‘Different thinking’ the key to unlocking innovation - CNBC Africa

‘Different thinking’ the key to unlocking innovation


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Osborn's philosophy is to dare to be different. PHOTO: Ember Carriers

“My thinking was different,” Tom Osborn, an entrepreneur and the founder of GreenChar in Kenya, told CNBC Africa.

“Many African kids like us, they grow up in things that they don’t like but they don’t do anything about it because not doing anything is the easiest option. It’s very easy to follow the system and many people don’t want to get past their comfort zone.”

Osborn stated that most young people don’t want to be different and don’t want to do something that society thinks is different.

“My philosophy is to dare to be different. The reason I ventured into business straight from highschool is because I wanted to be different. I didn’t want to conform to the system that society had put in place [and] I also wanted to do something for society,” he added.

He also stated that he formed GreenChar, a social enterprise that provides affordable, high energy cooking solutions, as a way to alleviate the hassle on those who were forced to used toxic charcoal briquettes.

(READ MORE: Strengthening primary healthcare in Kenya through innovation)

“I grew up in Kenya, in a rural town. What inspired me to start GreenChar was a day in highschool when I randomly came across the fact that smoke from charcoal and firewood kills more people than AIDS, Malaria and TB combined,” Osborn said.

According to Osborn, that made me think of his mum because she had spent nearly her entire lifetime in front of it and he felt guilty because she was cooking for him.

“We make eco-friendly charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste. We collect sugar cane remains from sugar factories, sometimes we even collect maize remains from the local farmers and we bring them to our facility,” he said.

“The entire process takes between seven days to 10 days and after that, the charcoal briquettes, according to tests which have been done by two independent bodies in Kenya, have up to 90 per cent less smoke emission and 60 per cent higher energy than the normal charcoal that people use.”

Currently, GreenChar produces 150 kilogrammes of the charcoal every day and sells out everything it produces.

“From June, we’ll be going to the next level, building a bigger factory. We have got support from organisations like Eco&Green, Rockafella Foundation and now the African Leadership Academy and the Mastercard Foundation,” said Osborn.

“By the beginning of November, we’re going to launch a new production facility that will be producing 3,000 kilogrammes per day.”

(READ MORE: Young people light the way towards an innovative Africa)

He added that there is a lot of energy from young people in Africa but that they never scale up their ventures because they never dare to grow past their comfort zone.