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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Ghanaian cookstoves entrepreneur Suraj Wahab shares his secrets

By Julia Hawkins, Ashden Digital and PR Manager

You know those days when everything clicks into place and you remember why you do what you do? Yesterday was one of those days. I had the pleasure of spending an hour or so with Suraj Wahab, CEO of Toyola Energy - a Ghanaian entrepreneur with a huge social conscience who was awarded the prestigous 2011 International Ashden Gold Award for his credit scheme for cleaner cookstoves.

They say the best ideas are the simplest ones. Suraj's model of 'stoves made by the poor, sold by the poor and used by the poor' couldn't be more so. He trains people to produce and sell stoves to the poor, providing credit facilities in the form of the famous 'Toyola Moneybox' - no more sophisticated than a tin can with a slit cut in the top, to help them save up to pay back their loans.

"I learned business from my mother", he told me. "I used to go selling fish from door to door when I was 10 years old, so that she could afford to send me to school. I learned from her that when you take your business to your customer - to their homes - you change the game. There are so many people with great ideas that just sit there, waiting for things to come to them. They'll never make a successful business like that."

Winning an Ashden Award was "game changing", he told me. "It gave the stoves industry legitimacy and status. And I've since been involved in advising the Nigerian government on its cookstoves strategy, and the Ghanaian government on its renewable energy strategy. And only last week I was in a panel advising the World Bank on creating markets for the poor."

With sales doubling since his Award, Suraj is now bringing cleaner cooking - with all its associated health, financial and environmenl benefits - to 1.5 million people in 4 West African countries. The secret of his success? "It's just my passion - my way of life."

Suraj told me another thing. When he was young his mother told him that one day the world would know about him.

It certainly does now.

You can listen to Suraj here: