Respect Poverty

How is a high-end camping company in America changing millions of lives in Africa?

The World Health Organization estimates that about 3 billion people — almost half the world’s population — cook over open fires or with simple stoves that eat up wood, kerosene and dung while spewing toxic ash, pollution and carbon into the air. It is one of the most widespread and lethal problems in the world. Each year almost 4 million people die prematurely from these indoor pollutants, which cause lung disease, cancer and strokes. And another 180,000 people die from burns, many of them children.

They pay dearly for all of this — not just with their health, but with huge chunks of their family budgets. Charcoal and kerosene can consume 50 percent of the household budget for an impoverished family.

Over the years, a number of nonprofits have designed more efficient stove prototypes to help save lives and money, with varying degrees of success. Many organizations require the recipient to purchase the stoves in advance, with the understanding that they will save money over the long run because they will need less expensive fuel to keep the home fires burning. Not surprisingly, up-front payments have proven difficult or impossible for impoverished families in developing countries.

BioLite’s business model is different. The company sells innovative camping gear to outdoors enthusiasts in the United States and uses that money to help expand markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Its customers abroad pay in small monthly installments that doesn’t gut their budgets, while immediately benefitting from the cost savings on fuel.

The two customer groups are an ocean apart, but they have a lot in common. They both need clean, sustainable stoves, power generators and water purifiers that work easily off the grid.

Biolite claims its gear has helped more than 650,000 people and offset more than 250,000 tons of CO2. Campers in the United States benefit from Biolite’s efficient, lightweight stoves, biofuel pellets and solar charging stations.

Award-winning CEO Jonathan Cedar believes that businesses can combine sustainability and responsibility with good business practices, while creating better jobs and a better world. 

Watch his serendipitous journey from avid camper to innovative CEO. 


Some video imagery courtesy of Biolite