NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 18 – Former US Vice President Al Gore, upon presenting The Ashden Awards – the world’s leading green awards – to the 2007 winners, said: “We must find a path from an unsustainable present to a sustainable future.”
Eight years later, a Kenyan based start-up found the path and has in turn been awarded the prestigious award for Clean Energy for Women and Girls in East Africa.
“The Award, I must say, is an honour. To know that Jikokoa Stove is transforming the lives of women and girls keeps us going,” Burn Manufacturing General Manager Eion Flinn said.
Burn Manufacturing Company, which is Peter Scott’s brainchild, brings Kenya its most modernized charcoal stove yet.
Scott, an American environment-conservation enthusiast turned entrepreneur, traced the connection between deforestation on the continent and the wide-spread use of charcoal more than twenty years prior to creating Jikokoa when he visited The Congo.
Upon his return to Africa years later, deforestation had become worse. The use of charcoal as a means of cooking had scaled to higher heights with 80 percent of people in sub-Sharan Africa cooking using charcoal. But a commitment he had made on saving African forests years before led him to exploit alternative methods of reducing deforestation on the continent.
“He therefore started doing research on charcoal stoves and found out, among other things that, the ceramic stoves used in Kenya posed health threats to people and the environment, consumed a lot of charcoal while they were also slow to use,” Flinn explains.
Hence the Jikokoa stove was born.
Incubated in 2011, Burn Manufacturing raised US$4million in debt and set base in Nairobi’s Industrial area but later moved to New Horizons Manufacturing base in Ruiru where they established a fully-fledged manufacturing plant to make the cooking stoves.
“The choice to launch in Kenya was purely for economic reasons. For starters, Kenya is a ready market for jikos and is a major business hub in the region,” Flinn explains.
But before starting mass manufacturing, the company went into Kenya’s towns and set up focus groups to test a jiko they had made in the US to get the opinions of women who were their target customers.
The focus groups were formed in Kawangware, Kibera and other locations, where they surveyed more than two thousand women and gathered their responses.
“What we found out was amazing. The women cooked all kinds of Kenyan foods using the jiko, from chapatis, to githeri and ugali among others. This was to enable them express their experiences, what they liked and even their frustrations as far as using the stoves were concerned. We then took up their suggestions and changed what they suggested needed improvement,” Flinn says.
A whopping 95 percent of Jikokoa stove’s design is therefore attributed to Kenyan women.
Its Selling Points
According to Flinn, the Stove uses 50 percent less charcoal than traditional jikos using approximately 120 grams of charcoal while the traditional jiko uses at least 250 grams. Jikokoa also cuts cooking time into a half as it takes thirteen minutes to cook a meal that takes thirty minutes to cook on the traditional jiko. What’s more, it comes with revised functionalities such as a removable door that is also used as the jiko’s ashtray.
“Women, who are our biggest customers, can now save money spent on buying charcoal, while they can also spend more time with their families as it takes less time to cook,” Flinn says.
The jiko retails at Sh3,800. But Flinn insists that the amount of purchasing the stove is not as much as what a customer will ultimately save from buying charcoal in the long term.
Jikokoa can be bought from supermarkets countrywide, the Jumia and Mama Mike’s portals and through various distributors in the country.
“Seeing that the amount is a bit high for some of our target customers, Burn has partnered with Microfinance companies to enable our customers find optional payment methods that suit them. As such, M-Kopa, Equity bank and various Saccos are facilitating payment methods,” Flinn said, adding that fifty percent of the jikos bought are serviced through microfinance.
Today, one Jikokoa stove is made every minute of every working hour of the weekdays averaging to two thousand stoves every week.
A Winning Model
Burn has gone full-throttle to support women in the country. A look inside the plant, women can be seen donning welding aprons and helmets. The sales team is also largely female with Flinn explaining that; “women tend to trust other women when it comes to buying kitchen equipment.”
Hence Ashden’s reason for awarding Burn.
According to their official statement, the charity stated that Burn is commended for not only producing an environmental friendly stove, but for also employing women in significant numbers, thus enabling them to increase their economic independence while improving their position in society.
The company has however faced its fair share of challenges since setting base in Kenya.
Skilled labour for one was a challenge. Flinn explains that due to Kenya’s lack of extensive manufacturing background, getting people who understood the technical side of job was tough. They resulted to training.
Building the plant from scratch, importing raw materials and manufacturing machines was also a major challenge for the company.
But with the additional equity investment worth US$750,000 from Acumen Fund and the recently announced cash prize from Ashden worth twenty thousand Euros, the company is not being dragged behind by hindrances.
Their short term goals are also viable. The company sold six thousand stoves in 2013 and hopes to increase the number to one hundred thousand stoves by the end of this year.
Their long term goals are also fine tuned. Burn hopes to sell three million stoves in the next ten years and set a manufacturing plant somewhere else in Africa preferably West Africa.
As the interview comes to the end, Flinn, who is from Ireland, and I briefly discuss the journey to Kenya.
An electronic engineering graduate from Dublin, Eionn – pronounced as ‘Owen’ – Flinn loves the country where he lives with his American wife and their newly born daughter.
“He also loves to travel and freely discusses the journey that influenced his personal blog that landed him on CBS News once; “My wife and I quit our jobs to seek adventure. We drove from China to South Africa, saw many countries in between, broke a few records and accumulated great experiences for two years as documented on global-slacker.com,” he concludes.