Making a difference by producing charcoal briquettes

The SE4ALL Forum  in New York City this week has been full of inspiring and enlightening conversation. From motivating speeches to policy discussions, those gathered have been focused on developing methods for delivering more sustainable energy to a greater number of people around the world. Among those gathered who are already hard at work on this issue is Josephine Ngumbe, an energy entrepreneur from Kenya. Josephine is participating in the forum and helping to bring a voice to the stakeholders on the ground.

Josephine is one of the women entrepreneurs who receive business development training and support through ENERGIA’s partner Practical Action Eastern Africa in Kenya. She lives in Kikuyu, a town approximately 30 km from Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, where families spend around one third of their income on energy (cooking fuel, electricity).

Photo of Josephine’s factory. Source: Practical Action

Josephine is a journalist. During the energy crisis in 2009, she was working as a business reporter and found that all of the energy stories she covered were negative – the energy sources were either erratic or harmful to the population. She told us, “that’s when I started to think: ‘what if someone comes and produces alternative cooking and heating energy for use in the urban areas and cities?’”

Josephine decided to become a positive part of the energy market and the energy conversation. She started a business where she makes charcoal briquettes from municipal waste. When Josephine first started, she was making 250 kilograms per week. Now with the help of Practical Action, Josephine can make up to 2 tons of briquettes per day.

 “With my briquettes, a 2 kilogram package, cook meals for 2-3 days. The women can save money and save energy and use the money for other things. The energy I’m providing is clean energy. The family is healthier.”

ENERGIA believes that women can play a crucial role in scaling up energy access globally, engaging with other women and energy managers.  Encouraging women as energy entrepreneurs offers multiple development benefits, such as expansion of economic activities for women, diversification of productive options, creation of new sources of wealth and income to support family investments in education and health.

 “I grew up in the village. So, I know what it takes to go to the woods to get firewood, to carry it on your back, how much time it takes. There is gender violence in the bushes. There is time wasted. Children don’t have an afternoon to study. So it means so much. And when a woman knocks on my door at night and she tells me, ‘I do not have energy, sell to me your briquettes.’ Which are now cleaner and more affordable and now she can cook very fast and now she will have a meal. That is my job, it makes me so happy.”
SE4ALL Forum - ENERGIA 2015
Josephine at the SE4All Forum in New York. Source: Practical Action

Josephine now has five permanent employees in her briquette factory. Her story has been highlighted throughout the SE4ALL forum. She spoke on the panel which ENERGIA hosted on Developing and Investing Gender-Informed Business Models on Monday the 18th and was asked to stand on the floor in the United Nations General Assembly hall to be recognized for her amazing work the 20th of May during the Energy, Women and Children’s Health session.

Josephine believes her presence here is important. She believes it helps for those gathered to have a connection to the real people, which these discussions are focused on. “Seeing is believing, when you get to the ground you see the real situation. You know the impacts. I am coming from the ground. Having known that, I am here as a voice for the many women in Kenya, in Africa, who are facing the energy insecurity in many areas of their lives.”


Learn more about Practical Action & learn more about the SE4ALL Forum