Social entrepreneurship came early to Tom Osborn. When Tom was 17 years old, his mother became ill with a severe lung infection. This is not an uncommon experience for those who cook indoor with firewood and charcoal. 18,000 people in Kenya die annually due to the effects of cook stove smoke.

According to the World Health Organization:

This makes in-home air pollution from cooking and heating to be the third highest cause of death behind alcoholism and tuberculosis.

Cooking and heating with biomass is also destroying the forests of the world. Every year Kenya loses 50,000 hectares of forest due to firewood and charcoal production.

We’ve established that charcoal production is a big problem. It also involves big dollar. In Kenya charcoal production is a $500,000,000 industry. Across Africa, it is a $10 billion industry.

These facts: Tom’s personal story, the size of the problem and the size of the market conspired together to set Tom Osborn on the path to social entrepreneurship at the age of 17. It started when he and his cofounder signed up for a business incubator competition. They won first place, which netted them $3,000.

GreenChar uses sugar cane waste to make alternative cooking fuel.

In 2014, Tom became an Echoing Green Fellow. Tom talked about the benefits of Echoing Green. He told me that it gave him credibility. It also connected him with likeminded people. This credibility and the introductions that Echoing Green was able to make. He told me that his time with Echoing Green took his business to the next level.

Tom was also able to go through a cohort at Fledge, the Conscious Company Accelerator. (You may recall my interview with Luni Libes in episode 3.). Tom told me that his time at Fledge helped him to understand how to run his business from A to Z.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Tom Osborn:

“I never envisioned myself as a social entrepreneur. I wanted to solve a problem that affected me as an individual.”

“It started with my family, then my neighbors, then my neighbor’s neighbors, and then their neighbors.”

“We reached the point where the demand for what we were doing was exceeding what we could produce as an organization. It made me realize that we were on to something here.”

“For a first-time social entrepreneur, fellowships and socially conscious accelerators can play a big role in helping you get to the next level.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

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