“Don’t be afraid to ask for help because women are so used to juggling so many things and are able to really pull all the strings to make sure the puppet is moving comfortably, but it’s really hard so don’t be afraid to ask for help”.
—WE Empower UN SDG Challenge Finalist, Stella Sigana – Founder, Alternative Waste Technologies, Kenya
2020 WE Empower Finalist, Sub-Saharan Africa
A challenge that over 3 billion people around the world encounter each day is finding safe fuels to cook their food with. Stella Sigana is changing the way in which Sub-Saharan Africa is approaching this issue with her Keynan-based company, Alternative Waste Technologies, which provides clean-burning and environmentally friendly charcoal briquettes to families and businesses. WE Empower intern, Sidney McKee, interviewed Sigana and expands upon how Alternative Waste Technologies is not only furthering societal development through improving access to vital cooking fuels, but is leading the way for the preservation of endangered ecosystems.
Sigana’s Alternative Waste Technologies is bringing about a crucial transformation in how communities in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa are accessing cooking fuels that are cleaner and more affordable than local alternatives. As opposed to the situation in more developed countries, where natural gas and electricity based stoves are commonplace, locals in Sub-Saharan Africa rely heavily on traditional cooking methods that include the usage of firewood, paraffin, and charcoal, which can be dangerous when ignited in homes. With goals to provide an affordable and cleaner-burning alternative to traditional cooking fuels, Sigana has introduced superior charcoal briquettes to her community. When describing the impact that her cleaner charcoal briquettes have, Sigana explained, “If we can create an alternative to the charcoal that is being supplied to the informal settlements that is safer and cleaner, then we can be able to counter some of the health effects that we are seeing”.
Responsible and Affordable Energy
Sigana understands the importance of caring for families, but a hazard for many in the region is that of indoor air pollution from cooking. This brings about multiple issues, including the threat that cooking fuels have on lung health. In addition to being safer and less polluting, cooking fuels developed by Alternative Waste Technologies are also significantly more affordable than the conventional alternatives in Kenya. In a country where most of the population spends roughly half of their income on purchasing cooking fuel, Sigana is ensuring that her company provides equitable solutions to the energy need as well. As she clarified, “We were really looking to provide a product that is affordable because residents of informal settlements are purely wage dependent”. By serving the community in providing safer and less expensive cooking fuels, Sigana is supporting SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy.
Supporting Female Empowerment
As a successful businesswoman who is revolutionizing the cooking fuel industry in Sub-Saharan Africa, Sigana recognizes the challenges that aspiring entrepreneurs face. Alternative Waste Technologies is supporting women’s rights in Kenya by providing fair career opportunities to locals that include ownership potential. Through this method, Sigana is able to give back to those living in informal settlements by providing pathways for franchised business ownership under Alternative Waste Technologies. When developing this strategy, she explained, “With the pathway to ownership business model, I was also looking at how I can create opportunities, especially for women and youth”. This allows the company to grow, expands the reach of cleaner-burning cooking fuel, and empowers women as business leaders. When expanding upon her support of joint franchises with locals, Sigana detailed “If they can start learning about entrepreneurship and appreciating it through the systems that we establish, then those who are really keen on growing with us have the opportunity to go through the pathway of the ownership business model”. By encouraging female leaders to gain employment and business opportunities, Sigana is furthering SDG 5 Gender Equality and SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth through Alternative Waste Technologies.
Stella Sigana is leading the way to a more sustainable Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa through her work with Alternative Waste Technologies. The implementation of clean cooking fuels coupled with growth in job opportunities for female entrepreneurs raises a higher standard in the region. Sigana understands that starting a sustainable business is difficult, but she urges others to pursue their dreams. “There are so many people who will be against you as you’re starting the business simply because they have not received your vision, especially if you are somebody who is career-driven. If you choose to quit your job and get into entrepreneurship, it’s going to be tough… You should be ready for that, but you need to have a focus on the bigger vision, what you are really out to get at the end of the day. Don’t settle for less”.