A solution above the clouds of harmful smoke in Sub-Saharan Africa

The problem

Camping with friends is always a fun activity, but building the bonfire is sometimes challenging. The smoke can get in your eyes, wooden splinters can piece your hands, coughs and minor burns can keep you up past midnight.

For many people who don't have access to adequate cooking stoves or heaters, this is their daily life. According to a study by National Geographic, 3 billion people around the world cook over open fires, and the consequences can be deadly. We’re talking about nearly half of the world’s population. Cooking over open fires causes over 4 million deaths every year.

The solution

BioLite is a social enterprise that stepped in and found a solution. Founded in New York in 2009, the company designed and manufactured a home stove that reduces smoke by 90%, produces electricity and cuts fuel consumption in half.

BioLite sells clean energy equipment to 2 different markets; the first is hikers, campers and climbers, and the second is the emerging market in developing countries, where many people don’t have access to electricity or clean cooking.

 

Matthew Goldberg is the manager of fundraising and humanitarian aid at BioLite, and he has been working with the company for around 3 years. His background is in climate change and clean energy advocacy.

It’s not common to see a for-profit company fundraising for capital, and such companies legally can’t accept donations. Since Biolite is a small growing business, it’s hard to obtain low-interest loans from traditional banks. That’s why Kiva was an ideal solution for Biolite. “BioLite can’t take any donations, so obtaining the 2 loans with 0% interest through the Direct to Social Enterprise (DSE) program allowed us to fund our inventory purchases and our expansion.” Matthew explained.

What is Kiva’s DSE program?

Many social enterprises like BioLite are too big for microfinance institutions and too small for banks. To serve these “missing middle” borrowers, Kiva has developed the Kiva Social Enterprises program (DSE).

Imagine a 13-year-old boy named Sam. Sam recently finished 6th grade and graduated from elementary school. Sam can’t go immediately to high school as he’s still young. His next step is junior high school. That’s what DSE is, a junior high school for growing social impact business enterprises.

The program currently aims to finance short-term working capital loans to social enterprises. For first-time borrowers, Kiva is willing to finance loans from $10,000 to $100,000 with a maximum term of 12 months.

Over the past 3 years, DSE has made over 100 loans totaling $5.1 million to more than 80 social enterprises, creating almost 7,000 jobs.

Money well spent

It’s hard for small businesses to maintain the capital to cover their inventory costs. Biolite needed the capital to pay up-front for its inventory. In 2017, BioLite got its first Kiva loan for $50,000.

In 2019, BioLite obtained a second Kiva loan for $100,000. At this point, with the increase in sales volume, BioLite needed to expand its partnership and distribution network.

BioLite relies on distributors to sell its products in the emerging market. These distributors don’t have the capital to pay for products in advance. This means they have to pay BioLite back after they have sold the products.

 

The impact

In 2014, BioLite opened an office in Nairobi, Kenya. It focuses on finding distributors to sell the product in different areas of the sub-Saharan region.

The company started selling 2 primary products in the emerging market of Uganda and India in 2014, then expanded its market to reach Somalia, Madagascar, Liberia, Malawi, Tanzania and other countries. To date, it has sold more than 30,000 home stoves and more than 120,000 solar home systems.

According to BioLite, the company’s products reached more than 660,000 people in the emerging market, generated more than 640,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity - enough for 320,000 dishwasher loads - and offset more than 250,000 tons of CO2 - which is equivalent to 53,000 passenger vehicles driven for 1 year.

 

“We don’t have to run out of light anymore,” said Jane.


Matthew shared a story of one of BioLite’s end-users. Jane is a professional runner living in California, and her family lives in Kenya. Her family couldn’t access an electricity source for the house, and they couldn’t charge their phones. Biolite helped Jane to install a solar power source for her family’s house in Kenya. Now Jane can contact her family, thanks to the electricity provided by BioLite.

Kiva’s community

Efforts of Kiva lenders to crowdsource funding for Biolite exceeded the company’s expectations. “Kiva is such an amazing community. We funded the $100,000 loan in 2 days; it was insane! To have that much engagement in your community is wild!” Matthew beamed.

Every fire starts with a spark. Fuel the fire and lend to social enterprise companies like BioLite so they can help people like Jane. By clicking here, you can support companies and organizations starting businesses and expanding their markets.
 


About the author

Hassan Hijazi

Hassan is an Atlas Corps fellow from Jordan serving at Kiva as Impact and Storytelling fellow. He earned his bachelor's degree in Journalism and Media at University of Petra in Jordan. He worked for different non-profit organizations in Jordan for more than 7 years, 5 of which being in emergency response. His experience is in media, communications and advocacy.