Two journeys, one direction
Two journeys, one direction
Two women from two different backgrounds. Two different life stories. Two ways of struggling with their ambitions to change. How did their paths cross?
A wake up call
Do Thu Giang was woken up by a phone call on an early winter morning back in 2014. She had been used to unexpected calls like this since she started devoting all of her time to her Green Generation Cook Stove business, but the child-like voice of the caller attracted her attention. Despite her teenage-sounding voice, the 18-year old unemployed Thai ethnic Leo Huyen Thanh made Giang decide without hesitation that this was the type of woman that her company was looking for.
Two life stories, two starting points
Do Thu Giang, aged 44, is a typical “city girl” who was born into a Hanoian family with a very good background. She has nearly 20 years experience in the banking industry, in which she has held different senior positions at international banks operating in Vietnam. Stable jobs, high remuneration and benefits which many would dream of did not make her fulfilled. She was always asking herself how the many disadvantaged people would benefit from the multi-million dollar air-jet or oil & gas projects that her banks invested in. She always wanted to see how many of the dollars invested directly impacted on low income people’s lives. Being a ‘banker’ seemed not enough for Giang’s ambitions.
Stepping out of ‘comfort zone’
In rural Vietnam, most households primarily use firewood for cooking fuel and most cooking is done over traditional 3-stone open stoves. With approximately 57% of the Vietnamese population using firewood for cooking, the price of the fuel has been increasing over time. There is a large potential market for a stove that uses an alternative fuel source.
With the quick sense of an experienced businesswoman, Giang realized this was a great market opportunity for her “doing business for social impacts” ambitions. She decided to step out of her ‘comfort zone’ by retiring from her prosperous banking career to join her husband, a passionate and creative renewable energy businessman, on a more bumpy road: producing and selling green and affordable biomass cook stoves to serve the low income market.
Take the challenge, make a change
Giang and her husband have developed an eco-friendly biomass cook stove that burns agricultural byproducts and crop residues in addition to firewood for a more cost-effective and efficient cooking solution. The stove is top-lit so it does not need to be fanned, it is mobile and convenient to use.
Giang named their company Green Generation with an ambition of contributing to greener future generations.
GreenGen has developed a business model around their innovative stove that is inclusive of poor communities in Vietnam. It engages low-income individuals at three points:
- As employees: workers of the company earn an income producing the stove parts in its factories.
- As distributors: sales agents in local areas earn commission by distributing the cook stoves.
- As consumers: low-income customers can purchase the cook stove at an affordable price. They will benefit from low cost fuel and the environmentally friendly product.
In less than one year, Giang organized many workshops, attracting 2,000 women in three Northern mountainous provinces of Tuyen Quang, Son La and Ha Giang, in which women learnt about the negative impacts of firewood on family health and more ‘macro’ issues such as deforestation, greenhouse gas, and climate change.
Practical and easy-to-remember promotional materials were handed out to thousands of women. GreenGen aims to provide rural market with 30,000 stoves by the end of 2015 and help 100 women improve their income by being part of GreenGen’s marketing and sales activities.
Leo Huyen Thanh, aged 18, was born into a poor Thai ethnic family in Ca Village, Son La province. She is the eldest of three children– one with cataract and another born with heart problems. Her family is too poor to afford the College of Son La that she has been admitted to. She has no other choice than to put aside her higher education ambitions and find a way to help her family survive.
Take the challenge, make a change
Thanh’s family has been using GreenGen cook stove and she noticed – as an end user - the many advantages of it compared to the traditional three-stone open fire, but she wanted more than that. She learned about the income opportunity with GreenGen distribution network, so she decided to give Giang a wake up phone call. Giang was totally overwhelmed by the hidden strength of unexperienced and young Thanh: the ambition for a better life, the desire for change.
Thanh has been admitted to GreenGen distribution network. For each stove sold, which costs between VND 180,000 and 450,000, she earns a commission of 10%-20%. GreenGen sells stoves to Thanh on credit, so she doesn’t need any seed money to invest in her business. The job is new and Thanh is busy with other family responsibilities, but Giang believes she will become a strong member of GreenGen network once she’s fully equipped with knowledge and skills by the company. She also believes young women like Thanh will be able to change their own lives and be inspiration for many other women to take up the challenge and make a change.
“Helping needy women like Thanh makes me feel more confident in the choice I made: stepping out of the comfort zone to take up a challenge” – Giang openly said.
About Green Generation business initiative:
With its inclusive business model focusing on low income women as beneficiaries, GreenGen business initiative was selected, along with 20 other businesses, by VBCF, for a committed investment of nearly GBP 80,000 (45% of total investment) over two years (2014 - 2015).
GreenGen stove’s benefits for the low income people, especially women and children:
- Use of agriculture residues and the more efficient combustion saves households approx. 50-60% of wood, hence saving more money to buy food, clothes or school stuff for the children.
- Saving wood means less time spent collecting fire wood, which is usually the task of women and children. The design of the GreenGen stove does not require users to attend to the fire to push wood like traditional wood stoves. Thus, more time is saved for other tasks.
- Women and children are often exposed to pollution from indoor cooking smoke, which is the cause of many diseases or even death. GreenGen stove operates based on pyrolysis of biomass in more efficient combustion which results in less harmful smoke.