In parts of the world where energy supplies are plentiful and easily available and efficient, it can be easy to take daily functions for granted: plugging in to the nearest socket to charge a phone, flipping a light switch to see more clearly or whipping up dinner for the family.

This last act of cooking, in particular, is an activity where lack of modern energy places a burden that can be hard to envision if it is not your reality. In a majority of the rural towns and villages throughout East Africa, the traditional three-stone fire is the most common means of cooking – yet it is less energy efficient, overly time consuming and a potential health hazard.

In its continued efforts to accelerate access to modern energy, GVEP International – through its Financial Linkages Programme – entered a tri-partite agreement with the Women Enterprise Development Institute (WEDI) and Paradigm Kenya to facilitate the purchase of improved cookstoves by women living in the rural parts of Kenya. Based in the town of Karatina WEDI is an umbrella company that manages funds of Accumulation of Savings and Credit Associations (ASCAs).

Currently WEDI manages a total of 800 ASCAs in different regions in the country. The main intentions of the groups are to mobilise their own funds to lend amongst its members mainly to gain independence from donor funding and create their own funds for socio economic development. The group also has a ‘project’ component whereby groups are introduced to various products that can be bought by members through their savings.

Paradigm Kenya, the third party in this agreement, is a branch of the Paradigm Project , an international low profit limited liability company that provides off-grid household energy solutions to bottom of the pyramid households in the developing world. Having started its operations in September 2010, Paradigm Kenya manufactures and sells efficient firewood cookstoves to households in rural and peri-urban Kenya at subsidised prices.

The aim of the agreement is to to facilitate energy access to women in the rural parts of Kenya. It is a cooperative sales and marketing effort utilising Paradigm’s range of cookstoves, GVEP International and WEDI’s networks to create new opportunities for the local market. Under this arrangement, Paradigm’s role includes supplying energy cookstoves to WEDI, who in turn supply the cookstoves to the end users who are group members or energy entrepreneurs of WEDI. They accept orders based on 30% down payment received from WEDI and ensure the stoves are supplied once the money is received. The remaining 70% is paid within 90 days through three equal monthly installments. In addition, Paradigm provides training to WEDI staff on proper stove usage, trouble shooting and warranty issues.

James Mwiiri of Paradigm Kenya explains, “This was an attractive arrangement to us for a variety of reasons. We work with a network of distributors and some have a hard time presenting capital upfront and GVEP’s guarantee provides a solution. In addition, we are able to reach a wider market through WEDI’s network of members and expanding operation is good for business growth.” He also adds that the value and benefit to the end users support Paradigm’s ethos. “The efficiency of the stoves enables users to save at least 50% on fuel,” says James. “That means less fuel wood is need and less time spent collecting it. Customers also enjoy the portability – something they cannot easily get with a 3-stone fire and the stoves also reduce toxic emissions by up to 75%.”

WEDI’s obligations include availing its officers for training, retailing the cookstoves to its members at between KES1,700 – 2,600 (USD 20 – 30) depending on the type of stove, managing the groups’ payback and provide accurate records. In addition, WEDI also receives KES 50 for every carbon form filled. “

We’ve had a good and effective relationship with GVEP,” says Jamleck Mugo, WEDI’s Director. “We are empowering women and we welcome opportunities to further pursue that goal. By joining this arrangement we were able to ensure that the cookstoves can be provided to our members in a way that is affordable to them. What encouraged us to join is the success we have had so far in a similar agreement with GVEP on solar lanterns.”

Between September 2012 to date WEDI has sold approximately 1,700 improved cookstoves – a mixture of Jiko Poa, Envirofit M 5000, Envirofit G3300 and the Easy Stove.

Aside from bringing all partners together, GVEP’s role in this arrangement has been to sign a partnership agreement where GVEP commits to cover 50% of the balance of cookstoves purchased by WEDI, with WEDI covering the other 20% in the event of a default. In such cases, Paradigm is able to recover the funds from the guarantee placed by GVEP’s Capital Access Programme.

“Cooking is a daily activity and a necessity and therefore the demand for such cookstoves exists,” acknowledges Phyllis Kariuki, GVEP’s Financial Institutions Specialist. “The challenge for most rural potential users is the affordability and availability of the products, which is why such arrangements have the potential to impact these communities. Because end users are encouraged to save with the option of paying in installments, it moves away from the idea that this agreement is about free handouts.”