The Darfur Stoves Project seeks to protect Darfuri women by providing them with specially developed stoves which require less fuel, thereby decreasing women’s exposure to violence while collecting firewood and their need to trade food rations for fuel. Now in an effort to ensure the sustainability of the project, its leaders are applying business-based thinking to a humanitarian problem.

Started by a UC Berkeley scientist in 2005, the Darfur Stoves Project has distributed over 20,000 fuel-efficient Berkeley-Darfur Stoves. To ensure quick delivery during a humanitarian crisis, the stoves are given free of charge to women. However, this model is dependent on limited donor funding and may be difficult to sustain in the long-run.

For many stove projects around the world, creating a market for stoves instead of distributing them for free is seen as a way to ensure that the stoves are valued by users while maintaining the long-term sustainability of the project. With the help of marketing consultant Jan Maes, the Darfur Stoves Project is exploring this idea with the aim of bringing the Berkeley-Darfur Stove to even more women in need.

Based on his research with potential stove users and other relevant stakeholders in Darfur, Jan found several barriers to instituting a standard stoves-for-sale model, including a lack of financial liquidity. The project is currently testing potential solutions, ranging from a subsidized program to down payment/installment plans as well as free trial periods. Through a savings mechanism, stove users could turn their reduced firewood expenses into daily cash savings. Women could use the initial savings to help pay for the stove and continue to accumulate lump sums of cash for years afterwards. Selling the stoves will also create economic opportunities for women in Darfur. The stoves will be sold on consignment so women could be employed as selling agents, giving them a vital opportunity to earn a living while helping other women.

The marketing consultant is working with local partners in Sudan to conduct a marketing trial and explore how to make the stove affordable to a large number of low-income buyers. If the trial shows that the stoves can be sold, even at a subsidized price, work on establishing a sustainable market can begin, providing access to the stove for many more women in Darfur and elsewhere than would ever be possible through donor grants alone.

The dynamic women leading the Darfur Stoves Project are applying their knowledge and skills from the business world to the organization’s humanitarian mission. Executive Director, Andrée Sosler received her MBA from Wharton in 2008 and has recruited several of her classmates to join the Darfur Stoves Project’s Advisory Council, a group of young professionals who volunteer their time to provide their expertise in areas essential to the organization’s operations. She says, “It’s fascinating to apply the same market-based approaches I learned in business school to help solve serious humanitarian problems. The skills I learned at Wharton have been valuable in so many aspects of the job: from technical skills like projecting cash flow to the “soft” skills like negotiation and public speaking, I rely on the business school training almost every day. I also have been amazed at how the Wharton network has rallied around this project – we have four Wharton alums on our Advisory Council and many among our most loyal donors.” This group of women is using their business experience to help improve the safety, livelihoods and health of thousands of women in Darfur.

<i>By Liliana Luper

Source: http://goo.gl/bo4hn</i>