Scaling Up: Making Project Surya Successful Over the Long Term

Project Surya is not the first cleaner-cooking project. In fact, there have been many efforts over previous decades to promote widespread conversion from traditional biomass cooking to improved stoves. Most of these efforts have been led by governments, donors, and NGOs. A few examples of such projects:

  • China has installed over 35 million improved stoves
  • India distributed over 12 million stoves in the first seven years of a government-sponsored program that has been in place for 20 years
  • Kenya’s and Ethiopia’s governments distributed about 1.5 million stoves each in collaboration with NGOs and donors
  • Countless smaller NGO-led initiatives have distributed more and other varieties of cookstoves 

The continued prevalence of traditional biomass cooking in rural India and elsewhere in the developing world, however, suggests that there is still substantial room for improvement.  There is no single meta-analysis diagnosing the root causes of the numerous existing improved cookstove programs’ failure to sustain use over the long term or scale, but anecdotal and case-specific explanations tend to emphasize three main explanations:

  • The programs did not take users’ preferences into account
  • The stoves were often distributed without considering the larger context, including fuel supply chain, affordability and access to maintenance and fuel
  • The household dynamics of demand versus ability to pay was not adequately considered.

A More Customer-Centered Approach

Project Surya will take advantage of and contribute to emerging business-like approaches that focus on beneficiaries – especially women - as “customers” with multifaceted needs, and will address the entire product life cycle. Our research and pilot projects will explore the efficacy of subsidies, clean development mechanism (CDM) funds, and other outside support in bridging the affordability gap.

Deploying cleaner cooking technologies merits public financial support due to the public health and climate spillovers. However, entrepreneurial approaches that center on customer acceptance and long-run feasibility of stove use, fueling, and maintenance are likely to provide the most effective way to channel expenditures and make the project sustainable and successful over the long term.