EcoZoom East Africa (EcoZoom), a new addition to MCE’s Small and Growing Business (SGB) portfolio, is a for-profit social enterprise and certified B Corporation founded in 2013 in Kenya, with the goal of supplying healthy, efficient, ecofriendly products to base-of-the-pyramid consumers. EcoZoom designs and manufactures two main product lines — solar powered lamps and portable, clean-burning cookstoves. As EcoZoom’s goal is to serve the base of the pyramid, the company strives to maintain low operating costs in order to provide affordable, high-value energy solutions that benefit both consumers and the environment. Consequently, the company’s products are cheaper and more efficient than the competition in terms of fuel consumption (for cookstoves) and number of hours per charge (for solar lamps).
EcoZoom designs its products, works with manufacturing partners for production and partners with four types of intermediaries to reach base-of-the-pyramid consumers across East Africa. These intermediaries include:
- Commercial enterprises (such as microfinance institutions), savings and credit cooperative organizations (SACCOs), financial services associations (FSAs), and banks that facilitate the upfront purchase or financing of solar lamps and cookstoves for profit;
- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that subsidize products for low-income customers;
- Employers, who purchase the product in bulk and sell to employees through payroll deductions;
- Relief and humanitarian organizations, who utilize EcoZoom’s products to improve health and safety, particularly in refugee camps.
EcoZoom works closely with each intermediary to maximize sales, ensuring customers are having a positive experience with their products, and collaborating on marketing and training in local communities.
The social impact of EcoZoom’s clean-burning cookstoves and solar-powered lamps is evident across a number of dimensions:
- Lower energy cost benefits — Naturally, the use of more energy-efficient products decreases energy costs for base-of-the-pyramid families, allowing them to save up extra cash for more productive activities, such as childhood education.
- Health benefits — Over 80% of households in Sub-Saharan Africa use wood, charcoal, or animal waste to fuel their cooking systems. When burned, these items release carbon dioxide, methane, and other climate-changing gases into the home, creating household air pollution (HAP). Ongoing exposure to HAP can lead to respiratory infections such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which are especially dangerous in base-of-the-pyramid communities where it is often difficult to receive adequate medical treatment. In Kenya alone, respiratory infections from HAP are responsible for approximately 20,000 deaths a year. An EcoZoom cookstove produces 60% less smoke than traditional, non-efficient cooking systems, significantly reducing exposure to HAP. This is particularly beneficial for women, who are most often responsible for cooking.
- Time-saving benefits and reduced gender-based violence — Base-of-the-pyramid families can spend up to 20 hours a week collecting wood and charcoal to serve their household energy needs. In addition, when women and girls are sent to fetch resources like firewood in remote areas, they are more exposed to gender-based violence. EcoZoom’s products require 70% less fuel than traditional energy systems, thus reducing the amount of time spent gathering resources and the risk of gender-based violence. This also frees up time to pursue other more productive activities, such as academic or professional endeavors.
- Environmental benefits — EcoZoom’s cookstoves and solar-powered lamps help reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. Widespread use of these types of products has the potential to reduce the negative effects of climate change, especially in low-income and rural areas of developing countries.
In January 2018, MCE made a 24-month working capital loan of $180,000 to EcoZoom. This year, EcoZoom intends to increase sales in Kenya, further expand its distribution in Tanzania, and enter Uganda. As the company grows, it will require working capital debt financing to finance the manufacturing, transportation, and importation of its products. Our loan will finance these processes in the second quarter of 2018, supporting the expansion of the company’s operations and impact.
All photos courtesy of EcoZoom.