Rob Lavoie of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has won the Net Impact $5,000 Business Solution to Poverty Challenge. His entry was the unanimous choice of the three judges, Paul Polak and Mal Warwick, coauthors of The Business Solution to Poverty, and Dr. Mark Albion, the founder of Net Impact and a former professor of marketing at Harvard Business School.

The winning entry describes a joint effort of Rob’s venture, AirTerra Inc., a for-profit company dedicated to the common good, and ACON (African Christians Organization Network), a nonprofit organization based in Musamba, a rural village in Matunda District, Kakamega County, in Western Kenya. Together, they have already succeeded in selling 8,000 biochar-producing MotoStoves through village representatives. 

To access the winning entry, click here: AirTerra and ACON’s Business Solution to Poverty.

Here is Rob describing the history of the project:

“My wife and I set up AirTerra to reach out to rural people in developing countries as a way of training people on the use of biochar as a soil enhancement agent to boost food security and productivity. Interestingly enough, we have only had one inquiry over the past five years. This was from ACON. Its president, Salim Mayeki Shaban, called to invite us to Bungoma, Kenya, to train his farmers on the use of biochar and biochar-producing, clean, efficient cooking stoves. We did this in October of 2009, and this began a long-lasting relationship between AirTerra (my wife and I) and ACON (Salim).

“Since then we were able to encourage Dr. Paul Anderson (“Dr. TLUD,” for ‘Top-Lit UpDraft’ stove) to visit ACON to train them on the manufacturing of a TLUD gasifier stove that generates biochar as a byproduct of cooking household meals. The biochar is then used in household compost to produce a powerful fertilizer for gardens and farming. These stoves are also able to make use of fuel briquettes made from crop residuals and even from the water hyacinth, an invasive species that grows out of control on Lake Victoria. ACON harvests the water hyacinth to make fuel briquettes.

“These activities caught the attention of the National Geographic Society after we helped ACON to apply for ‘The Great Energy Challenge’ and they won! This resulted in a $75,000 grant for ACON to expand its stove production capabilities. ACON is now capable of producing 900 stoves per month with 13 tinsmiths and artisans who each generate three or four stoves per day. ACON has a sales team that distributes and finances the stoves for rural families to purchase.”

“You can check out the National Geographic Society’s communication on this project here. If you scroll down below the photo of Salim standing in a demonstration garden plot, on the NGS link, you will see a video that describes what ACON is doing with biochar from its stoves. 

“We also helped ACON to set up a fundraising site on Global Giving. A link to this material is here. There is a number of additional reports on the project provided at the bottom of this web site page. If you view the photos that are uploaded, you will see my son Alex (blond hair 18-year-old) standing beside Salim and his wife Everlyne (2012 photo). There are also pictures of the fuel briquettes and finished ‘Moto’ stoves that generate biochar.

“We also helped ACON to apply for The Nature Conservancy’s contest called ‘Solution Search,’ and they won the “East Africa Prize” funded by the Barr Foundation. You can read the extensive documentation about this project here

“You can listen to Salim pitch his project here. It involves, in his words, re-inventing Fuel, Fire, and Fertilizer.

“We have also funded training of the ACON community on the ‘Farming God’s Way’ approach to permaculture. You can read more about it here. You will find that this training is mostly about methods of permaculture that can be taught quickly and effectively to rural people in Africa.”

Congratulations to Rob, Salim, and everyone else involved in this extremely promising initiative!


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