Partner Spotlight is a monthly series that highlights one of the Alliance’s 1,800+ partners and their work in the clean cooking sector. In this edition, we speak with Sebastian Rodriguez-Sanchez, CEO & Co-Founder of KopaGas, a Tanzanian distributor of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) that is developing a smart meter-enabled pay-as-you-go solution to enable increased affordability. KopaGas is being supported by the Alliance’s new Spark+ program which provides technical assistance and funding to scalable and financially viable enterprises in order to strengthen the investment pipeline, and mobilize private capital for sector growth. Learn more about Spark+ here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What inspired you to start KopaGas?
My co-founder Andron Mendes had the original idea back in 2013. As a consumer of LPG, Mendes had to pay $25 USD every time he had to refill a gas cylinder. He would always tell me that if it was a challenge him to afford the fee, it would be exponentially harder for those who only earn a fraction of his income. Since then, we researched and found out how much urban-dwelling Tanzanians spend on charcoal which is, incredibly, an estimated 20-30% of their entire monthly income.
I have been involved in the smart technology space for over a decade now. With technology becoming more accessible and affordable, it’s now possible to offer products at the right price points that make a commercial case for the pay-as-you-go solution for LPG, just as it is being done for distributed solar power across many markets in sub-Saharan Africa.
What is the most striking lesson you’ve learned while operating a business in the clean cooking sector?
Well, many lessons – we are always learning. One is the realization as to how deeply embedded our major competitor, charcoal, actually is. As a large proportion of charcoal is produced unsustainably, this creates a ripple effect on our environment. It is also a reality that that poor charcoal producers receive only a tiny fraction of the economic value generated by this activity.
Another key lesson is to keep listening to our customers, and ensure that our services and products are affordable. We provide a meter that allows users to pay for cooking gas in small amounts using mobile money. This feature gives more power to the user, and lets them decide how and when to use their money. LPG is a great solution for cooking – it’s flexible, fast, and clean. Our users love how convenient it is over charcoal and wood.
I think the biggest lesson is to realize that clean cooking is not in the radar of the general public. The amount of money, time, and effort that women spend every day to cook for their families goes basically unrecognized by the other half of the population (us men!). We need exponential technologies and partnerships to increase access substantially – we are off today by an order of magnitude in terms of investment and progress.
Congratulations on KopaGas’ being selected for the Spark+ program. What are the planned activities or initiatives that excite you most?
Thank you! We are truly excited to be working more directly with the Alliance, and implementing lessons learned from other companies in the clean cooking sector around the world. The Alliance has built a unique value, offering insights into over 1,800 public, private, and, non-profit partners and stakeholders, which is great. Part of the support we are already receiving is to help KopaGas prepare for scale up, and to leverage other funding mechanisms. We are also excited to keep sharing our lessons learned, as we continue working to make Dar es Salaam (our home base) free of charcoal.
This month was the annual Sankalp Forum, and as in previous years, the Alliance supported the participation of several of our partners. What was new and exciting that you learned about at this year’s conference?
During the 2018 Sankalp Forum, we were thrilled to be awarded the first runner up trophy in the pitching competition. It was exciting to see the wealth of talent in the region, and how technology is being utilized by not just our business, but so many others in the space. The future is bright for companies that can be resilient and adaptable, despite the lack of physical infrastructure and other not so obvious barriers that are prevalent in markets throughout Africa.