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WEYE Clean Energy started as a student project to teach girls and boys business skills and to enable their own production. Today it is a successful example of a green start-up company in the briquetting industry in Uganda.
When Kakembo Galabuzi Brian and his team received the iF SOCIAL IMPACT PRIZE and prize money of 5,000 Euro in 2017, he was still a business student and his project was one of many idealistic ones that aimed to save the planet. Today his start-up company WEYE Clean Energy Company Ltd (WEYE in short) is one of the role models in the biomass briquetting industry in Uganda.
Brian says: "The iF SOCIAL IMPACT PRIZE validated our idea and approach which not only gave us confidence but also seeded the funding to turn the simple project into a full-blown social enterprise." The Ugandan entrepreneur had a team of only four people when he initiated the project – now he employs 20 workers in the head quarters in Mukono Town and Namugongo.
If you break it down to the basics, WEYE produces and supplies briquettes made from organic waste generated by farms and households. In another step they replace traditional firewood in schools, poultry farms and factories with own developed institutional briquette stoves that guarantee a smoke-free working environment.
To the young Ugandan entrepreneur, the win
of the iF SOCIAL IMPACT PRIZE was the spark that has lit social and
environmental impact for a whole rural region in Uganda. "Our company has now
helped to change the lives of more than 800 young people and women."
According to him, WEYE has by now provided waste-to-energy cooking and heating solutions to more than ten schools, two large scale poultry farms and two medium-scale industries – saving almost 1100 trees annually.
The concept behind WEYE is innovative and pragmatic as it tackles long-term solutions for – among others – unemployment, additional source of income and environmental protection while still leaving the business to thrive.
"We now use 50 percent of our profit to fund our social and environmental projects," says Brian and continues: "Among our activities we provide are training to young people and women in the briquette industry, providing scholarships to students and campaigns for plastic recycling."
When Brian started with his Waste Energy Youth Project several years ago, all this success was just straws in the wind. Back then the project was an extended version of some research outputs of Ndejje University into the community. There Brian volunteered at the Energy Research Department.
As they started collaborating with St. Kizito High school Namugongo in Kampala and the United Nation’s program EBAFOSA, they soon took the chance to apply for a – at that time – brand new iF Design social initiative.
The outcome was overwhelming. The Waste Energy Youth Project belonged to six winners in total that were financially supported by iF in 2017. "The iF SOCIAL IMPACT PRIZE was not only the first financially funded but also the very first award we ever got."
The iF prize money brought Brian’s initiative to the next level. The young entrepreneur enumerates that the financial boost not only helped to register the project into a social enterprise, but also to invest in six institutional briquette stoves and to purchase some advanced briquetting machines that dramatically increased their production up to five times more.
“Because the ingredients, in this case agricultural waste, are carbonized, turning them into bio-char. The bio-char is then turned into briquette with a lot of compression. In the right burning conditions, these briquettes are not meant to produce smoke or produce very little negligible smoke with no harm to human beings.”
The next big goal of WEYE is to address three innovation gaps in the briquette industry. This regards notably the development of new machinery that greatly increases the production capacity, a new business model that offers free improved cook stoves to institutions, and as Brian says "new approaches to acquire sufficient feedstock such as bamboo or organic municipal waste."
For this ambitious undertaking, WEYE collaborates once again with Ndejje University and has already started mobilizing large-scale funding. Fundraising is anyway a sensitive topic for start-up social enterprises.
Most banking institutions consider start-up companies high risk and non-profitable and WEYE knows it too well. Brian admits: "Most investors are looking for profit maximization. Yet social enterprises strive to also maximize social or environmental impact."
What is indisputable is that prizes and wins appear to be a powerful promotion tool and WEYE’s portfolio is already impressively vast, ranging from the iF SOCIAL IMPACT PRIZE over the Greenpreneurs Achievement Award to the Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is part of WEYE’s success formula. The young company has demonstrated the ambition of outstanding young people whose innovative business model made a real impact in Uganda.
(published in September 2020)