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Social entrepreneurship & finance

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Sobre la Roca: The video report!

June 12, 2009 | Comments Off | Enterprises, Videos

Headquartered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Sobre La Roca was founded 12 years ago by Ruth Saavedra to produce and sell solar cookers to farmers living in rural areas. Using solar energy to cook favours the protection of the environment by reducing C02 emissions and deforestation. The ease of use of the solar cooker also allows women to save a lot of time that they can then allocate to productive activities.

For more information, read Sobre la Roca’s profil

Fair Street - Sobre la Roca from Angalio Productions on Vimeo.

Sobre La Roca: Cooking with the sun

June 12, 2009 | Comments Off | Enterprises

Our first reporting on the Bolivian soil takes place in Cochabamba. We came to Cochabamba earlier than expected to meet Ruth Saaverda, our entrepreneur, before she was leaving on holiday for one month. This interview has been incredible: in addition to our interview with Ruth, we had the chance to attend a demonstration of the product in the Bolivian countryside. After a three hours-long journey through muddy roads, we got to a community of miners where we discovered the numerous advantages of the solar cooker.

Problems:

The environment: Families living in rural areas in Bolivia usually do not have a proper access to gas and electricity. As a consequence, they are forced to use firewood to cook. UNICEF estimates that in developing countries, more than 80% of the wood is used to cook.  On average, this translates into a yearly consumption of 100kg of wood per month per family. This intensive use of wood, in addition to emitting destructive gazes such as CO2, participates considerably to the deforestation in these countries (10% of the deforestation could be avoided thanks to the use of solar cooking).

Women emancipation: Cooking can strongly complicate the life of women, if they do not have the appropriate technology. Women in rural regions are often forced to walk several hours per day to bring wood back home. This harassing task prevents them from working and to participate to the economic and social life.

Context:

In Bolivia, 40% of the population lives in isolated rural zones and is not properly served in energy. Moreover, as their access to technology is limited, the people situated at the « Base of the Pyramid » generally use rudimentary cooking methods. The Bolivian Altiplano, where Sobre La Roca’s activities are concentrated, is an ideal location for the use of solar energy: it is at more than 3000 meters of altitude and enjoys 300 sunny days per year.

The company;

Headquartered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Sobre La Roca was founded in 1997 to produce and distribute solar cookers to the Bolivian farmers living in rural areas. The solar cooker is a thermal box constituted of different mirrors that reflect solar rays within the box. The good insulation of the box enhances heat conservation enabling temperatures of 150°C and therefore making it possible to cook all kind of dishes. Solar cookers are easy to build which allow Sobre La Roca to sell them at the attractive price of €50.

Sobre La Roca has also developed complementary activities. It has launched awareness campaigns on the ecology. It also offers trainings to teach Bolivian families how to use the solar cooking and to improve their food habits. The company is in a growth phase: if up to now, Sobre La Roca has already sold 5000 solar cookers and educated more than 2400 women, it should reach the number of 10,000 solar cookers sold by the end of 2009.

The entrepreneur:

Ruth Saveerda de Whitfield is a Bolivian social entrepreneur living in Cochabamba. Convinced of the potential of solar cookers, she dedicated her life to Sobre La Roca that she founded 12 years ago. The first years of Sobre La Roca have been very difficult. During this period, Ruth did not hesitate to visit to the most isolated regions of Bolivia and to meet local communities to promote her product. In 2004, as the company was close to go bankrupt, Ruth and her husband conceded huge sacrifices which allowed Sobre La Roca to survive. Believing that “real” value relies in Sobre la Roca’s mission, they went until selling their wedding valuables.

Social Impact:

The use of the solar cookers contributes to the environmental, social, sanitary and economic development. Firstly, solar cookers favour nature preservation as 500 cookers enable the preservation of 5000 acres of forest per year without any CO2 emissions. Secondly, solar cookers, given the time savings they allow, enhance the women social and economic emancipation. They can indeed allocate time to other activities instead of spending hours to collect wood and watch out the cooking of their dishes. Lastly, cooking with solar energy increases the nutritive value of the meals as it leaves more vitamins within the ingredients giving them a higher nutritive power.

Beyond its product, Sobre La Roca has a positive social impact throughout its value chain. The basic elements of the social cookers are built in a prison of Cochabamba as part of a reinsertion program for prisoners

Financial impact:

E+Co’s support: During the first years, Ruth Saveedra financed Sobre La Roca with her own money. Her launching strategy consisted in offering 10 solar cookers to different farmers in order to measure their social impact and to promote the product. Then, the company grew through auto financing; the profits generated by the sales of its cookers were reinvested and allowed it to grow but at a limited pace.

After 7 years, Sobre La Roca had sold 2,500 cookers. However, the financial situation of the company became not sustainable as it had to renew its infrastructures with no capital to do so. The social investment fund « E+Co », believing in Sobre La Roca’s future and potential, backed the company with a $20,000 loan refundable in 3 years. This loan enabled Sobre La Roca to increase its production capacity and to reach a larger proportion of customers. The total impact of the loan is striking as it triggered a 300% growth of the production and gave the possibility to Sobre La Roca to convert into a small enterprise owning its own infrastructure.

E+Co’s support has been decisive in Sobre La Roca’s economic development and in the extension of its social mission.

The use of microfinance: The price of the solar cooker is 50€. While being affordable, this price remains too high for some people at the « Base of the Pyramid ». To cope with this situation, Sobre La Roca, collaborated with E+Co and created a fund that proposes micro credit loans. Moreover, Sobre La Roca is currently building a strategic alliance with FIE, a leading microfinance institution in Bolivia, whose broad network of agencies will ease the access to capital for many people and consequently ease the acquisition of solar cookers.

Sources:

Interview with Jorge Gronda, founder CEGIN and SER System

www.solarcooking.org

www.adesolaire.org

www.eandco.net