Solving one of Africa’s most deadly problems


Yusuf Tura came to Seattle as a lone refugee from Ethiopia at age 16 to escape war and conflict in the country at the time.

Today, the Seattle cab driver’s life has been transformed by a decision he made after returning home in 2007. When he got to his home town, he was shocked. All the trees had been killed off and stripped away by pollution from stoves that burn wood and dung. The dirty fuels fill the area with smoke and coat leaves, killing the trees.

“It makes me so sick – I can’t even tell you – it makes me so sick,” Tura said in an interview this week.

In addition to deforestation, pollution from open cook stoves is responsible for killing more than 4 million people per year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

When he returned to Seattle, Tura launched operations for ObamaStoves with no investor help. The company has now sold about 255,000 clean stoves in Ethiopia for $10 a pop, all while making a profit.

No one has ever been able to get a program like this off the ground without investor help, said Luni Libes, the founder of Seattle-based social entrepreneur startup accelerator Fledge.

“There’s nothing like it,” Libes said. “The industry of (clean) cook stoves has been tried and tried and tried for years by nonprofits and government, and nobody’s ever done that.”

Libes accepted Tura into the Fledge program despite his application only being half done based on his rare success story. Tura participated in Fledge’s 10-week mentoring and education program in 2014. Fledge also invested $17,000 in the company in 2014 and Libes himself donated enough to get the company a delivery truck in Ethiopia.

Fledge itself has two other cookstoves companies in its portfolio – Burn Manufacturing and Kike Green Cook – which are also rare examples of profitability but got there with some funding help.

Tura is now in the process of raising funding via Indiegogo to help bring the stoves to more people in Ethiopia.

The company’s name was originally different, but customers in Ethiopia insisted on calling it ObamaStoves since it launched as Barack Obama was in the midst of his presidential campaign. The presidential candidate was drawing scores of attention for expectations of the outreach he would do in Africa.

In addition to safety issues, the WHO has identified providing cleaner and more efficient stove and fuel alternatives to about 2.8 billion households worldwide that depend upon wood and other solid fuels for cooking. The move could be one of the most effective ways to mitigate short-lived climate pollutants.

Posted on The Puget Sound Business Journal

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