Chebet Lesan: The Kenyan Creating Life-Saving Fuels For Africa
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Profiles - June 8, 2023

Chebet Lesan: The Kenyan Creating Life-Saving Fuels For Africa’s Kitchen

As the founder of BrightGreen Renewable Energy Limited, Chebet Lesan leads her company to produce fuel briquettes from upcycled farm waste, or biomass to make cooking a less difficult and hazardous task.

Lesan who was the 2020 winner of the Jack Ma Foundation-led Africa’s Business Heroes Award provides an alternative source of clean-burning energy to firewood and charcoal through her affordable, sustainable, long-lasting and eco-friendly briquettes.

With funding and coaching from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, Chebet’s company developed machines that convert farm waste, such as the remains of maize stalks, leftovers from sugar cane, coffee husks, macadamia nuts and flour waste, into affordable, clean, safe and eco-friendly charcoal briquettes for cooking.

Her products which are available to risk-averse and cash-constrained communities in Kenya earned her recognition as a young global leader by the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. Chebet also received the Queen’s Young Leader Award from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II before her death. Let’s take a walk back in history and unravel how it all started.

What ignited Lesan’s interest in sustainable energy?

Lesan’s interest in clean sustainable energy began when she received an invitation from (MIT) to be part of their D-lab program. The program brought promising design students from around the world together in Tanzania to develop a solution to a local problem using local materials.

During the community-based workshop, Chebet noticed the forests at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro had been decimated for firewood and charcoal. She was also exposed to the degree of havoc smoke intake wreaked on women. 

Speaking about her interest in sustainable energy, she said, “It was the same scenario, this was 20 years later, her hut was smoky, she faced the same problems, the same snakes and spiders were there. She had gotten used to the environment … she coughed and teared up in the smoke-filled hut and I wondered how I could make it easier for her and others. I took a step back and asked myself, ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on here? Should preparing food be such a difficult and hazardous task?’ I think that’s where it all started.”

How she built BrightGreen Energy 

Chebet received funding from MIT and developed her machinery and production outfit which employs ten full-time personnel capable of producing 1 to 1.5 tonnes daily. Through her firm, Lesan produces a range of briquettes under the brand name MOTO, which means “fire” in Swahili. Her Moto briquettes have high heat value and emit no smoke. 

When she started producing these briquettes, hotels and restaurants were eager to buy them. However, she was focused on making a difference in the lives of women because they were the biggest users of cooking energy in households. 

Her focus on the poor

Desiring to reach the poorest of the poor, Chebet convinced 40 women running kiosks in local markets to work with her. She organised training sessions to educate these men and women about the products and the benefits of selling them. 

The product lines, King for high-heat fast cooking; Pika for grains and longer boiling; Kuku for small-scale farmers sell at $0.5 to $0.6 per kilo. According to her, the price is favourable for low-income populations as the majority of her customers live on less than $4 a day. Lesan sells 30% of her product to women and 70% to hotels and restaurants. The profits she generates from the hotels and restaurants help her serve the kiosks better. 

Briquettes branding and distribution

As part of expansion plans, Chebet had to rebrand her product packaging. She got fancy aprons for her sellers. These aprons had the name of her products, Moto Briquettes. BrightGreen distributes the product to the market by partnering with women micro-entrepreneurs running individual kiosks. 

These women are also charged with the responsibility of creating awareness for the product. The Kenyan entrepreneur plans to increase accessibility to raw materials and reduce logistical burdens on small-scale farmers.

Lesan’s advocacy for equal rights

Chebet advocates for equal rights for girls and women by ensuring that the clean cooking sector thrives. She works with local artisans and sources 80% of her raw materials from women in and around Nairobi. Through her energy firm, these women receive proper sales training with an emphasis on advancing product awareness and influencing behaviour change in their communities. They are also privileged to earn an income and create a lasting impact in their community.

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