Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Kris M Balderston: We want people to know that what they're going to buy is going be good

Kris Balderston says India will be a priority country for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves as it accounts for about a quarter of deaths from issues related to cooking with traditional cookstoves

Published: Jul 11, 2012 06:55:29 AM IST
Updated: Jul 17, 2012 11:21:23 AM IST
Kris M Balderston: We want people to know that what they're going to buy is going be good

Kris M Balderston is the Special Representative for Global Partnerships at the Global Partnership Initiative in the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office, where he leads the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in Washington, DC. He was previously Clinton’s first legislative director, when she was in the Senate, before serving as her Deputy Chief of Staff. Since the cookstoves initiative was launched in 2010, the Alliance has 400 partners and ties with 34 countries, a third of which are donors and the rest are implementers. Here, in an interview with Sujata Srinivasan of Forbes India, Balderston talks about how the Alliance is enabling shared value creation through public-private partnerships and what the key challenges are in bringing India on board.

Q. What is the role of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in enabling shared value creation through public-private partnerships?
Everything we do at the Global Partnership Initiative [in the US Secretary of State’s Office] is going to create a platform that is a public-private partnership. Every one of the models has this shared value idea. So, when we went to India, we tried to find those partnerships. If we want to truly be a market-driven approach, we just can’t talk to government and NGOs–we want to talk to the business sector because they’re going to be more tuned in to the fact that money could be made. Communities and markets could be stabilised and they have an incentive to do this. Morgan Stanley came in–they’re interested in carbon credits. Dow Corning came in—they’re interested in expanding the local networks in Africa and India. Shell Oil came in—they’re looking at diversifying their base. We went to the United Nations Foundation. Then we said let’s go to countries–what is their shared value? And now we have 34 countries that have come in to the Global Alliance. 

Q. But unlike your newest member China, according to media reports, India has declined to join the Alliance. Why is this?
That’s a mischaracterisation actually. We’ve heard everything from they’ve declined to what not. They have not formally declined. On her recent trip, our executive director Radha Muthiah had conversations with the Indian government and I think they are getting more and more interested. But everybody is going to enter the Alliance differently. Everybody we’ve talked to–Canada, the UK, Malawi, Uganda and others–we don’t want them to enter and say ‘Hey, we’re members,’ we want them to be active partners. We don’t want to check a box and say India’s joined. We want them to be fully engaged. And we’re in the process of making them feel comfortable and having them understand what we’re doing.

Q. What are the challenges in bringing India on board?

India has had a rich experience at studying this problem. The US doesn’t have half a million people a year dying from cookstoves. So, I think because they have so much at stake, they’re trying to figure out how to meld their technology, their current programmes, with what we’re doing. They have their National Biomass Cookstoves Initiative and the rub is that because they’ve been so actively involved and engaged, how do they mesh into the Global Alliance? And I think like the US, India has many different characters and players. When we went to India we had meetings with four or five ministries. So, it’s trying to get all of these different actors on the same page to jump in the pool together. We’ve made two trips to India. The Secretary [of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton] did a cookstove event in Chennai and we are hopeful that India is going to join.  

In a Forbes India story on April 6, 2011, Indian government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Alliance should not just fund innovation in new cookstove technologies, but make a monetary commitment to an existing, local initiative in the country. Would you be open to this?

Yes. We are looking at funding such projects down the road.

Q. How much have you invested in India to date?
In the US, our net commitment [for all global initiatives] is up to $105 million. Most of our money is in R&D and trying to answer how to behaviorally introduce the cookstoves; what is the standard, what is the technology. We haven’t come up with a magic stove yet. The Alliance will begin to, after the summer, make more specific investments.

Q. Is there money to be made by companies that sell $10 cookstoves for the poor? How would creating a standard strengthen the market-driven approach?
Yes, definitely. Gone are the days of handing out free stoves around the world. We’ve tried that and many times, the well-intentioned people may not have been handing out quality stoves. The first thing we wanted to do was to create a standard. Just as anybody here in the US could go to Home Depot or Best Buy and get an Energy Star-rated appliance that they know is not going to kill them, is going to be efficient and is going to work, why don’t poor women around the world deserve this? Why don’t NGOs and governments that distribute these stoves deserve a standard so that they’re distributing the right stove? So, our first goal in this market-driven effort is to get a standard on the ground. A standard implies that it’s not going to be one stove for the world. There could be a hundred stoves in India and we want that, but we want a standard.

Q. How would this work?
What the standard implies is that it’s a threshold. We want people to know that what they’re going to buy, or what they’ve been given by a well-intentioned NGO, is going be good. We envision a consumer scorecard on the side of these cookstoves that have an efficiency rating, an emissions rating and a safety rating. The more I’ve gotten into this, the more I’ve realised that this is all market driven. Consumers, whether they are making $2 a day or $100,000 a year, deserve this information.

Q. In an NBER working paper (April 2012), titled “Up in Smoke: The Influence of Household Behavior on the Long-Run Impact of Improved Cooking Stoves,” Rema Hanna of Harvard University and Esther Duflo and Michael Greenstone of MIT found evidence from a randomised field trial in Orissa that clean technologies developed for the poor may work in the lab but not on the field. In this case, a study of 2,600 households for up to four years after they received the new stove showed that the women did not use the new cookstoves, or used it improperly, and did not repair and maintain it. Consequently, the replacement stoves did not make a difference over the traditional models in lung function, health or fuel consumption. Earlier tests in India came to the same conclusion.  Do you recognise that this is a problem and if so what are you going to do about it?
We immediately called the researchers because quite frankly we agree with them. We want to set up a mechanism that recognises that as much as we’re taking care on the standard, we have to care about the behavioral side of people using it. In the past, sometimes we’ve used this one model around the world and people have used these cookstoves as planters. We don’t want that. This is the exact reason we’ve created the Alliance because it’s not only the standard but it’s also the mechanisms that have to be created so that people feel comfortable with them; it’s customised to the preferences of the consumer, no matter how much money they make. It’s going to be a market-driven effort. Our goal is to fix the problem that researchers focused on: It was a sub-standard stove, it was not adjusted, we think, to the needs of the people using them, and the people were not necessarily trained.

Q. Critics say the Alliance is out of touch and that technologies developed for the poor may work in theory but not on the ground. Your thoughts?

We want this to work. We’re bringing companies in through the shared value [approach]. These companies are not going to want to sell stoves that are not going to be used. The Alliance is going to pick priority countries where we test these cookstoves on the ground. India will be a priority country because a quarter of the deaths are in India. Also India has had a long experience with this problem and it also has the technology.