Profile: Suleiman Mzungu, SUJA – East Africa

What is your off-grid energy business? Can you give a brief overview? How long have you been working on this business?

My off-grid business deals with production of charcoal briquettes with a brand name “Mukala”. We focus on production of clean cooking energy using agricultural waste materials like coconut husks, sugarcane husks, wood pieces, charcoal dust and others. The main focus of the business is reducing high rates of deforestation by having creative energy solutions that are environmental and user friendly. its 8 months since we started the business and so far, we have sold 70 bags; 20 for prototype and 50 for consumption.

What inspired you to work in off-grid energy? Are there key people who inspired you to work in this area?

As an environmentalist, I have participated in making the environment safe since my primary school level. I feel bad when I see a tree that has taken years to grow then it is cut down in just 5-10 minutes for energy reasons. I thought I have a role to play to change this. With the fact that I have seen charcoal being used since I was born and this depicts how much trees have been lost. This fact is what inspired me to work in off-grid energy at least to save trees to reduce climate change as well as provide people with a more reliable, efficient and clean source of cooking energy – carbonated charcoal briquettes. Actually, there is no one who inspired me at the first, but as I switched on into this, I have created enough friends to encourage me through the whole business endeavor.

Have you lived in an off-grid community? What is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid energy?

At my tender age, yes. The experience sounds normal for people living in such places but sincerely, it’s horrible. Life without a reliable source of energy be it for cooking, or other uses, is not enjoyable at all. Darkness implies lots of risks for the community and when we come to cooking, the firewood and kerosene stoves don’t create efficient cooking endangering their health for a lifetime. Development is very slow in such communities and the word quality is missing in almost every part of their lives.

What I want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid energy is, off-grid energy community, are the bottom of the pyramid class of people who are so many in Tanzanian context. If we want to achieve a sustainable economic development, then this lies in the off- grid community. It is unless we make strategic energy interventions in these areas, we cannot achieve a sustainable economic development.

What are main things you have learned while working as an entrepreneur in off-grid energy? Your biggest success and biggest failure? Key epiphanies or turning points?

Every day I take in off-grid business, is my learning opportunity. I have learnt to be persistent with regard that charcoal briquettes are new in my community and Shifting people’s mindsets from using normal charcoal is tough. This makes me to be very creative in boosting quality of briquettes and developing good marketing strategies to win minds of the customers and shift their perceptions. My biggest success is the time I was able to prove the worthiness of the business in front of judges and won 3000 USD as seed capital. I have not experienced sort of failure, it’s too early for that.

What has been most difficult or most rewarding?

Most difficult is the need to change our customer’s perceptions from using normal charcoal and getting them to embrace our briquettes and change their consumption behavior.

If you could share some wisdom if three years ago, what would it be?

Entrepreneurship is an endless journey, when anybody starts, should never stop.

Where do you hope to be, 3 years from now?

I hope to see the business a people’s brand in the energy sector, supplying clean cooking source of energy with good technology to meet our customers’ energy demands.

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