When COVID-19 hit, KOKO brought together a group of Kenyan companies to launch Safe Hands Kenya, a pop-up nonprofit initiative which used tech-enabled retail networks in the informal settlements to distribute free soap, hand sanitizer, surface disinfectant and masks, while simultaneously launching a nationwide consumer education campaign via TV, radio and online.
“I see KOKO as a great example of socially conscious capitalism, focused on delivering solutions to consumers that improve lives,” Murray says. “In recent decades, financialized capitalism has sometimes delivered poor outcomes for consumers and society, but it wasn’t always that way. We are capitalists in the traditional sense. We don’t do things if they aren’t useful to consumers and society. The scourge of dirty fuels is a massive societal problem.”
Murray also plans to expand beyond cooking fuel into other areas: “If KOKO were a telco, clean fuel is the ‘voice’ of the network, but our R&D Labs have been working on a range of other solutions that can be layered on top of the Fuel network, and be just as transformative. Basic goods and services are far more expensive in urban Africa, than in most ‘Western’ nations. Being poor in urban Africa is extremely tough—low incomes are reduced further by high expenses. Our approach is to start with the consumer and work backwards, in order to find ways to lower the cost of basic goods and services.”
Problems of infrastructure and government are widely documented in Kenya and neighboring states. Yet Murray, who is broadly supportive of what the government of Kenya is trying to do, found it straightforward to identify and engage the right stakeholders required to enable KOKO to launch.
“Governments in Africa get a bad rap,” he says. “Yes, there is corruption, but there is corruption in every country on the planet. In Kenya, there are also very competent technocrats who seek to move the country forward. For KOKO, it has been important to build relationships within a broad range of government agencies, to find individual champions who genuinely and legitimately support the positive outcomes we deliver for Kenyans, and who can help us navigate the right processes. KOKO has worked with regulators to draw up formal safety standards for ethanol cooking appliances and fuel, and has the support of many key ministries who understand that KOKO’s progress helps the Government achieve a range of policy objectives.”
In Nairobi, people are recognizing the opportunity KOKO’s solution represents. Reducing smoke and soot from dirty cooking fuel helps the environment as a whole.
“All Kenyans have seen first-hand the effects of deforestation from the charcoal industry,” Mr. Murray says. “Every Nairobian has family up-country, in the village or rural areas. Charcoal takes out the forests, which dries up the land, wrecks the soils and causes crop failure. The impacts of deforestation are crystal clear when Nairobians head up-country every year. There is a personal connection to the deteriorating landscape that is perhaps missing for many urban dwellers in the ‘West.’ So yes, using KOKO is practical, but we also are able connect to Kenyan consumers on a personal, emotional level as a result of this deep connection with the land.”
Kirsty Cameron is an Account Director and Digital Specialist in Brunswick’s London office.
Photograph courtesy of KOKO.