Andrée Sosler

Traditional cooking techniques in Darfur can be dangerous for women and for the babies tied to their backs. But Andrée Sosler is working to change all that. As the executive director of Potential Energy, a California-based organization that markets high-efficiency stoves to Sudanese women who would otherwise use firewood, Sosler is offering a way to save time and money while protecting the health of families and the planet. Typically, these women would have had to walk many miles through dangerous territory to find firewood — potentially having paid up to one-third of their incomes to obtain it — and the black-carbon soot that is produced by three-stone fires can be equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes per day, according to the World Health Organization.

Instead, each high-efficiency stove protects water supplies by reducing deforestation and minimizes carbon pollution by offsetting “about one ton of CO2 equivalent per year for about five years,” says Sosler, who took charge of the organization in 2009. Originally founded in 2005 as Darfur Stoves, a volunteer project at UC Berkeley, the project has since morphed into Potential Energy, having provided more than 20,000 stoves free of charge to Darfuri women. Just eight months ago, Potential Energy began transitioning from free distribution to a market-driven approach, which Sosler says will help to ensure that the stoves are valued by users, while maintaining long-term sustainability.

But it was important to Sosler — who has more than a decade’s worth of experience in poverty alleviation, grassroots microfinancing, and economic development in more than a dozen countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean — to keep the stoves affordable. Women can pay for the stove in full or through installment payments, each of which is designed to be less than monthly firewood expenses. Minimizing firewood consumption helps reduce deforestation and desertification of the Sahara, Sosler says, but it also helps individual families who not only have more money on hand, but also a cleaner environment. “It’s something that we think is much easier than convincing someone in the U.S. to stop driving for a year and also has all these other added benefits of helping women in their day-to-day lives,” she says. “Some people boil their water to make it potable. Now they’re able to have access to clean water at a much reduced price for the environment.”

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