Empowering youth to launch sustainable businesses through local organizations

Empowering youth to launch sustainable businesses through local organizations

Gayaza, UgandaRaleigh, United States
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

ENVenture aims to create and expand sustainable goods ventures (SGV) in developing countries in order to increase access and distribution of low cost, low carbon technologies including solar lights, non-electric water filters, improved cookstoves, and energy-saving briquettes that advance the health and sanitation of current living standards while improving the environment.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Target market: 1.3 billion people in developing countries live without access to energy; 884 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources. 2 million die each year from inhaling unsafe fuels for cooking. Many grassroots community based organizations (CBOs) have a real desire to start sustainable goods ventures that would distribute safe lighting, cooking, and drinking products for the rural poor. However, in setting up social ventures they face three hurdles: labor, knowledge, and financing. First, CBOs tend to have a large program of activities. Second, CBOs have been working within the non-profit field their whole existence and learning how to run a business requires a different kind of skill set. Third, CBOs generally do not have a lot of funding to operate their programs.

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

High quality low-cost eco-friendly household health products such as solar lights, water filters, and improved cookstoves are being manufactured, but there is real lack of supply chains for the populations that desire these products the most. The most sustainable way to bring these products to the rural poor is through retail, especially through organizations that rural customers know and trust. Thus low-income populations, especially women, become empowered by being able to make household consumer decisions. Currently, ENVenture is piloting in Uganda with Joint Energy and Environment Projects to replicate its original project in India with the Auroville Village Action Group. The solution is four pronged: 1. Hire a local and international youth for 1-year to launch together a sustainable goods venture (SGV) with our partner. 2. The youths teach the partner the skills needed to sustain the business 3. A wholesale inventory loan is provided to the partner 4. The partner owns the SGV
Impact: How does it Work

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

In short, ENVenture creates low-carbon technology supply chains in rural areas through retail, offers exciting entrepreneurial fellowships for youth, and empowers local community-based organizations through business knowledge. a. ENVenture is the convener, providing entrepreneurial young people with challenging professional opportunities where out-of-box creativity and problem solving is required to succeed. ENVenture Fellows serve for one-year in an advisory capacity to the CBO, and have specific workplans and supplemental training to ensure their success in the field. b. ENVenture has developed a proven open-source retail model that can be replicated and taught by ENVenture Fellows to local CBO partners on how to distribute healthy low-cost eco-friendly technologies. ENVenture and Fellows develop best practices for delivery systems. ENVenture also has a list of approved manufacturers for distribution. c. Local CBOs are in the best position to serve their communities and provide targeted rural distribution networks in developing countries. They host and ultimately manage the SGV. d. Located at the CBOs offices, SGVs are the central point for distribution of these products. This is the end-result of connecting the ENVenture Fellows to the local CBO, having created a sustainable business operation distributing healthy eco-friendly products for the years to come. We want to replicate this model through all interested organizations that want to launch SGVs throughout the developing world, where villages lack access to these household-improving technologies.

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

There are a number of successful distributors of low carbon technologies. However, our approach is to partner, not compete. Any low carbon technology manufacturer that wants to sell their technologies to rural communities can distribute through ENVenture, provided that their products pass quality checks and are approved by standard committees, such as Lighting Africa. The market and need is extremely large, and other organizations that are working in this space could potentially host ENVenture Fellows to create retail outlets on-site in rural areas. Similar organizations that work on low-income product distribution are Living Goods, Solar Sister, and ONergy. The difference is ENVenture empowers youth by giving them real life entrepreneurial opportunities in the energy access space.

Founding Story

The founder launched the EcoLife Store in rural India at the age of 24. EcoLife was not her idea, but rather the community's, yet the community did not know how to launch a sustainable venture. Utilizing her natural business abilities and what she has learned in college, she was able to launch this venture with the partner Auroville Village Action Group, along with an MBA student. Seeing the potential in scale, she wished she could stay on to replicate this model to other villages in India that needed these life-saving technologies. Years later, while reviewing the sales success from the project and receiving speaking opportunities to promote EcoLife, young people from the audiences questioned how she entered this field. She realized that the energy access space needs more youth entrepreneurship, but through addressing the challenge of distribution. The Aha! moment came by realizing that a fellowship program was needed to foster young professionals to create sustainable businesses.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country

, NC, Raleigh, Wake County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, KMP, Gayaza

Age of Innovator


Gender of Innovator


How long has your organization been operating?

Less than a year

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for less than a year

Social Impact
What solution(s) does your initiative address to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive in underserved communities? (select all applicable)

Access to financing, Access to talent, Access to supply chains, Access to technology, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

In 2009, the founder and another volunteer traveled to the village of Irumbai, Tamil Nadu to set up a SGV called the EcoLife Store with the Aurovile Village Action Group (AVAG). AVAG specializes in social services; business was a totally new concept for them. Yet they desired the ability to provide sustainable goods to the villagers that wanted to buy them. This store services about a target market of 90,000 households and is a focal energy access hub in the community. Sales have brought extra revenue for the AVAG, which allows them to continue their large program of activities. Notably, after Cyclone Thane devastated the area, people were able to access solar lights whereas they would have before needed dangerous kerosene. The volunteers left after only six months, and as a result, roughly 6000 products have been sold through the SGV since. Emboldened by their success in social enterprise, AVAG has planned to open up two new SGVs in neighboring villages on their own for 2013!

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

ENVenture will continue to map out where sustainable goods ventures have been established and identify new regions to operate. This includes expansion into new countries, with plans to grow in terms of size and operations. Impact will be quantified by the sales of sustainable goods, starting in Uganda and India. Impact will also be the number of new sales channels opened up to villages for product distribution. Qualitatively, fellows will be impacted by their experiences and can bring that challenging business mindset and experience to their future careers. The field partners will also be impacted by having additional revenue to continue their projects. Within three years, we hope to have at least five sustainable goods ventures up and running with partners in Uganda, and two in India.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

As ENVenture will be a registered non-profit, it will have to continue to rely on donations and fundraising to continue operations. Though carbon markets may be involved in the future, these require high upfront investment and takes time to receive a payout. Donations are solely to fund the fellowship program, while the initial wholesale inventories of SGVs will be loaned at low-interest to our partners.

Also, the partner must be fully willing to operate the SGV on their own during the long-term, or risk business failure at a later stage. However, due to the ENVenture Fellows’ yearlong presence, enough awareness and demand should be stimulated to keep the business running long after their departure. ENVenture staff also will provide free business advice to our partners in the long-run.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

The pilot sustainable goods venture: JEEP store will be launched within six months in Gayaza, Uganda

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Employ an ENVenture Fellow to begin work on the JEEP store

Task 2

Set up a physical store along with sales infrastructure run by Joint Energy Environment Projects to host the products for sale

Task 3

Wholesale inventory from multiple distributors to stock the store

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

The JEEP store will be earning profit and is sustainable after 1-year

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Heavy marketing towards the target villages (fliers, radio, door to door, campaigns)

Task 2

Training of local staff to bring them on full-time to the project

Task 3

Maintenance of all sales records, warranties, receipts, etc

Tell us about your partnerships

Partner CBOs must provide housing, lunch, and a work transport stipend for the fellow. In return, ENVenture provides the flights, health care, visa costs, and a small living stipend for the fellow, and a seed investment loan for inventory. As a prerequisite for entering into a partnership with a CBO, the CBO must be willing to invest time, commitment, and some money to their SGV. This is important to demonstrate the sustainability of the project. Our pilot partner is Joint Energy Environment Projects in Uganda. Other partners include product manufacturers that have been vetted internationally.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

We'd love to crowdsource investment for the pilot, gain media exposure, and collaborate with potential partners on the fellowship program.


ENVenture won the top prize at Tufts Energy Challenge 2013

Tim Scheu's picture

Dear Aneri -

Thank you so much for sharing ENVenture on Changemakers. There is a tremendous need for both the products you're pushing and the economic opportunities you're creating in India and now Uganda.

As you look to Changemakers to bring more visibility to your project, I'd be really interested to learn more about the local market and demand for the lights, cook stoves and water filters you're selling.
* Within Uganda or a given region, how many people are in the need for these sorts of technologies?
* Of those, what percentage have the buying power to purchase those technologies?
* How does financing come into play, and what partners might provide would-be buyers w/ the financial services they need?
* Assuming you do spark greater demands for these goods, how is it that you'll maintain a competitive advantage over other vendors?

Looking forward to learning more! Thanks again for all your fantastic work.



Dear Tim,

Thank you so much for your excellent questions and interest in ENVenture!

As for the first two questions - very important market analysis questions. Our ENVenture Fellow Miriam is actually figuring this out right now with the community of Gayaza. What is the demand and what is their ability to pay? Statistics on Uganda (2002) are as follows: 75% of Ugandans use paraffin candles for lighting, 97% use firewood and charcoal for cooking. Thus the need for these low carbon technologies are extremely great.

As for buying power and financing, the price point for these products are low enough to where there is a market. In addition to retailing only high-quality products, it is equally important to provide excellent customer service and aftersales to gain the trust of the community and so locals will continue to shop at the local SGV.

As for competitive advantage, actually the hope is that by creating a market for these products, competition will occur. The market is so large, that competitors are not a threat - the goal is to bring more low carbon technologies into rural households. Creating SGVs is only one of many supply chain possibilities. ENVenture is a completely open-source model and we welcome collaboration with partners and competitors to address how we can increase adoption of these life-improving technologies.

Thanks again for your questions! I hope I was able to answer them adequately. I can share the Gayaza market analysis Miriam will provide if you are interested.