Southern Innovator has profiled many innovations since 2011. Here is a summary of those innovations and how to find them in SI’S back issues.
cooking habits. Cooking cultures vary greatly across the developing world so it is important to understand exactly who your customers are and focus on meeting their requirements. When you have a product that is easy to use, it needs to be desirable as well. Beyond the service provided, the product should make the customers feel good about themselves. Finally, the Baker cooks the same food with half the fuel and much less smoke.
The priorities seem reversed for other cookstove models on the market. Efficiency comes first, then the aesthetic design, and cultural conformity is last. Hyper-efficient cookstoves are great for health and the environment on paper but the benefits are not realized because widespread adoption isn’t achieved. Most products are imposed through a top-down approach instead of starting with the customers and designing the stove around them.
SI: Why did you choose to have the Baker cookstove designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune? What were some of the challenges encountered when designing the product and the production life cycle? What advice do you have for other social enterprises looking to offer an appealing product to low-income households?
We wanted the Baker cookstove to be an aspirational product that you use as much because of the performance (less fuel and less smoke) as because it is beautiful. Claesson Koivisto Rune believed in our vision at a very early stage and I doubt we could have gotten where we are today without them. Challenges around the design mainly involve keeping the costs down. Our customers do not have a lot of disposable income so balancing affordability with performance and world-class design is tough.
For other entrepreneurs selling to low-income households, my advice is: identify your customer, listen to them, and never stop listening. This is obvious to most businesses but for social enterprises, sometimes the grant organizations or other dispersers of donor funding become the customer without your noticing.
Finally, often just because the consumer is in a developing country, enterprises neglect aesthetic appeal and branding. Do not do this. Your consumers behave for the most part like their counterparts in the developed world. They want products that look nice and make them feel good.
SI: What role is information technology playing in the Baker cookstove’s development? How do mobile phones help with reaching customers in Africa? How does offering software products such as Top 3 tracker help Baker cookstoves?
Information technology has a huge impact in decentralized areas because it enables the cheap flow of information. For Top Third Ventures, it allows us to track our sales in realtime, communicate with current and future customers instantly and gain valuable insights about how to improve the sales pitch and marketing strategy. The Baker cookstove also depends on carbon finance, which requires a dialogue with current customers to ensure the usage of the cookstove is accurately measured. Information technology such as our Top3 Tracker significantly reduces the cost of accessing carbon finance.
SI: It is said that an innovator is somebody who disrupts existing products and ways of doing things. How is Top Third Ventures innovating and disrupting the current approach to energy-efficient cookstove distribution?
We hope to change the way products for low-income households are designed, marketed and sold. Top Third Ventures’ Baker cookstove embodies our conviction that these products should be customer-centric, have aspirational value and conform to local cultures. The success of our product will show that consumers in the developing world want the same thing as their counterparts in developed countries.
Top Third is a partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
The Baker cookstove designed by Claeson Koivisto Rune. • bakerproduct.com • topthirdventures.com • cleancookstoves.org
Lucas Belenky with a Baker cookstove
painted a distinctive orange.