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Baker Cookstoves – Designing for the African Customer

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

An innovative social enterprise is using design to create an energy-efficient cookstove for Kenya. By turning to an experienced Swedish architecture and design firm, the people behind the Baker cookstove wanted to make sure the stove’s design was as efficient as possible and relevant to the customers’ needs, while also making sure it is visually appealing and something a person would proudly want in their home.

The Baker cookstove (bakerproduct.com) has been designed to be a high-quality and desirable product that also accomplishes the goal of saving money for the user. This unique product is being developed and made at the company’s factory in Nairobi, Kenya.

Baker’s owner is Top Third Ventures Global (topthirdventures.com), a social-impact company registered in Kenya and founded in 2011 by American Lucas Belenky and Björn Hammar, a Swedish/Finnish entrepreneur. Their goal is to make sure that everyone in the developing world has access to an affordable, high-quality efficient cookstove.

While cooking is a daily necessity for billions of people, it is also costly and polluting. By switching to energy-efficient cookstoves, families can reduce the cost of cooking daily meals and, if the stove is designed right, cut the amount of pollution generated. One of the great obstacles to the take-up of energy-efficient cookstoves to date has been the absence of sustainable business models to sell and distribute them.

The Baker cookstove, designed as an aspirational product and backed up with a seven-year guarantee, hopes to change this dynamic. If things go to plan, the company hopes to significantly scale up its production based on customers wanting to have a Baker cookstove proudly on display in their home.

The Baker cookstove is the product of a deliberate attempt to use design and a well-thought-out production life cycle to create an item that is eye-catching, effective, and manufactured consistently to a high standard.

Designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune (http://www.ckr.se/), a Swedish architecture and design firm, the Baker cookstove is a sleek, round, modern stove and comes in eye-catching colors such as orange. It could easily fit in with other kitchen products in a high-end design shop. And that is the point: they want people to want the Baker cookstove.

Quality is key, and engineering and design teams constantly monitor the product and make adjustments to the cookstove as they receive feedback from customers.

The Baker cookstove is benefiting from new financing being made available through carbon credits, which its founders believe will bring big changes to the energy-efficient cookstove market over the next 10 years.

Baker’s chief executive, Lucas Belenky, told Southern Innovator magazine – this newsletter’s sister publication – about the thinking behind the Baker cookstove.

SI: What role does design play in the Baker cookstove social enterprise? At what stage did Top Third Ventures start to think through the production life cycle for the Baker cookstove? What did you feel was missing in the other cookstove models currently available on the market?

The Baker cookstove is the cornerstone of the social enterprise. Top Third Ventures is at its core a product company. There are different aspects to the business model to make it work (i.e. carbon credits and big data) but everything depends on the success of the Baker product. We started thinking through the production life cycle from the day the company was founded in late 2011. The Baker is designed for usability, aspirational value, and performance, prioritized in that order. The most important thing is that the Baker is easy to use and does not require its users to change their daily routines or cooking habits. Cooking cultures vary greatly across the developing world so it is important to understand exactly who your customer is and focus on meeting their requirements. When you have a product that is easy to use it needs to be desirable as well. Beyond the service provided, the product should make the customer feel good about themselves. Finally, the Baker cooks the same food with half the fuel and much less smoke.

The priorities seem reversed for other cookstove models on the market. Efficiency comes first, then the aesthetic design, and cultural conformity is last. Hyper-efficient cookstoves are great for health and the environment on paper but the benefits are not realized because widespread adoption isn’t achieved. Most products are imposed through a top-down approach instead of starting with the customer and designing the stove around them.

SI: Why did you choose to have the Baker cookstove designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune, a Swedish architecture and design firm? What were some of the challenges encountered when designing the product and the production life cycle? What advice do you have for other social enterprises looking to offer an appealing product to low-income households?

We wanted the Baker cookstove to be an aspirational product that you use as much because of the performance (less fuel and less smoke) as because it is beautiful. Claesson Koivisto Rune believed in our vision at a very early stage and I doubt we could have gotten where we are today without them. Challenges around the design mainly involve keeping the costs down. Our customers do not have a lot of disposable income so balancing affordability with performance and world-class design is tough.

For other entrepreneurs selling to low-income households my advice is identify your customer, listen to them, and never stop listening. This is obvious to most businesses but for social enterprises sometimes the grant organizations or other dispersers of donor funding become the customer without you noticing.

Finally, often just because the consumer is in a developing country, enterprises neglect aesthetic appeal and branding. Do not do this. Your consumer behaves for the most part like their counterpart in the developed world. They want products that look nice and make them feel good.

SI: What role is information technology playing in the Baker cookstove’s development? How do mobile phones help with reaching customers in Africa? How does offering software products such as Top3Tracker help Baker cookstoves?

Information technology has a huge impact in decentralized areas because it enables cheap flow of information. For Top Third Ventures it allows us to track our sales in real-time, communicate with current and future customers instantly, and gain valuable insights about how to improve the sales pitch and marketing strategy. The Baker cookstoves also depends on carbon finance, which requires a dialogue with current customers to ensure the usage of the cookstove is accurately measured. Information technology such as our Top3 Tracker significantly reduces the cost of accessing carbon finance.

SI: It is said an innovator is somebody who disrupts existing products and ways of doing things. How is Top Third Ventures innovating and disrupting the current approach to energy-efficient cookstove distribution?

We hope to change the way products for low-income households are designed, marketed, and sold. Top Third Ventures’ Baker cookstove embodies our conviction that these products should be customer-centric, have aspirational value, and conform to local cultures. The success of our product will show that consumers in the developing world want the same thing as their counterparts in developed countries.

Top Third is a partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (cleancookstoves.org).

Resources

1) Baker cookstove: The website details how the cookstove was developed. Website: bakerproduct.com

2) Top Third Ventures: The company designs, manufactures, and sells its own unique efficient cookstoves made to fit the local cultures and traditions of their customers, supported by a strong brand and world-class customer communication. In addition, Top Third Ventures works with existing manufacturers and distributors to secure carbon financing for their activities through their programmatic CDM activity and electronic data management system. Website: topthirdventures.com

3) Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. Website: cleancookstoves.org

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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US $450 Million Pledged for Green Economy Investments at Kenyan GSSD Expo

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Innovators working in the global green economy could benefit from over US $450 million in investment recently pledged at the UN’s Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) held in Nairobi, Kenya.

A combination of green investors, businesses, governments and others came together at the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) headquarters in the Kenyan capital from 28 October to 1 November 2013 to share solutions and strike deals and partnerships.

The event represented a significant turning point in awareness of the role played by the global South’s innovators in global development and growing economies. The quantity of pledges and investment deals struck at the Expo bodes well for the future of south-south solution sharing.

Organized by the UN’s Office for South-South Cooperation in UNDP (UNOSSC) (southsouthexpo.org) and hosted by UNEP (unep.org) under the theme “Building inclusive green economies”, the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the world’s biggest event for development solutions created in the South for the South.

“The theme of this year’s Expo is fitting in that Southern countries have both the opportunity and the obligation to pursue a ‘smarter’ development course than their predecessors,” said General Assembly President John Ashe.

Examples of the investment deals struck include helping to build organic fertilizer factories and constructing solar power plants in Kenya, and growing green business ventures for women in Egypt.

South-South cooperation is the exchange of resources, technology and knowledge between developing countries. Today, over US $5 trillion in currency reserves are held by countries of the global South. They also make up 47 per cent of global trade.

Tapping this rich resource is an unparalleled economic development opportunity and could be one of the main engines of growth in the years ahead, the Expo organizers believe.

“As so many stories that we have heard this week demonstrate, South-South Cooperation is playing a vital role in facilitating this global transition,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“Not only are these local, national and regional efforts producing positive results, but they are overcoming barriers, building new partnerships, creating new finance mechanisms, generating knowledge, sharing information, providing training and capacity building in areas and sectors that are critical for a global transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and inclusive economy,” he added.

As an example of how solutions are shared and deals are struck, more than 40 companies were successfully matched and held business negotiations using the Expo’s South-South Global Assets and Technology Exchange (SS-GATE). An online match-making service bringing together innovative companies with the knowledge and funding they need to grow, the SS-GATE was able to get 148 companies to list their projects on the SS-GATE web-platform during an Expo event.

For the first time in its history, the Expo garnered a strong online presence with the help of volunteers who collaborated remotely around the world on social media. The event was so popular that it trended on Twitter in Kenya, meaning that the message of the value and growing scope of South-South cooperation reached the next generation of development practitioners, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, thinkers and leaders.

Also at the Expo, the fourth issue of Southern Innovator magazine (southerninnovator.org) had its official launch. Southern Innovator Issue 4 visits the new cities being built to tackle the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing 21st-century world. The magazine also highlights some of the solutions being devised to the challenges people face as the world becomes a majority urban place.

Some innovators are building new cities from scratch, applying the latest thinking and hard-wiring in cutting-edge information technologies and innovative environmental measures to create “smart” cities and eco-cities. Architects are designing and refining homes that are beautiful and functional, easy to build, affordable and conserve energy. Social entrepreneurs are innovating ways to create liveable and socially inclusive urban areas, often in places where planning has been scant and where incomes are very low. All the stories featured in the magazine were chosen for their focus on improving human development and for their ingenuity and fresh thinking.

Southern Innovator champions a 21st-century global innovator culture. It is being distributed through the United Nations’ network and partners and reaches some of the world’s poorest and remotest places, as well as the vibrant but stressed growing global megacities. It is hoped the magazine will inspire budding innovators with its mix of stories, essential information, facts and figures, images and graphics.

Resources

1) Global South-South Development Expo: The Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the FIRST EVER Expo solely from the South and for the South. It showcases successful Southern-grown development solutions (SDSs) to address the need to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Website: http://www.southsouthexpo.org/

2) Southern Innovator online story archive: Organized by theme, the story archive is a treasure trove of innovation stories and resources from the global South stretching back to 2006. Website: southerninnovator.org

3) Southern Innovator on Scribd: Archived copies of the full-color, 60-page magazine can be downloaded here. Website: http://www.scribd.com/SouthernInnovator.

4) Southern Innovator on Twitter: Catch Southern Innovator’s Tweets and keep on top of a growing global network of innovators. Follow @SouthSouth1


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Kenya Turns to Geothermal Energy for Electricity and Growth

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In an effort to diversify its power supply and meet growing electricity demand, Kenya is looking to increase its use of geothermal energy sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_electricity). Tapping the abundant heat and steam that lurks underground to drive electric power plants offers a sustainable and long-term source of low-cost energy.

Kenya currently gets most of its electricity from hydroelectric projects. This is great until there is a drought, which there now is. With water resources low, the country has had to turn to fossil fuels to power electricity generators. This means relying on imported diesel, which is both expensive and polluting. It is also not generating enough electricity to keep up with demand.

Electricity blackouts have become common in the country and this is harming economic development. This is a particularly damaging setback in a country that has, in the last five years, gained a deserved reputation for its technological advances in mobile phone applications and Internet services – all needing reliable supplies of electricity.

Kenya is Africa’s largest geothermal producer and has geothermal resources concentrated near a giant volcanic crater in the Great Rift Valley with 14 fields reaching from Lake Magadi to Lake Turkana. There are also low temperature fields in Homa Hills and Massa Mukwe (http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=191&Itemid=163).

Kenya is expecting its gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by 10 per cent from 2012 onwards. The country hopes to become a middle income country by 2030.

Around 1,400 steam wells will be drilled by companies to meet these goals.

There are also many spin-off opportunities from tapping geothermal heat sources. These include using the steam heat for greenhouses growing plants, for cooling and heating buildings, and for drying and pasteurising foods.

Kenya is currently building a 52-megawatt (MW) geothermal project with funding from the United States government. It is also receiving US$149 million funding from the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) to build the Menengai Geothermal Development Project. This plant will be able to generate 400 megawatts of renewable electricity from the Menengai geothermal sources in the steam field located 180 kilometres northwest of the capital, Nairobi (http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=49&Itemid=137).

Speaking at a press conference this month, Gabriel Negatu, AfDB’s Regional Director, said he sees geothermal technology as an important driver of Kenya’s green growth ambition.

“Geothermal generation yields energy that is clean, affordable, reliable and scalable,” he said.

The Geothermal Development Company (GDC) (gdc.co.ke) is a state-owned company in Kenya and recently declared it had tapped steam with a well in the Menengai steam field. GDC started surface exploration in 2009 and has been using two drilling rigs to look for geothermal steam.

The Menengai Geothermal Development Project is slated to be completed by 2016 and will boost the country’s geothermal capability by 20 per cent. It is estimated to be able to power the electricity needs of 500,000 Kenyan households and power the needs of 300,000 small businesses.

Geothermal as a source of energy and electricity can help a country make big development gains. The best example is the Northern European island nation of Iceland. According to Orkustofnun (nea.is/geothermal), Iceland’s National Energy Authority, the country is a successful example of how a small, poor nation (Iceland was one of Europe’s poorest countries in the 20th century), shook off its dependence on burning peat and importing coal for its energy use. By 2007, Iceland was listed in the global Human Development Report as the country with the highest level of human development in the world. And one aspect of this success was the country’s ability to tap its renewable energy resources. Around 84 per cent of the country’s primary energy use comes from renewable resources, and 66 per cent of this is geothermal.

It is estimated Kenya could generate 7,000 megawatts of geothermal power and the Kenyan government is looking to increase the nation’s geothermal capacity from the current 198 MW to 1,700 MW by 2020 and 5,530 MW by 2031.

Resources

1) Home geothermal: A feature from Popular Mechanics on how geothermal can work in the home. Website: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/hydropowergeothermal/4331401

2) Geothermal Energy Systems: A South African company specialising in setting up geothermal systems for customers. Website: http://www.africanecosystems.co.za/about%20us.html

3) Geothermal Education Office: The basic on tapping this energy source and how it works. Website: http://geothermal.marin.org/pwrheat.html

4) Menengai Geothermal Development Project: A detailed explanation of the project. Website: http://www.climateinvestmentfunds.org/cif/sites/climateinvestmentfunds.org/files/SREP%205%20Kenya%20Project.pdf

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This work is licensed under a
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Southern Innovator was designed and laid out in Iceland using 100% renewable energy, much of which comes from geothermal sources. 

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Kenya Reaches Mobile Phone Banking Landmark

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Financial transactions and banking with mobile phones have been a Kenyan success story.

Now, one service, M-Shwari, has reached a significant milestone in the history of m-banking (mobile phone banking): it was able to record a billion Kenyan shillings (US $11,926,100) in savings deposits in a month after its launch in November 2012 and reached deposits of Kenyan shillings 2.8 billion (US $33 million) by February of 2013. This outstripped the Kenyan shillings 378 million (US $4 million) in loans lent by the service, reports Daily Nation.

M-Shwari is a mobile phone banking product that allows people to save and borrow money by phone and earn some interest too. The service offers small emergency loans to customers, offering a financial lifeline to people who would have been frozen out of financial services in the past.

There is no need to have any contact with a bank or bother with paperwork. And loans are instant because they are small.

Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore told the Daily Nation “Trends show that it has become more of a savings service than a lending service. This is what we intended since the beginning.”

As of February 1.6 million customers had used the service.

On top of this success, the pioneering M-PESA (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/personal/m-pesa/m-pesa-services-tariffs/relax-you-have-got-m-pesa) mobile phone banking platform developed in Kenya by Safaricom is set to roll out across India and help bring banking services to the country’s 700 million “unbanked.”

Both these developments are solid proof that innovation aimed at drawing in the poor into the mainstream economy not only works, it is profitable and exportable.

M-Shwari (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/personal/m-pesa/m-shwari/m-shwari-faqs) works like this: a customer can save as little as one Kenyan shilling to receive an interest rate of up to 5 per cent. If they want a loan, then they can borrow from 100 Kenyan shillings (US $1.19) to a maximum of 20,000 Kenyan shillings (US $238) for a processing fee of 7.5 per cent which will need to be paid back after 30 days.

By offering greater access to loans, M-Shwari s increasing competition in the banking sector and giving customers a choice.

It joins an ongoing revolution in access to credit for the poor. Powerful mobile phones enable individual depositors and businesspeople to organize their financial affairs and business needs on the phone. This is a revolutionary development in many places where people previously had to contend with poor access to financial services – or no access at all.

M-Shwari and products like it allow people to borrow, save and conduct transactions with family, friends, business partners and customers over their mobile phones.

M-Shwari is a collaboration between Kenyan telecoms company Safaricom and the Commercial Bank of Africa. It is being hailed as an example of how banks and telecommunications companies can cooperate to offer innovative financial products to the country.

For the unbanked in India, the initiative between Vodafone India (https://www.vodafone.in/pages/index.aspx) and ICICI Bank, India’s largest private bank, has started to roll out the Kenyan M-PESA mobile phone banking platform in India as of April 2013. They are hoping to open up access to banking to 700 million Indians who currently do not have bank accounts or access to banking facilities. The rollout starts in the country’s eastern regions of Kolkata and West Bengal (CNN).

It looks like access to banking services for the poor in the global South will soon undergo radical change with these large-scale initiatives.

Resources

1) Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology: Southern Innovator’s first issue broke new ground in its portrayal of a global South awash in innovators transforming how people use information technology and mobile phones. Website:http://www.scribd.com/doc/95410448/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-1-Mobile-Phones-and-Information-Technology

2) iHub Nairobi: Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. Website: ihub.co.ke/

3) Hubs in Africa: A crowdsourced map of the growing number of African information technology hubs. Website:https://africahubs.crowdmap.com/main

4) Appfrica: Founded in 2008 in Kampala, Uganda, Appfrica is an innovative global consultancy specializing in market research studies, custom technology solutions and investment in emerging markets. Website:http://appfrica.com/

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London Edit

31 July 2013

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This work is licensed under a
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David South Consulting first launched in Toronto, Canada in 1991. In 2010 it had a brand re-launch, with a new logo and website developed in Reykjavik, Iceland using 100% renewable energy.