Written by: Dr Stephen Dobson, International Centre for Transformational Entrepreneurship, Coventry University
Since he was child Amin Sulley, from Ghana, has always thought a little differently about life and perhaps noticed things in his everyday surroundings that others tended to overlook. But, above all Amin has always stopped to ask the most simple of questions – “Why?” When I recently met social innovator and entrepreneur Amin in Accra he told me about his journey in founding the company ZaaCoal, which provides cleaner energy through the production of charcoal made from coconut waste. ZaaCoal was launched in 2015 but initially it came about from Amin’s recognition of a waste problem in the city. With over a thousand coconut sellers working on the streets he questioned “Why doesn’t anyone use this somehow? What can I do to help solve this?”
Amin with a pile of coconut husks at his home
Instead of seeing the discarded coconut husks as a problem Amin saw them as a potential resource and began researching possible uses. It was from here that ZaaCoal was born. Amin describes himself as an innovator and maverick with a curious mind but above all ZaaCoal demonstrates the kind of ‘big picture’ thinking which typifies a transformational entrepreneur. What is most interesting about ZaaCoal as a product is that Amin can visualise and articulate how it sits within a much wider social, economic and environmental context in providing a cleaner fuel alternative. The World Health Organisation report Fuel for Life states that:
“More than three billion people still burn wood, dung, coal and other traditional fuels inside their homes. The resulting indoor air pollution is responsible for more than 1.5 million deaths a year – mostly of young children and their mothers. Yet, these families are faced with an impossible dilemma: don’t cook with solid fuels, or don’t eat a cooked meal.”
With Sub-Saharan Africa being the largest contributor to these figures ZaaCoal is attempting to lead the way locally in changing this. Amin is also quick to demonstrate the environmental issues. Ghana had forest cover of 8.5 million hectares in 2000. Largely due to the wood charcoal industry this had reduced to 1.2 million hectares as of 2008 (Forestry Commission).
It is through our conversation that I can appreciate Amin’s passion and enthusiasm for the company, but what really strikes me is his awareness of how, with the right kind of vision, small acts can have multiple benefits and positive effects. And it is through this kind of thinking that we can really create new business models which are not just about extracting profit with disregard for consequence but are about creating value profitably. For Amin, this value started as simply finding a solution to keep the streets cleaner, but who knows where his vision will take him.
Aunty Attaa a vendor displaying her products
In 2015 Amin won the British Council ‘Duapa Challenge’ Season 1 programme after competing with 12 other social entrepreneurs. The programme provides financial support to the winner as well as the chance for finalists to travel to the UK and pitch to investors. Within a year he had opened a factory in Accra producing environmentally friendly charcoal for the Ghanaian Market. I asked him about the value of the Duapa programme: “The programme really helped me launch ZaaCoal and the mentors really helped me understand the business model and how to get started”. Amin is passionate about transforming lives. Creating an affordable product, which tackles important health issues Amin is both cleaning the urban environment as well as helping to reduce levels of deforestation. The success of ZaaCoal is a benefit to us all, and I wish him all the success in the world.
To find out more visit ZaaCoal’s website: http://www.ZaaCoal.com/