sustainable, commissions-based income; we benefit the low-income consumers we market to, and we benefit, of course, the promotion of clean energy. And it’s sustainable. Most of these beneficiaries are women – 66% of our customers are women; half of our agents are women, and 60% of our staff and 85% of our board is female. Therefore at every level gender perspectives are integrated into our operations and marketing approaches.
We’re not a women’s organization that distributes clean energy products. We didn’t even start out specifically targeting women at all, but youth, principally young men. We’re an organizatoin for everyone, where women are encouraged and allowed to thrive, on the same footing and to the same extent as men. We give people, communities, or ‘hoods’ the opportunity to get lively, and earn a living whilst impacting the planet they live on and the streets they hang out in. Everybody wins, and eveyrbody can get the one-on-one attention and support they need, from sales mentoring from management, to aftersales support from a sales agent, if a customer is having difficulty getting the most from their solar or cookstove product.
And we’ve sold more cookstoves than we could every have imagined. We’ve so far sold more than 15,000 clean energy products, including cookstoves and solar lamps, and trained over 2,200 youth and women. Our most popular product is the jikokoa, which is made locally, with a workforce made up of a majority women, including on the production and assembly floor, here in Nairobi.
Our cofounders, Tania and Maria, did not set out the with the intention of being women-led and female-heavy. It happened naturally because of the entrepreneurial spirit of the women in the communities that we work in, and because given the opportunity, women can become leaders, managers, influencers and breadwinners extraordinaire. This is proof that no model can be exclusive; no distribution model is so rigid that women are to be excluded, but at every level; the private, the public, the not-for-profit, we need to create enabling environments for women in energy to thrive.
Kikuyu, Mombasa, Thika…we’re growing our network, and bringing the same values, products and model to communities all over Kenya. This year we jumped to Mombasa, halfway across the country, and we proved that LivelyHoods is a good traveller, and can adapt to communities across Kenya.
We have a phenomenally lively team of former sales agents running our operations up and down the country, who ensure that LivelyHoods can continue to impact thousands of Kenyans each year.
We have the support and backing of some important names in youth and women’s empowerment, clean energy and social impact, who accompany us on our mission to provide opportunities for youth and women to improve the lives of themselves and their communities through education and clean energy products.
Charcoal Cookstoves, wood stoves, solar lamps, you name it, if it’s got a social and environmental benefit, we’ve got it. And our sales agents are sales-smart and street-smart enough to know where they’re needed the most. They take ownership of their successes, their plans and their ambitions, and they’re not at the mercy of circumstances. They have the freedom to grow and earn and learn.
We believe in them, and in their ability to prevent the destruction of thousands of trees, and to create thousands of jobs in the coming years. We also believe in things going up and not coming down.
Let me break my own rule of not using text in presentations, to leave you with mu contact details to encourage exchange, knowledge sharing and ideas on scaling up innovative business models integrating women in energy business models. I hope to also learn from your experiences, both past and future, and please do get in touch with any further questions or comments.
Webinar 7 | Oct-16 | Livelyhoods
FELLOWSHIP & AWARDS
2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
JOBS CREATED: 5,200
2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
TREES SAVED: 3.7 million
Cumulative trees saved
Claire Baker // LivelyHoods Director of Development //
firstname.lastname@example.org // Nairobi, Kenya