Livelyhoods: Empowering Women and Youth to Work Their Way Out of Poverty

Nairobi, KenyaNairobi, Kenya
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

LivelyHoods is a social enterprise that trains and hires disadvantaged women and youth to sell environmentally and socially conscious products in Kenya’s slums. The project benefits are threefold as we create economic opportunities, mitigate climate change, and improve customers’ lives.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we could create a retail experience like Apple with a sales team of formerly unemployed youth and women, a customer base of slum residents, and an environmentally and socially conscious product line?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In Kenya’s slums, the majority of residents use charcoal stoves. The use of charcoal for cooking is depleting Kenya’s forests and emitting carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change. Additionally, the toxic smoke has severe public health impacts including high cases of pneumonia in children and headaches, coughing, and respiratory illnesses for women who are primarily responsible for cooking and have more exposure to the smoke.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Clean cookstoves have been proven to reduce charcoal consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 50%, but due to a market failure in distribution channels, residents of slum communities lack access to these improved cooking technologies. LivelyHoods offers a sustainable, market-based solution to the problem of access to clean energy technologies and high youth unemployment. We employ youth and women to sell clean cookstoves and other clean energy products door-to-door to underserved consumers in slums. Capitalizing on a market failure in retail distribution to low-income, slum communities, LivelyHoods creates jobs for undereducated but ambitious youth and women as sales agents of life-changing products in Kenyan slums.


Unreasonable Fellowship, GSBI Fellowship, Mara Entrepreneur Fellowship, Cordes Fellowship, D-Prize Fellowship, and the StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellowship. Also, the co-founders were named as two of PBS’s “15 Young Go-getters You’ll Want to Meet”.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

A family with 4 kids in Kenya purchases two kilograms of charcoal for cooking per day. One tin costs around .55 Euro. Clean cookstoves reduce charcoal consumption by half, meaning the family will purchase just one tin per day, accruing an annual savings of 200 Euro, nearly twice the average monthly income in Kenya. Over the five year product lifetime, it can save them nearly 1,000 Euro, almost an entire year’s salary. Emily, a talented young woman with a natural knack for sales, had only been able to find work as a maid. She now earns an average of $227 Euro per month, over twice the average per capita income in Kenya. She is saving to start her own business while also financially supporting herself and her widowed mother who is blind.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Through the distribution of clean cookstoves, LivelyHoods saves customers 50% on charcoal, improves their health, reduces carbon emissions, and decelerates deforestation. We’ve improved the lives and health of over 8,000 families, saving them a combined total of over 4 million Euros. We’ve also prevented the destruction of an estimated 137,150 trees while also preventing 96,281 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the earth’s atmosphere, the equivalent of taking 20,270 cars off of the road. In addition, we are employing over 100 individuals as sales agents in our seven branches in slum communities throughout Kenya. This job offers formerly unemployed individuals the opportunity to gain skills in sales, marketing and customer service, while earning an average wage above the international poverty line. It also instills confidence and hope for a future of financial independence.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

LivelyHoods plans to become cash-flow positive through replicating our hub and spoke model into 40 branches throughout Kenya. To date, we have opened seven branches across two counties. We will continue to open branches within a few hours of Nairobi in 2016 and in 2017 we will begin reaching other major urban hubs including Kisumu in Western Kenya and Mombasa on the Eastern Coast. Our vision is to reach every Kenyan household in need of clean-burning cookstoves and then replicate our financially sustainable model in other countries in East Africa such as Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

LivelyHoods plans to be financially sustainable in 2018. At scale, we will purchase products at greater volumes and lower prices, increasing our profit margins while also creating an efficient distribution system across Kenya. Beginning in 2016, we will open two to three branches every quarter, reaching 40 stores in 2018, at which point we will become cash-flow positive.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Kenya has a diverse and competitive cookstove market, including major cookstove manufacturer-distributors such as Paradigm and Ecozoom, other product distributors, and large retail chains and financial institutions like Nakumatt and Equity Bank. Our competitive advantages include highly trained sales agents, a trusted brand, and quality customer service with a personal connection and bringing products directly to your doorstop. In a survey of our customers, 73% report that they would not have bought the product if it were not for our sales agents coming to their door.

Founding Story

LivelyHoods grew out of lessons learned from a micro-finance and entrepreneurship project. After training, the pilot group expressed disinterest in taking a loan to start a business when they had no experience and feared going into debt. Listening to the feedback, we interviewed 300 youth and found that each one had sales experience, with everything from mangos to drugs. Our pilot group also surveyed their community about which products they needed. The “Aha Moment” came when a former street boy without a high school education made more than $40 in commissions in a single day. When asked if he had ever made that much money in one day before he said, “Only when I was stealing.”


LivelyHoods is led by Executive Director and co-founder Tania Laden, a Stanford graduate who has lived and worked in Nairobi developing the organization since 2011. She is supported by Director of Operations Andreas Kidane, with four years of sales and recruitment experience in the US and Kenya. We have 19 staff, including 14 former sales agents, and are governed by a diverse and accomplished board of entrepreneurs and development experts.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Co-founder and Executive Director

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Gender Equality, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Before moving to Kenya, Tania gained valuable entrepreneurial experience in the context of a developing economy by working for an education and technology start-up in Brazil for two years before returning to the US to work for Morgan Stanley as a financial advisor. Her interest in working abroad led her,at age 24, to move to Nairobi and co-found LivelyHoods. Tania has spent the last five years growing the organization from its pilot branch with seven trainees to a successful social enterprise with seven branches, a fulltime staff of 19 employees, and over 100 sales agents. Under her leadership the organization has increased sales to over 1,000 clean cookstoves per month, generating over $40,000 in monthly revenues.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

LivelyHoods has established and maintained partnerships with both global and local organizations. These key partners include the world-renown lending institution, Kiva, which provides us with an interest-free revolving credit line to finance our inventory, as well as global leaders in cookstove manufacturing, Envirofit and Burn. In 2015 LivelyHoods was chosen as one of five cookstoves distributors to work with KUSCCO to sell cookstoves to SACCOs (Co-ops) throughout Kenya. KUSCCO is the “Sacco of Saccos” in Kenya and was selected by USAID and Winrock International as the winner of a competition to develop sustainable cookstove markets that will lead to widespread adoption of clean, efficient cooking solutions. KUSCCO created the Jiko Safi Fund, which can be accessed by KUSCCO’s network of member SACCOs to on-lend to their individual members for the purchase of fuel-efficient cookstoves.