Meet the women changing the clean cooking landscape in Kenya

By Tindi Sitati 

Based in Kenya, BURN Manufacturing a cookstove manufacturing company has employed a female workforce of more than 50% spread across their various factory departments.

“We take pride in that as most factories in Kenya stick to traditional gender roles and have no women working there,” says Boston Nyer – General Manager, BURN “We try to use our factory as an example of what’s possible”.

I took sometime to speak with two women employees working in the factory, about their careers, their thoughts on the way forward for women, and what excites them about the future of clean cooking in Kenya. Hope their stories inspire you as they inspired me.

 

Serah Kamau: Exhibiting selfless commitment to improve the lives of others

Serah Kamau, a new mother of one, is from Ruiru in Kenya. She uses the jikokoaTM stove  by BURN – a cookstove manufacturing company based in Kenya – to cook for her family. As is a well-known fact, women are responsible for collecting firewood in increasingly deforested rural areas and cook in smoke filled homes over traditional three stone fires. In addition to these household responsibilities, Serah is a full time employee at BURN working to support her family.

Serah first heard about clean cookstoves from a friend and became interested after learning about the health and financial savings that she would make from using the stove. She later joined BURN in 2014 as a production line leader.
BURN recognized Serah’s commitment and hard work and trained her to gain vital skills in sales management, customer relations and communication. The customer relations and communications training not only helped Sara in her newly promoted role as a sales activator, but also helped to create awareness in her community about the use and adoption of clean cookstoves.

Serah Kamau, a sales activator at Burn. Photo credit: Davina Ngei/wPOWER

 

Serving as a sales activator on her team, Serah manages logistics and trains customers on adoption and use of the jikokoaTM cookstove while also leading marketing activities and distribution of the cookstoves. She works alongside 29 other sales agents, 19 of whom are women. A recent study by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves states that women out sell male cookstove sellers by nearly 3:1. According to Serah, women work harder and because they are the users of the clean cookstoves, they understand their product better hence make better sales. She however states that some customers are more fascinated that men can sell clean cookstoves, and emphasizes the importance of engaging men in the process and raising their awareness of the benefits of clean cookstoves as they are often in control of income in the household.

Working as a woman in a male dominated environment is however not as easy as it may seem for Serah. Coupled with the fact that she is a new mother, she cites challenges such as long working hours that hinder her from spending quality time with her newborn and other family members. BURN has however put in place measures to ensure that employees and especially women like Serah are able to balance their work schedule with the time spent with their families, therefore acknowledging that women are a critical piece in the clean energy value chain. Despite this challenge, Serah is driven by her newborn son and her responsibilities back at home, to work to achieve her sales targets. Her monthly sales target is of 40 stoves, and on a good month she averages about 60 stoves a month, making her one of the best performing sales agents.

Serah is passionate about engaging women in bringing a vibrant improved cookstove market to scale, for the health of women and their families.

The day is not far when she realizes her dream – one of becoming a sales manager.

 

Caroline Mwenjeri: A small clothing business owner turned clean cookstove quality inspector

Caroline comes from a family of sisters and was born in Othaya, Nyeri County. Household expenditures would consume whatever she earned from her small clothing business. She longed to become financially independent, contribute to her family’s savings, and serve her community. Bright-eyed and smart, she chanced upon an opportunity to become the product line leader at BURN Manufacturing, a local clean cookstove manufacturing company based in Ruiriu, Kenya. Enrolling to work at BURN gave expression to Caroline’s dreams.

Caroline studied computer skills in school and often finds herself utilizing the same skills in her current position at BURN. Her dynamic, outgoing nature, coupled with inherent commitment to her tasks and duties as a line leader, led to her promotion as a quality inspector.

BURN occasionally provides training and mentorship programs to employees like Caroline, which boost their confidence and helps improve their performances in their respective departments. At the trainings, BURN provided Caroline with quality control measurements, first aid, and health and safety trainings to help her work in a factory setup.

Caroline Mwenjeri, a clean cookstove quality inspector at Burn. Photo credit: Davina Ngei/ wPOWER

 

‘BURN has helped me come out of my shell and vent my leadership aspirations’ Caroline exclaims, ‘I now enjoy a high degree of trust and respect within my community’.

As a leader, Caroline initiates meetings with her fellow colleagues which is a great opportunity for her to be involved in problem- solving discussions and decision making processes. Through this interaction, BURN has encouraged a bottoms up approach of dealing with emerging issues among employees. Caroline is able to express her concerns while also share her challenges and success with colleagues.

Caroline is now a force to reckon with at BURN and is constantly flooded by curious questions from her friends and family members who have expressed interest in working in the clean cookstove sector. She has managed to inspire many of her female friends, two of whom have since joined BURN in various departments. She also trains other quality operators in her department and has an ambition to become a sales manager, which she says will give her the opportunity to impact the lives of women directly.



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