27-year-old 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow Chebet Lesan is on a mission to save Kenya from itself. The pioneering climate-change activist and ecocapitalist has found a way to transform waste into charcoal –– creating jobs, saving the environment, and creating clean energy all at the same time.
Lesan founded BrightGreen, whose Moto Charcoal Briquettes are being hailed as one of the continent's most inspired innovations. The briquettes are created from recycled urban waste and carbonised biomass to create a high-quality, clean and durable cooking fuel.
The idea was prompted when Lesan encountered the dwindling forests at the foot of Africa's highest mountain, Mt Kilimanjaro, while on holiday at the famous site. Years of deforestation by locals desperate for firewood has destroyed the natural environment.
"The forest there was well on its way to becoming extinct, due to charcoal-burning activities conducted there. That sight horrified me. It also stirred something in me that I did not think existed," Lesan said.
The feeling of horror gave birth to her social enterprise.
"We collect waste from shambas and markets, which we usually burn through a process called carbonisation. This then turns into a material called char, which is a black powder with the same properties as charcoal. We then compress this powder into blocks to form charcoal," she says.
So far, BrightGreen have produced and distributed more than 100 tons of sustainable-fuel briquettes, directly impacting more than 300 households. Working with local government, BrightGreen has collected over 120 tons of waste from Nairobi. As a result, it's estimated to have saved more than 800 ton of trees in Kenya's forests.
Lesan spoke at One Young World 2017 about her work with BrightGreen: