Accelerating an Impact Industry

Lessons From the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

Written by Ted London & Colm Fay

In 2017, the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan collaborated with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (the Alliance) to assess the lessons learned so far on the Alliance’s journey to accelerate the clean cookstove industry. This blog is based on the article “Accelerating an Impact Industry: Lessons from Clean Cookstoves” first published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review on June 1, 2018.

Announcing the launch of the Alliance in 2010 at the Clinton Global Initiative, then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, remarked that the Alliance would “work toward the goal of 100 million homes adopting new clean stoves and fuels by 2020. Our long-term goal is universal adoption all over the world.” By bringing together leaders from both the public and private sectors, the Alliance aimed to build a clean cookstove industry that could deliver this vision.

For decades, the development community has been investing in programs that seek to harness the power of business to address social challenges. Not only has this meant investing in private enterprises, but also investing in developing the policies, information, institutions, and infrastructure that define the industries in which these enterprises operate—what we call impact industries.

Of course, before the Alliance launched there were many efforts to invest in the clean cookstove industry. But like many impact industries, these were fragmented efforts that operated independently of each other and lacked an integrated vision. This resulted in a lack of investment and coordination, and market environments that make it challenging for enterprises to be profitable, never mind reach scale. Rather than being another independent effort, the Alliance was formed to be what we term an Impact Industry Accelerator (IIA)—an entity charged with catalyzing an entire impact industry.

Rather than being another independent effort, the Alliance was formed to be what we term an Impact Industry Accelerator (IIA)—an entity charged with catalyzing an entire impact industry.

Clean Cookstove Industry
Almost three billion people around the world still cook over open fires or with biomass such as wood, charcoal, and dried animal dung. The stoves they use are inefficient and expose the use to a variety of toxic gases, chemicals, and airborne particulates. These pollutants cause a variety of health issues, including pneumonia and heart disease, and disproportionately impact women and girls who do most of the cooking. Apart from health impacts, these inefficient stoves and biomass fuels have impacts on climate change and the environment.

The Alliance aims to better understand the links between improved cooking technologies, and changes in these negative outcomes. It works globally to advocate for improved standards for cookstoves and fuels, to promote investment in enterprises that provide them, and to educate and inform consumers about their benefits. At the country level it works with local governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to develop and execute country level plans to achieve these objectives.

Four Stages of Acceleration
For this research we interviewed Alliance staff and partners in Washington, D.C., Kenya, and Bangladesh. In these discussions we talked about what the Alliance has done to accelerate the clean cookstove industry, but also things that the Alliance and other organizations have not addressed yet. This led us to identify four different, but interconnected stages of impact industry acceleration—accelerating investment, collective action, profitability, and impact. The Alliance didn’t implement these strategies sequentially, as there were overlaps and iterations. Indeed, the Alliance found itself investing in activities from all four stages at any given time, albeit at different intensities.

Four Acceleration Strategies for the Clean Cookstove Industry

1. Accelerate Investment
The Alliance did three key things to mobilize resources for the clean cookstove industry:

  • created a wide value proposition that allowed many different stakeholders to envision how to meet their specific aims (health, environment, women’s empowerment) through the development of the clean cookstove industry;
  • developed an implementation platform that stakeholders could invest in that had legitimacy and could channel resources appropriately;
  • activated financial and non-financial support in the form of organizational commitments of funding, and access to data, tools, and intellectual capital.

2. Accelerate Collective Action
Given the multitude of prior and current efforts to develop the clean cookstove industry, the Alliance had an important part to play in coordinating a collective strategy for action:

  • established a common vision and goals for the industry through the collaborative development of a global strategy and country action plans;
  • demonstrated the social value proposition through research into the impact of clean cookstoves and fuels to provide evidence for urgent action;
  • ensured quality and consistency through the development of product standards, testing, and certification that enabled consumers to compare across products and manufacturers.

3. Accelerate Profitability
The Alliance aimed to increase access to clean cookstoves and fuels through healthy markets, and has done three important things to help enterprises achieve profitability:

  • enhanced enabling environment by advocating for improved policies and regulatory frameworks governing clean cookstoves and fuels;
  • reduced producer costs by engaging with institutions providing subsidies and institutional purchasing arrangements that reduce the cost of sales;
  • energized demand by investing in behavior change and awareness campaigns to inform customers about the dangers of household air pollution.

4. Accelerate Impact
To increase impact and scale, the Alliance has focused on key steps to encourage innovation, scale, and learning:

  • encouraged enterprise innovation through grant funding that supported research and development of new products and business model innovations;
  • targeted growth enterprises by providing access to scaling capital for those enterprises that demonstrated potential to scale;
  • shared lessons learned that enabled enterprises to implement best practices and increase their probability of success.

By 2017, the Alliance had experienced important successes in accelerating investment and collective action and its efforts focused on this latter stage. As it looked to the future, the Alliance sought to place greater emphasis on accelerating profitability and impact and the creation of a healthy market for clean cookstoves and fuels. However, this shift will likely require new thinking in terms of internal capabilities, as well as new external partnerships. This framework provides a roadmap for that transition.

Roadmap for Clean Cookstove Industry Acceleration

While we developed this framework and roadmap for the Alliance, we think these principles can be of benefit to other IIAs in similar impact industries. Frameworks such as these can facilitate improved strategies and approaches that increase the probability that IIAs can turn their visions of impact into reality.

Ted London, Co-Author
Ted London is an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and a senior research fellow at the William Davidson Institute.



This article is part of a series on “solvable problems” within the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Global Engagement Forum: Live takes place this October 10–11, 2018, bringing together leaders from across the private, public, and social sectors to co-create solutions and partnerships to address four urgent, yet solvable problems—closing the skills gap in STEM, reducing post-harvest food loss, ending energy poverty, and eliminating marine debris and ocean plastics.
 Learn more about the Forum here.

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  1. Burt Hamner says:

    Dear Mr. Fay and Mr. London:

    Thank you for sharing your article, “Accelerating an Impact Industry” about clean cookstoves progress. It’s good to see such organizational progress, but also disheartening to see that there is no significant change from the status reported in 2015 on the very low adoption rate of clean cookstoves.

    There is a solution for this problem right now and I ask your help to increase awareness about it.

    Stoves equipped with thermo electric generators (TEGs) make power for phones, LED lights, and stove fans that improve combustion and reduce smoke. Because they make power they can be connected to mobile micro finance networks and the stoves with TEGs can be sold on Pay-As-You-Go basis, the same as small solar is sold. PAYG unlocks the ability of the poor to buy better stoves – it’s the only way they can afford them, but without asset control (turning off the TEG remotely for non payment), the system does not work.

    Our team has solved the problem of putting TEGs on stoves. The “Firebee” TEG for stoves won a National Geographic Chasing Genius nomination last year
    and was just featured in Paris at the ChangeNOW Summit. It was immediately recognized as a potentially great solution for providing power to off-grid migrant shanty towns that have appeared around hundreds of European cities.

    The Firebee TEG makes up to 8 Watts when installed in a metal chimney on a cookstove, or when it is installed in our own stovetop cooker which fits over any rocket stove or even open fire. That’s enough to charge phones and LED lights and batteries AND run a blower that ventilates the stove to increase heat and reduce smoke. See it here

    Unlike the famous Biolite stoves with TEGs, the Firebee fits on almost any stove. It does not need a fan which will eventually break, unlike the Biolite products. It is easily mass produced and can be assembled locally from kits. It produces both USB and 12V charging power. Its circuit board can be equipped with any of the existing micro-finance technologies, such as mobile phone connectivity, touchpads for keycodes, infrared, or acoustic control. It can also monitor and report on stove use over mobile networks or even VHF radio. And, this is very important, it works at night or any time when cooking. Small solar does not work in many regions because it’s too cloudy and they can’t afford big panels. This is the alternative. Finally, the design is patent-pending, owned by persons who have strong social drive to help the poor.

    This is what clean cookstoves need: make electric power, sell via micro finance, provide multiple benefits beyond less smoke.

    I hope you will bring this to the attention of GACC staff so we can discuss potential partnerships. Thank you.