A version of this post was first published on LinkedIn.
What makes technology incredible -- outside of what it enables us to do -- are the journeys that lead to the breakthrough. We aren't exposed to the creator's emotional pangs from hanging it all on the line and venturing into the unknown. Nelson Mandela once prescribed, "The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
Meet Sanga Moses.
Sanga greets me in the lobby of the Hilton Manhattan East, the hotel closest to United Nations where he had spoken the day prior. He's happy to see me. Despite flying halfway around the world and only exchanging one or two emails, he greets me with a hug as if we have known each other for years. I have become a fan of Sanga and his company Eco-Fuel Africa, that helps create sustainable cooking fuel and jobs in Uganda, so I am equally excited to meet Sanga. Eco-Fuel Africa was a $1 million winner of last year's Powerful Answers Award, Verizon's global competition that awards world-changing ideas.
While looking for a place to sit down and chat we walk the street and small talk about the craziness of New York City and how it compares to his much quieter home 7,000 miles away in Kampala, Uganda. We meander our way to a busy midtown coffee shop and start to dig in.
"I think if you have great ideas and you don't work on them, you are not only doing a disservice to yourself, but to the world that's to benefit from having them," -- Sanga Moses
As we start the interview Sanga, in true Sanga fashion, explains how humbling it was to win the Powerful Answers Award. He jokes, "It was a very humbling experience but, we didn't even expect to go past the first round." Sanga goes on to explain that at the time of winning the Award, his biggest challenge was meeting supply demands and reaching a very fragmented East Africa with his clean cooking fuel. Today, the way Sanga and Eco-Fuel are tackling this challenge is through, as he describes it, a decentralized micro franchising model that provides communities with the knowledge and skills needed for clean cooking fuel subsistence. This model has proven itself with over 105,000 homes in East Africa being reached to date.
"We have already created over 50 micro franchises and what the Powerful Answers money is going to help us do is scale to where we think we can reach 20,000 homes in the next 12 months," explains Sanga. "That's our goal."
A single Eco-Fuel franchise can reach roughly 5,000 homes, but bringing clean cooking fuel to communities is just one part of the vision for Sanga. The same franchise can also create 12 local jobs inside the community and also helps keep young girls, the primary wood gatherers in this region, in school. I ask Sanga if he sees a future for Eco-Fuel outside of Uganda? He smiles and says, "In the next five years, we plan to be in all regions of Uganda as well as regions of Kenya and Tanzania. We think we can reach every sub-Saharan country by 2030 with this model given community buy-in that we have seen. That's what keeps us up at night." He named a few other countries, but explained there are governmental challenges that need to be worked through.
So I can't help, but get a little selfish during the interview and try to find out where the fire lives inside a guy like Sanga; a guy who bootstrapped his vision by selling his own furniture to inch towards something bigger than himself. "I think the motivation at the beginning was just keeping my sister in school and getting clean energy into myhousehold, but now it's about bringing it to every energy-poor household and getting more girls into school, " says Sanga.
Sanga and I continue to talk about his vision for the next 12 months, even the next three years, but the reality is that he is going to board a plane just the next day at JFK and head back to Uganda. I ask him what is he immediately looking forward to when he returns? That's when I learn about two of Sanga's biggest motivators,, "I have two daughters, Happy and Lucky. I want them to have a better life, better than my life and better than my sister's life."
There's no doubt Sanga's story is rich and his vision for the next year and his Powerful Answers Award winnings is clear, but he recognizes there are others just like him that are ready to venture into the unknown to make global impacts and to that he says, "You will never know what you are capable of achieving until you go out there try. "Fear is a natural emotion. I still fear sometimes. I was scared to death when I decided to quit my job and start Eco-Fuel; I couldn't even sleep at night." Again, being selfish, I prod Sanga a little further on this concept of dedicating yourself to projects you believe in. "I think if you have great ideas and you don't work on them, you are not only doing a disservice to yourself, but to the world that's to benefit from having them," he says.
Feeling our conversation coming to an end, before I can stop the recorder and pack my things, Sanga makes it a point to express his genuine gratitude to Verizon for having an initiative like Powerful Answers. "Let me say this, on behalf of the communities we work and my colleagues, we can only say thank you and that we can never repay you," he laughs. I ask Sanga if we can head outside to take a few photos, but before we leave he explains he is obligated to buy me a coffee for taking the time to meet with him. He says it's customary in Uganda, so I can't refuse it. We go out front to take a few photos with my phone then I guide him back to his hotel. Just as he greeted me with a hug, he departs from me with one.
One starkly unique thing I realized about Sanga and his vision is his outlook on success. Eco-Fuel Africa is very much a company, but ask Sanga about monetary profits and you get a cool and calm assurance that the company makes money, but success isn't necessarily defined by it. It is clear to me that Sanga's vision is driven by those things much closer to his heart.
Jerry Rizzo manages public relations and storytelling for Powerful Answers Award.
The Powerful Answers Award is a multi-million dollar challenge for entrepreneurs, companies and innovators worldwide to provide innovative solutions to the world's biggest problems. In it's third year, Powerful Answers Award is excited as ever to share stories of the people behind the technologies leaving a positive impact in three areas: transportation, emergency response and the Internet of Things. For more information, visit here.