When Greenway Grameen launched their eco-friend cookstoves, they didn’t realize that one of their biggest challenges would be a gendered one: even though women in rural India were interested in buying, it was the men they needed to convince.
In India, especially in rural areas, more than 400 million people lack access to electricity and more than 850 million people use biomass fuel (i.e. wood or agro-waste) to prepare food. Not only does burning biomass release harmful greenhouse gases into the air, but household air pollution is linked to lung cancer, chronic heart disease, lung disease, and pneumonia. The reliance on biomass fuel additionally contributes to deforestation, further amplifying the destructive effect of traditional cookstoves.
After graduating from a MBA and an engineering degree, Neha Juneja was looking for a business opportunity that could link finance, technology and impact on the ground. In 2010 she and partner Ankit Mathur launched Greenway Grameen, a social enterprise that aims to replace mud cookstoves with a smoke-reducing alternative that minimizes environmentally and physiologically harmful emissions while conserving fuel.
Despite their innovative idea, when Neha and Ankit started their venture, their small team of three were still struggling to get their product right and identify their markets. “UnLtd India was the only organization that would even talk to us,” said Neha. “They were our first funder, before anyone else, and they believed in us even before we had our product ready.”
Once Greenway Grameen had perfected its product, the team faced a new challenge – selling a stove, which would be primarily used by women, in a market where men largely control the household finances.
“In most households in rural India, women do the cooking. So the stove would be something that would mostly benefit them. We initially started doing demonstrations with different women’s groups and self-help groups,” said Neha. Even after several demonstrations to seemingly interested customers, however, Greenway Grameen’s sales remained low.
“What we found when we were marketing to women, is that they would always say ‘I need to go home and talk to my husband,’ before they could make the purchase. So the challenge for us was how to get men to think this was a good investment in addition to making it something women wanted in their homes,” said Neha.
The team adjusted their marketing strategies to appeal to the husbands of the women interested in the stoves, by making a commercial to give credibility to the brand. “People tend to think that if there is a TV commercial, it must be a higher brand,” said Neha. “Once our team started showing it on their mobile phones, we realized that people were more willing to buy after that.” They also started setting up stove demonstrations at weddings, where both men and women are present. “It’s the best place to get a yes,” smiles Neha.
Since starting their venture four years ago, Greenway Grameen has sold more than 300,000 cookstoves and its team has grown to 123 employees. On an average, each stove serves a household of at least 4 people. Earlier this year, Greenway Grameen opened the largest cookstove manufacturing plant in India in Gujarat as the organization looks to expand within India and beyond.