Fledge has been importing African entrepreneurs to Seattle for the last two years. This week we finally got to visit a few in their home country, as part of an impact investing trip with Investors Circle.
Unsurprisingly, there is no substitute to seeing their businesses first-hand vs. seeing pictures and movies while sitting in downtown Seattle at the Impact Hub. No amount of pictures can replace physically walking through the Kibera slum, to see the kiosks where GreenChar sells its charcoal briquettes.
The poverty in this neighborhood is unimaginable. The smells at time overwhelming. The ground strewn with trash. Pictures and movies don’t do it justice.
Standing in that slum, I finally understood why there is so much philanthropy and so many NGOs here in Africa. It is so easy to get caught up in the needs, and turn to the simple solution of giving away products and services. A solution that doesn’t scale.
From Kibera we then went to visit Tom’s old High School, where he and three classmates first dreamed up GreenChar. A boarding school of 1,500, serving over 4,500 meals per day, cooking all that food in giant kettles primarily powered by firewood, testing out GreenChar’s industrial product, Long Burn.
Kenya has a major deforestation problem, and thus we learned that the school had to plant its own forest to reliably source their cooking fuel. They’d prefer to switch completely over to Long Burn, which is made from sugarcane waste, but at the moment GreenChar doesn’t have enough equipment to meet the needs of this one school.
The economics are not unreachable. $13,000 for another extruder, to earn a few shillings of profit per kg, with this one school needing 10 tons per month. Plus another 10 schools interested in the product, and thus sufficient demand for yet more extruders.