Ben & Jerry’s started way back in 1987 with the goal of combining economic success with a social mission. For the past 4 years we’ve invited entrepreneurs ages 18-34 who are making a positive difference in the world to pitch us their best ideas. The winners of the Join Our Core program get a €10,000 investment in their organization, business mentoring and training from our partner Ashoka, a trip to Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont, and their business featured on pints of Ben & Jerry’s.
It’s no surprise, then, that we’ve had the opportunity to meet, and fund, some truly visionary entrepreneurs. Deepak Ashwani took the prize in 2013 for Denmark with his innovative approach to creating economic opportunities while solving a leading cause of illness and death in rural villages.
Meet Deepak Ashwani
A native of Punjab, India, Deepak Ashwani counts himself fortunate to have had the chance at earning a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering. After being recruited into a job in the electronics industry, Ashwani spent a lot of time traveling throughout rural India, where we saw that many people were trapped in a cycle of poverty— largely because time consuming tasks like tending open cooking fires took away opportunities for advancement, while causing major health consequences.
Within just a few years, Ashwani had resigned from his job and enrolled in a masters program for environmental management in Denmark. “I was fortunate to be educated and get a nice job,” says Ashwani. “Why don’t I focus all my energy for less fortunate people instead of keep doing the job I don’t even enjoy?”
In Denmark, Ashwani met experts in the field of environmental management, and spent several years working with rural communities across the world. His goal was to create sustainable solutions for developing countries that drew on the major local resource of biomass.
Deepak’s Vision: A Cook Fire that Serves Up Opportunity, Not Sickness
During Ashwani’s travel and work, one problem in particular became clear: the way rural villagers cook for themselves. Over 2.5 billion people around the world still use traditional fuels, like firewood and charcoal, to cook. This outdated practice is time consuming, and when done inside dwellings, also deadly— 4.3 million deaths each year result from cooking smoke.
When Ashwani founded the non-profit Dazin in 2013, smokeless stoves and a renewable fuel already existed. His innovation was in developing a model that gave people who make only a few dollars a day access to this technology. Here’s how it works:
- Rural households supply Dazin with forest waste wood, and get free fuel “cookies” in return – super efficient and clean burning, made from sustainable forest waste wood – along with a smokeless cook stove
- Surplus fuel cookies produced from the rural households’ forest waste are then sold in urban markets
- Profits from urban market sales are fed back into providing free fuel cookies and stoves to the rural communities
Dazin’s model is a win for both sets of customers. The fuel cookies are 50% cheaper than petroleum gas, while requiring 84% less wood than traditional open fires. Rural users cut the time they typically spent collecting wood in half, smoke-related deaths are eliminated, and 4 tons of carbon emissions are eliminated per stove, per year. We call that a win-win-win.
Danzi launched with a successful test in Bhutan, one of the highest per capita consumers of firewood in the world, and now hopes to bring its model to other rural areas around the world. You can get involved by supporting Dazin’s crowdfunding page or donating through their own website. Ashwani’s work is scalable, and it solves for multiple issues at once— rural poverty, human health and even climate change are all benefited by the fuel cookie and smokeless cook stove.
We’re always excited to see what solutions the Join Our Core competitors come up with, and are eager to see Ashwani’s idea spread further and further!