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Interview with Dan Wolf - International Lifeline Fund
Authors: Dan Wolf
Issue 61: Climate Change: Adaptation, Resilience and Energy Security

Interview with Dan Wolf - International Lifeline Fund

In this Viewpoints feature we had a talk with Dan Wolf, Founder and Executive Director of the humanitarian organisation International Lifeline Fund (Lifeline), to find out how their fuel-efficient stoves and briquetting products are helping to reduce carbon emissions across Africa and in Haiti.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and the International Lifeline Fund

Professionally, I am an attorney. My background includes pro bono refugee and human rights work over 20 years of practice. During my career, I took on class action work and spearheaded a lawsuit against the government of Iraq for taking American citizens hostage during the first Gulf war, for which I recovered a very large award. I took the proceeds and started two foundations; one became the International Lifeline Fund (Lifeline) and the other, the George Wolf Memorial Trust, named after my father.

l was always interested in human rights, refugee and humanitarian issues in the lesser developed world. Most of my background had been in South East Asia dealing with Vietnamese refugees. I hadn’t had much exposure to Africa but during my work, which included many overseas missions, UN officials would always tell me about how refugees here don’t compare with those who fled violence in Africa. For every dollar we spend on a Vietnamese refugee, we spend about a nickel or dime on an Africa refugee. It was apparent to me that if I could focus on Africa, my money would go a lot further.

The focus was always going to be humanitarian and sustainable development work that would have the highest impact for the least cost in the developing world. However, I wasn’t really sure what the specific interventions were going to be at first. My background was on human rights and refugees. So I thought that I would do some advocacy missions, check out and see if there were some kind of interventions that would help further my goals. One of my earlier missions was to Darfur. That is where I became acquainted with the problem of open fire cooking and its relationship to deforestation and all the problems associated with using wood as a fuel source for cooking. And so, that became the first Lifeline initiative.

The initial focus was on refugees and vulnerable individuals but that never was necessarily the exclusive idea. As I became increasingly involved in the issue of sustainable fuels, it became apparent to me that the greatest impact we can have by far, was creating local industries around fuel efficient stoves. Unless we could tap into markets and develop, nurture and grow those markets, we could never have the kind of impact I was looking to achieve. This goal, of course, would eventually require us to go outside of the refugee setting.

How financially sustainable is your organisation, given that Lifeline is currently supported by your pro bono work and trust?

That’s a good question! I had significant resources when I started and the notion for the first several years of the organisation was that I would put only my own resources into the projects. It was only when I was able to have a track record and be able to make promises to potential donors that I knew I could keep that I would go out and ask for funding. That was actually a sustainable model during the first three years or so, which is the period of time in which I was exclusively financing Lifeline - from when we commenced operations in 2006 to 2009 - because we started up slowly and moved slowly.

Ironically, since 2009 when we’ve been getting outside funds, the burden on me personally and my trust fund has grown, because our programmes have expanded exponentially. So it is taking a toll, but I consider this to be sort of an investment in that you have to invest money in order to make money and so I’m continuing to spend more money than ever. Professionally, I’ve obtained a substantial recovery in another legal case which makes me able to do that. We’re establishing a base which I believe will allow us to access and procure funds in various ways that will ultimately be completely sustainable and will include, among other things, carbon finance. But we can’t go on forever with my financing at the level I currently am.

We are getting substantial outside support - from UN agencies including UNDP, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UNHCR to an extent, World Food Programme and also from private foundations. We also have some limited money from corporate donors and individuals and hopefully that will grow as well. For example Coca Cola has expressed interest in our water programme in Northern Uganda, which is our other major intervention besides energy.

Which countries do you operate in?

The impetus for doing sustainable fuel came from a mission to Darfur. We started there but it became difficult to gain access there for a new NGO such as us, which did not have a track record of doing work. So we partnered with an organisation that was there called Relief International. In the meantime, while I was trying to figure out how we were going to get into Darfur, I decided to launch a programme in Northern Uganda based on the influence of an individual from Uganda who I met in Darfur, who was doing a small scale stove project there.

The main base of our operations, or the largest program I should say, since 2006, is the Northern Uganda program which includes a clean water initiative; a commercial stove initiative; a rural stove initiative that began as an initiative in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP camps); and institutional stove initiatives for schools, hospitals and other major institutions.

We then went to Kenya where we’ve been working in the largest refugee concentration in the world, the camps on the Somali border. We’ve been working there since 2008. We have also done projects in Tanzania on the Burundese and Congolese borders, though we don’t currently operate there.

We also have a very substantial project, our second largest project, in Haiti. There we have a sustainable fuel technology project which at first began as an initiative to help those displaced by the earthquake. It has now evolved into a commercialisation project for household stoves and a second project to provide institutional stoves in schools.

It sounds like you’ve grown a lot since you started…

Yes, and not just geographically, but also in terms of the scale of our interventions in the areas that we do work in. In fact, I’m more inclined to grow the existing initiatives than to spread out to too many countries; though it would be nice to be able to do that. Obviously we need to be careful how we direct our operations if we do so.

Could you tell us about the size of your operations?

Our budget is now closing in on US$150K a month. By the way, up until 2009 we had nobody in our DC headquarters; it was just me and my partner Deborah Terry who does the creative work. Eventually, as our programmes grew, that was not sustainable. My initial idea was that I wanted every dollar to go out to the field.

I am unpaid by the way, and so is Deborah. We have about half a dozen additional full- and part-time staff members in our headquarters. Overseas, we have about eight or nine expatriate staff. We also have about 100 local staff including casual workers.

What is the role of the environment and natural resources in your operations?

Our fuel programme - fuel efficient stoves and to a certain extent briquetting- is an environmentally focused program. In fact when I became initially involved in this, especially in Darfur for stove programmes, gender security for women who are exposed to rape and other forms of violence was the main impetus for the international community. Of course, that was an issue for us as well, but to me the motivating force was the incredible devastation of the environment that I saw when I first came to Darfur. We had driven from one remote camp to another and during the course of doing that, we would go through an area that was completely semi-desert. Then, after 10 miles of driving, we would come to an area that was like an oasis: beautiful, lush and green. My interpreter, who was a school teacher in his late fifties, said when he was a kid, the whole area used to look like that. I then came to know about the role of use of wood for cooking and how that has contributed to deforestation.

Obviously, if we’re going to make a dent in deforestation, we can’t talk about thousands or tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of stoves. We have to talk about tens of millions or hundreds of millions (emphasised)! As I became very focused on the commercialisation ideas, we would need a product that is as in demand as the cell-phone. Strangely enough the cell-phone has made its way into even remote African villages where people live on one or two dollars a day. If people can buy a cell-phone, which is very difficult for them to afford, they ought to be able to buy stoves and if we can get the price down and get the right product in, we will hopefully have a revolutionary type impact in the way that people cook.

What are the energy challenges that the communities you work with have to face and how are they worsened by the impacts of deforestation and climate change?

The main issue is getting fuel for cooking. We’re talking about people living in remote environments and the only thing people use a lot of energy for is cooking. The problem is particularly worse in an environment like Darfur where you have a large number of people concentrated into a confined area. Pretty soon, what forests or trees are in that area are gone and people have to walk several miles just to get wood, and that creates a huge security problem; a livelihood problem; a food security problem because they risk rape and other forms of violence going out and collecting food, and sometimes families will sell their food ration. Those are the kinds of issues that people face and then to a lesser extent, these problems will also exist in non-refugee environment, but in a refugee setting it’s extremely dire.

For people who are cooking with charcoal, the big issue they face from a day-to-day perspective is getting the money to buy charcoal. In Port-au-Prince, Haiti for example, the average family will spend about 40% of its income on charcoal; these are families living on only a couple of dollars a day. If we can reduce the use of charcoal by say 50% we can immediately increase incomes by 20%. In Uganda, those numbers translate to more like a 10% increase in income but that’s huge if you can do that at the very lowest income rungs of society. If you can increase incomes by that amount, you’re improving livelihoods significantly at the very core.

Cooking on an open fire means breathing in the toxic smoke with particulate matter that is released during cooking. Another major benefit of these efficient insulated ceramic stoves is that they substantially reduce the noxious fumes that people breathe in that lead to respiratory diseases and mortality associated with such diseases throughout the developing world.

How do your fuel-efficient stoves help build resilience to the changing climate effects?

I can pretty much quantify that for you because we had applied for carbon financing in Uganda and we are in the final stages of it now, awaiting the decision from the UN executive board for approval of our application. The verifiers/auditors had a look at our stoves and found that each charcoal stove reduces CO2 emissions by 3.6 tonnes. Our goal is to increase from our current production of 15,000 stoves a year to 50,000. If you do the math, 50,000 times 3.6 tonnes is 180,000 tonnes.

One of the unique features of our stoves is that they’re all manufactured locally with local parts and labour, so they can be easily repaired through our local repair system. Our stoves are extremely durable, both in their make up and ability to be repaired, having a lifespan of at least 3 years. So they get savings year after year on carbon impact. Each charcoal-burning stove also saves about 20 trees a year. For the wood-burning stoves, the savings are about 1 tonne of carbon saved per cookstove and about 5 medium sized trees saved.

How are your fuel-efficient stoves and other products developed and distributed to communities?

There are many challenges here, but you’ve put your finger on what is perhaps the most difficult of them. We focus on two distribution methods with respect to our commercialisation programme. We establish vendor networks, predominately female vendors, strategically located in various neighbourhoods and we support that network through a concerted marketing campaign. That is one mechanism.

To reach further and wider, we also have to tap into existing distribution networks with other organisations, particularly organisations that market and distribute environmentally based products and various other networks that might be interested in large orders of stoves within their own distribution systems.

We work with other independent organisations that buy large orders of stoves and take on the responsibility of distribution. We also have one or two locations from which we do direct sales, but generally that is not something we do.

We try and involve those in refugee camps in the production so they have some ownership in their stoves through training and so forth. For the most part, we can’t sell stoves in a camp, as the residents are not in a circumstance to buy them and are used to receiving them for free. It is very hard to sell wood burning stoves, particularly if people aren’t buying wood they wouldn’t spend the US$8 or US$10 it takes to buy stoves.

The main markets are for charcoal, which are urban and semi-urban towns in the areas we operate. These areas include, in Uganda mainly the North but the stoves we manufacture in the North are also sold in the Eastern part of the country. We have recently established a production facility in Kampala so we’re going to be targeting the low-income neighbourhoods there. In Haiti, we’re concentrating on Port-au-Prince and the surrounding sub-urban areas.


Figure 1: "Bosses" which is what the production team members are called in Haiti, building Lifeline's fuel saving "Recho Plop Plop" stoves (Source: Deborah Terry)

Are stoves sold at a commercial rate or subsidised rate to these markets or a mixture of both?

Taking into account the inputs in terms of direct labour and materials and add on to that advertising costs and operational expenses, overhead and so forth, we couldn’t possibly sell stoves at a price that would cover those costs. So we do subsidise the stoves and take a loss on each one but that loss will be more than offset by carbon finance if we’re successful in obtaining it. For example, in Uganda we’re able to make stoves very cheap; excluding the overhead and advertising, direct inputs into each small stove per unit is about US$6.50 - 7. We can sell them to the vendors for that price and they sell them to the consumers for maybe US$8. In Haiti, its more challenging as you can’t really make stoves for less than US$10, so even direct costs are not counterbalanced by the price.

How do these stoves get to those in refugee camps?

Here, it is a different model. What we try and do in these situations, in Uganda and Darfur for instance, is establish a training system and bring the refugees to our training centre. They make their own clay stoves. In the Dadaab camps in Kenya, we have local staff making the stoves but individual beneficiaries don’t do that – they’re taught how to use and maintain them properly – as it’s not realistic for them to make their own given the kind of costs, materials and labour involved.

So the stoves are made with the assistance of Lifeline, but the actual producers are the refugees that we engage with who are compensated as incentive workers.

Tell me about the repair services offered after purchase of stoves.

We have a repair system whereby every person who purchases a stove has a right over the course of any single year up to three years after purchase, to bring the stove in for repair and this can include a complete overhaul. In refugee camps, it’s up to the beneficiary to make repairs. We’ll visit and monitor them and tell them what needs to be done. We’ll teach them how to do repairs but they’re responsible for doing their own.

It sounds like an interesting manufacturing process where the customer is involved in the product development.

Yes, to make the system sustainable, its important to get the beneficiaries as involved as circumstances permit.

Out of your charcoal and wood burning fuel efficient stoves, which would you say is your main product?

The commercial stoves are principally ones that use charcoal and in refugee settings they are primarily woodstoves, although in Haiti we did provide charcoal stoves in some instances.

What’s the reason for this difference?

Refugees in camps where we have operated generally cook with wood because charcoal is extremely expensive. Also from an environmental perspective, I would prefer the use of wood to charcoal. If we’re going to be actually selling stoves, the markets that are available are people who are purchasing charcoal, so we concentrate on charcoal stoves for commercial markets.

Could you explain why you prefer to sell wood-burning stoves compared to charcoal?

It’s because the amount of wood needed to create charcoal is a lot. For every four parts wood, you get essentially one part charcoal. So a lot of damage is done just in the process of making charcoal. Therefore, I would rather they used wood but the reality is, if someone lives in an urban area, they’re going to cook with charcoal.

In places where wood is scarce, such as heavily deforested areas or often refugee camps, what options do communities have?

Even in areas where wood is extremely scarce, they usually find a way to get it. If there are absolutely no options, it’s quite hard to say. There have been some interventions with solar technologies which have had mixed success and there are some with kerosene but that’s very expensive. It would be great if there were some type of intervention where we could have a gasifying stove that uses burnable agricultural waste as a fuel source. Usually, that’s not easily accessible. It’s very tricky, but mainly people find a way to use some type of wood. But I’ve also seen situations where people cook with certain types of grass or cornhusk if its available, and actually the stoves that we provide are suitable for that. Frequently though, alternative sources of fuel are not available.

The mission statement on your website states that “the Lifeline’s FES programme uses the most cost effective technologies and self-sustaining interventions”. How do you support this?

At the price point that we manufacture and distribute our stoves, which is very low, and the costs that we have incurred to produce them, we create a product that has a combination of advantages that, in my mind, can’t be matched in the market. And believe me, that wasn’t our goal! Our goal initially was not to go in there as stove manufacturers – I’d rather not do that. But the bottom line is that the right products at the right price do not exist for the most part in the areas that we’ve been doing business.

In terms of sustainability, at an individual level these kinds of products are sustainable because users becomes persuaded to change the way they cook, and that change in habit is generally permanent – they don’t go back to an old cooking method so long as the product is there and is available. We’re striving for sustainability for the organisation itself by creating a model that is financially viable. We haven’t reached that point yet, but we hope to.

We also know what else is out there on the market. With clean water for instance, another one of our interventions, we do everything in-house and we produce bore holes for half to a third the cost of what is generally required to pay for them out there. We know that because we know what the price is for producing boreholes. Likewise for stoves, we know what’s out there that is being sold for possibly less money than the ones that we have, but we’re familiar with the designs that are there. So far as our observations and experience in the market is concerned, we know of no other stoves that offer the combination of benefits that we’re able to provide; if we did find any such stoves that offered a better array of benefits, then we would get involved in distributing those stoves.

I should also mention it’s not a one size fits all situation either. Different families may have different needs for different kinds of stoves. There’s also obviously a market among people who are willing to pay more. It’s like buying a car – people could afford a Volkswagen, Ferrari, Mercedes, Toyota or whatever. Similarly with stoves, there are many kinds of stoves and many different markets for them. Once you get to the US$40-60 price point, people should be cooking with LPG or electric stoves or something else. We conduct our market research to find this out and aim to do so for each of the regions we go into.

Would you like to explain a little about carbon finance to some of our audience who might not be familiar with it?

Sure. Essentially, there’s an international market for carbon credits. There’s both a voluntary market and a compulsory market that’s managed by the UN’s Development Programme. It’s called the Clean Development Mechanism and its part of the Kyoto Protocol. Companies and businesses have certain quotas that they have to meet on emission levels and if they go over the quotas they have, they pay essentially a carbon tax. There are two ways of dealing with that - one is to spend what may be substantial sums in their home country to reduce their emissions, and the other way to do it is to buy credits that they can use to offset the tax. The voluntary market allows companies to voluntarily, unrelated to tax incentives, do this out of their good will - if I understand that correctly.

At any rate, our stoves have gone through rigorous testing and we can quantify the level of carbon emissions as I’ve done for you already, and so those credits can be purchased on the international market. The market varies substantially. Right now, I believe the price of credits is more or less three Euros a tonne on an annual basis. Obviously if you can get three and a half tonnes, that’s ten Euros, and could be as low as eight actually, and so that’s a substantial income for each stove. The trick is that all this has to be verified and you cannot get those reductions unless you can verify that the stoves have actually been sold and are being used. Every year, a validator comes by and spots check the stoves and you have to be able to trace them. Putting in a reliable tracing system is no easy task and you only get credits in proportion to the percentage of stoves that are traceable.

So small organisations in developing countries might currently not have access to this facility?

You really have to have a substantial level of sophistication and resources to put this into place. This is no easy task for someone from a developed country because you have to consider that you don’t have concrete addresses and a lot of people don’t have cell phones, and so being able to find people in relatively remote or difficult to find areas is not at all easy. We’re putting in incentive systems and so forth. You have to maintain a fairly sophisticated database and get people to provide the information and get vendors to record it and send it to you in an accurate form. Absent an NGO like ours that’s willing to make the investment, or a sophisticated private company willing to make that investment and that has the technical capacity, it’s not going to happen. So yes, it’s a challenge.

Do you have any recommendations for such organisations? How might they be able to gain investments or financial sustainability through carbon finance, if at all they can?

On a very small scale, it’s just not doable or workable unless you’re producing thousands of stoves on a monthly basis or have the capacity to do that. If you don’t have that capacity and you are a local company, you can partner perhaps with organisations like our carbon facilitator in Uganda, Uganda Carbon Bureau that is trying to make the system as accessible as possible to as many participants as possible. But it’s not easy.

The other thing you could do is partner with an organisation like ours; we’re not looking to profit from this venture. Our goal ultimately is to spin all of this off to local businesses. We can combine with local organisations and try and help them get that capacity and ultimately frankly, transfer our own operations to a local enterprise. That’s what comes to mind.

How will carbon finance help your organisation specifically?

To me, if we can be successful and it’s a big ‘If’, in tracking it’s kind of the holy grail or game changer in that it allows us to price the stove at a level that is affordable for the end user and at the same time, enable both vendors and manufacturers to profit. So if we can create a profitable industry around stoves, then we can replicate that in other areas and have a sustainable model for growth that can ultimately result in widespread dissemination of fuel efficient stoves across Africa.

If you don’t have carbon finance, at least in the short to medium term, these kinds of projects are not sustainable and ultimately will not be sustained on a large scale because it’s impossible - in my mind - to create a stove that is affordable enough to the people you’re trying to serve. You will have some industry and do some level of sales, but it’ll be very difficult and take much longer if you ever want to achieve the type of market penetration that we’re looking to achieve. And we don’t have a lot of time because the forest is depleting rapidly and if we want to have impact, we really have to have that impact rapidly in the next ten or fifteen years!

What stage are you at in gaining this?

In Uganda, our programme is literally on the threshold of obtaining this. The final validation report has been issued and sent to the executive board that makes final approval decisions with regards to carbon finance applications. So it literally could be any day now. We should have a decision certainly by the end of the year, but the process has taken so long I don’t want to say that categorically because it seems to always take longer than I’ve been informed that it should. But I feel reasonably confident that since we are at the final stage, we should have a decision by the end of the year.

Are your energy products branded or marketed?

It’s something that we’re in the process of doing. In Uganda, the beneficiary population came up with a name for our stove by themselves. They call it the ‘Ukelo Kuc’, which means ‘Bringer of Peace’ in Luo. We may have to change the name for other parts of Uganda, but that is what it is called in the North. It has become a very widely known name; in fact, people use Ukelo Kuc as a synonym for fuel efficient stoves. If you ask someone, ‘do you have Okelo Kuc’, they may show you a different stove model and if you would say ‘that’s not the Okelo Kuc’, they would insist that it was.

It’s great to have a name like Kleanex or Xerox that is associated with your product. But you also have to do even greater branding and advertising efforts so that people can understand that there is a one and only original ‘Okelo Kuc’ and we’ve engaged in that process. We’ve also registered the name and trademarked it in Uganda.

Is there any particular reason that they came up with that name ‘Bringer of Peace’?

Yes, it’s because the beneficiaries felt that the stove brings peace to the home. For example, it retains heat so that if a woman is cooking and completing dinner for the family at 6 o’clock, and the husband comes home at 8 or 830, he doesn’t want a cold meal. He can continue to have a warm meal. I think that’s one of the factors, but basically they thought it brought peace and serenity to the home. Not something I would have thought of originally but that’s what they named it and we think its endearing!


Figure 2: Young woman holding Lifeline fuel saving Okelo Kuc stove in Uganda (Souce: Deborah Terry)

How did you come up with the designs for your stoves?

In Uganda, the stove is essentially a Rocket stove – various designs of the Rocket stove have been around for thirty years or something. We’re not scientists or engineers but we’ve got a lot of tinkerers in our organisation. We do have one engineer, but that’s rather recent. We just have practical people. We take the basic design and we adapt it to local needs. So that means using the same concept for how to create efficiency, essentially an insulated combustion chamber and excellent heat transfer from the fire to the pot. So those are the two major components of any FES.

What we’ve done is we have adapted the stove to local needs. That means first and foremost figuring out a way to produce it that can get the price down. It means getting something that is highly durable, the parts of which are easily replaceable so people don’t have to go out and buy entirely new stoves. Those are things that make the stove more attractive. It’s working with the local population in what size pots they cook with; making a stove that accommodates multiple pot sizes; making sure that the height of the stove is conducive to local habits - all of those kinds of things. So we try and adapt it to what people are going to like and we do that in every country we’re in.

Could you explain these conditions?

Firstly, they concern local cooking needs and habits. Secondly they concern what resources are available. We found that it’s extremely difficult to bring imported models and to get them at a price point where they are affordable to people. Also, all things being equal, we would prefer to increase local capacity and have a local industry around these stoves. So obviously we have to adapt to what resources are available in the particular country or regions we’re working in. That can vary substantially. So for example, in Uganda the combustion chambers for our stoves are made out of ceramics. In Haiti we produce a metal stove that originally was lined with rock wool but now we use air as the insulator.

Besides wood and charcoal stoves, does Lifeline manufacture/distribute other energy products?

Yes, in Haiti we work with the organisation Prakti Design, an India-based company that manufactures stoves. As part of a programme with WFP, in the schools that they sponsor, we distribute a Prakti-made institutional stove that is fired with paper waste briquettes.

The paper is collected from the streets and from businesses. Basically what you do is take the paper waste, combine it with sawdust etc. and compress it to come up with a briquette that burns well in stoves. This gives us 100% savings.

What advantages do paper waste briquettes present?

Oh, many. First, you have a 100% saving on wood or charcoal. Secondly, it is less costly. Thirdly, for the cook, it is a much safer and more comfortable way of cooking. If you go into any of these kitchens where they are cooking with charcoal, the smoke is pretty oppressive.

What is your opinion on the use of clean and inexpensive fuels such as LPG?

LPG is certainly the most popular alternative. Of course, I am all for LPG. It is cleaner than wood and we need to get to a point where wood or charcoal is not used at all. The practical reality is that the infrastructure and sophistication does not exist quite yet in the markets that we’re serving for LPG to be an option over the short to medium term. Ultimately, that may be the direction that these countries move to and if they can get there, that’s great, but it’s going to take a while.

Is Lifeline competing with other organisations in those countries you work?

In a sense – yes – to the extent that we are manufacturing and selling fuel efficient stoves and there are other fuel efficient stove producers in those countries, so there’s a certain level of competition. But the markets are more than sufficient to absorb all of the supply that can be created at this particular point in time. To the extent that competition develops and we are nothing more than one more player in that market and we don’t add any value, we are happy to leave that market and work somewhere else. Our goal is not to be the Coca Cola of the stove industry.

Our goal is to help create, nurture and grow these markets so that local players, or even if necessary foreign players, can come in and make and sell stove products that are ideally better and more affordable than the ones we’ve been able to come up with. But the problem is that the market isn’t readily available for them and that’s what we’re trying to do, which is stimulate those markets and create an environment in which competitors want to come in. So I don’t view that as a negative or threat to what we’re trying to do. And also, our goal is to get out. So if we can make it work, we’ll pass off the business to appropriate local players, if we can find them, who can then take over responsibility for the manufacture and distribution.

Are the governments of the countries you work focused on the energy challenges that communities are facing?

They are aware of the energy challenges. If you look at Uganda’s national energy policy for instance, they have a goal of widespread fuel efficient stove coverage by 2017 - they won’t reach that goal though. Haiti as well, has placed priority on combating deforestation and use of wood and charcoal for cooking. So they’re quite aware and they do have a policy or objective to address the issue. Whether they have taken the steps that could help facilitate reaching those goals is another issue.

Do you think there is a way for them to help?

Yes, one thing they could definitely do is that where materials are needed to be imported into the country, metal for instance, they could facilitate that by eliminating duties on those metals - they could facilitate or provide a mechanism for expediting getting those items through customs. The tax issue is also important. Exempting stoves from VAT taxes, although we haven’t quite grown to needing that yet, would be something else. They could also help with a national campaign regarding environmental consciousness and awareness and integrate courses into school curriculums, something we try to do ourselves with our Haiti programme.

Could you elaborate on what it is you do with regards to school education as a means of raising awareness?

We have worked with schools to establish environmental/conservation clubs and then as part of our marketing campaign we are promoting the benefits of fuel efficient stoves and explaining the hazards of inefficient fuel use on the environment. So we are trying to spread that message as far and wide as we can.

Where have you been able to establish this?

In Haiti and Uganda mainly, but since we work in refugee camps with IDPs, we do spread that message wherever we’re disseminating our energy products. So that would also include Sudan, Tanzania and Kenya.

Is there a role for the private sector to help with granting access to energy for the poor?

Oh absolutely! If the private sector were willing to take the risks and make the long term investments that are required, and to spend the time and energy necessary in these countries to help grow these energy markets and to tap into the already present demand, then Lifeline wouldn’t really be needed. Ultimately, I think the reason we’re needed is because the market is too risky, too uncertain, too long term a proposition and also too foreign really to most manufacturers. This is a very bizarre market, one which is targeted at people making one to five dollars a day. Other than maybe jerry cans, it’s hard to think of any products that are distinctive to that market. We’re trying to do something rather unique in that sense.

Would you say they have to take that risk, even if they don’t really have any incentive to enter those markets?

It is ironic that it’s the NGOs that have taken that risk, as opposed to private enterprises, but this is all I guess a new approach to make development work. We’re certainly willing to take that risk and accept failure – we don’t want to accept failure, but we are willing to risk it as that is definitely a possibility. So we try to do everything we can to succeed.

Is that an advice you would provide to other NGOs as well?

Absolutely! I think that the kind of challenges that the world is facing, particularly with regards to energy but also water. I don’t think that incremental interventions are sufficient to meet the challenges being faced. The only way we’re going to be able to do that is with technology and with adopting approaches that haven’t been used in the past and can be as ground breaking as the developments that we see in the more industrialised world. The challenges of access to clean water and energy and environmental degradation are so enormous, I don’t see any way of meeting those challenges apart from adapting technologies to fight them. That’s going to require being adaptable, creative and innovative and taking risks. The benefits if you win are huge and so it’s worth taking the loss. Of course not every NGO is going to want to do that because how are they going to get financing and there isn’t much of a sense of venture capital in the NGO world which is understandable. Fortunately, my organisation has had the luxury, because of the resources that I’ve been able to bring to bear, to risk capital. Whether we’ll be successful or not remains to be seen.

Is there a message you would like to give energy practitioners out there?

The main message is that there’s a really huge difference between the laboratory and the field. It’s extremely important to pay attention to what is ultimately, after all, going to be your customer base. So if you’re going to create a product, you may think that it’s what they need and it meets all of their particular desires and that it’s workable. But you don’t really know until you’ve actually gone out there and spoken to the people that you’re trying to benefit and give them every opportunity to have as much input into the product as possible. Ultimately, it’s something that they’re going to have to be satisfied with. You’re not going to be able to tell them what to do – you’ve got to listen to them. If we’re going to be able to really make the kind of headway that we need to make and to conquer these development challenges, we have to be willing to be creative and to take risk and stomach failure. It’s going to take quasi-revolutionary type interventions to really win this battle.

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Last edited by Mohamed Allapitchai .
Page last modified on Tuesday 05 of February, 2013 10:20:46 GMT. @HEDON: GNXB

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