Women’s economic empowerment comes in many shapes and forms – even through seemingly innocuous daily tasks such as cooking.
At the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, we believe we can transform cooking into an opportunity for improving women’s health, sending children to school, and generating income or becoming an entrepreneur.
The development community recognizes that cleaner and more efficient cooking solutions advance women’s health outcomes, while also reducing the time women and girls spend collecting fuel and cooking over an open fire. Moreover, the clean cooking sector presents opportunities for women to make their mark in a growing market. Their involvement as employees and entrepreneurs helps businesses thrive.
This is the logic behind the Women’s Empowerment Fund (WEF). The WEF is a grant facility that provides funding and capacity building to enterprises to scale the number of women energy entrepreneurs throughout the clean cooking value chain, test innovative empowerment approaches, and share lessons learned and build the evidence for effective, gender-informed business models.
Photo Credit: Burn Manufacturing Co.
In 2016, Kenyan stove manufacturer BURN was provided funding through the WEF to assess financial mechanisms for rural women who are purchasing cleaner, more efficient cookstoves. The grant funded research that BURN used to inform and improve its business model, which is aimed at providing fuel efficient stoves for 2 billion people living in Africa. BURN found that women and women’s groups are drivers of their business – not simply as customers, but as financiers, brand ambassadors, and key support staff.
Groups of rural women organized in informal financing groups called chamas were found to be key in assisting women to access technologies that may otherwise be unaffordable. By providing members of chamas with access to financing, more women purchased BURN’s efficient cookstoves, which require half the amount of fuel, and were able to pay back their loans within 2 months. One BURN customer, Mary Kamau, stated, “With my savings on charcoal, I set money aside and at the end of the month, I can take my kids to a park to play.”
Additionally, BURN observed that woman-to-woman marketing was one of the most successful sales models. Through customer satisfaction surveys, BURN identified and trained a pool of female “super customers” in small business entrepreneurship. These brand champions became highly successful salespeople who earned commission from selling stoves in their communities. As of September 2017, 18 BURN champions helped the company sell 2,869 new cookstoves to customers who gain health, time, and monetary benefits from reduced smoke emissions and up to 50% less fuel usage.
BURN continues to prioritize women as sales agents and product ambassadors, as they have no doubt that women are a key to increasing their cookstoves sales. Additionally, they are working to ensure women are managers and support staff in the company. Energy businesses, and particularly those in the cookstoves sector, know the bottom line: