Prakti‘s story: discover Mouhsine Serrar, laureate of the International Convergences Award in 2012.
Prakti is a cookstove developer, manufacturer and distributor committed to combating threatening respiratory diseases, poverty, and gender inequality while contributing to environmental sustainability. Providing a solution to health, economic and environmental problems, Prakti wants to improve the lifestyle of millions of people worldwide.
Several awards have recognized and rewarded the innovative aspect of Prakti, one of them being the prize of “Clinton Global Initiative” presented by former US President Clinton and the distinction of “Best charcoal oven” by the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.
Prakti’s project received the Convergences Award in 2012
Mouhsine Serrar, representative for Prakti, participated to the Grand Convergences Award during the 10th Convergences World Forum.
Discover more about Mouhsine Serrar and Prakti in this TEDX video.
“Designing an efficient cooking stove for people at the BoP was the convergence of my state of mind, what I loved doing and what I felt I needed to do.”
What was the trigger point that drove you to create your project ?
It was the ‘convergence’ of different element in my personal life. It was a period when I had achieved my ‘main’ life goals: I had a job I loved, unlimited opportunities to continue learning, to continue to grow in my career and I had a comfortable life in the beautiful city of San Francisco in California. But, my personal happiness ‘index’ started declining, for no apparent reason. I loved and still love to design, to create. When the second gulf war started, it was the ‘kick in the butt’. I could be part of the problem (continue living for myself), or be part of the solution (contribute positively to this planet). Designing an efficient cooking stove for people at the base of the pyramid (BoP) was the convergence of my state of mind, what I loved doing and what I felt I needed to do.
Did your participation to the Convergences Award generate the creation of new partnerships?
For Prakti, a social enterprise based in faraway India, attending the Convergences Award allowed us to connect, meet in person with great social impact organisations in Paris, (which is necessary for improving our partnerships). We started a fruitfuil collaboration with MakeSense: we met and connected with 2 great professionals who later joined our team in India. We also connected with high quality interns from Ecole Centrale de Paris who worked also at our lab in India. MakeSense ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for Prakti, raising 15,000€.
Since your nomination to the Convergences Award, did the nature of your partnerships evolve?
We won the International Convergences Award for the partnership between Prakti, who was in charge of the product’s design, the engineering part and the distribution, and SkillMech who was doing the manufacturing part. This partnership was excellent for both parties. It generated business for manufacturers and it allowed Prakti to bring a high quality product to the market in a very short period of time, without the expertise or need to invest in manufacturing. But as business matured, it became clear that we needed to do a major shift in production strategy. Instead of working with an exclusive manufacturer, we had to be in direct control of all production steps and cost, and we had shift production from one single, do it all factory, to multiple component suppliers. Prakti exclusive partnership with SkillMech was not fitting anymore with the needs of the market and we finished the partnership in 2016.
Indeed, partnerships, including commercial ventures, often need to evolve or finish. Particularly in the social enterprise sector which evolves and pivots a lot, more than the commercial sector with is more mature, more established. For this reason, partnerships die, change of nature or are created more often in social sector.
Did visibility and recognition gained with your project motivated new aspirations of engagement for you and your team?
Winning the International Convergences Award did give us credibility. Partners, interns, new staff heard about us from Convergences.
Do you have any testimonies from the beneficiaries of your project, showing the positive impact of your actions?
Customers, distributors, partners continue to reach out to us, to ask to bring more cook stoves. They recognize us as a supplier of a high quality product. They only wish our product would be cheaper but still with the same quality. And this is exactly what we have been doing. Our latest Prakti-Ray stoves are better than previous Ray-Leo stove, and, most importantly, at half the price. You can watch a testimony from a women who choose to buy one of our stove on this video:
Today, do you think that the initial target has been achieved?
We have sold 17,000 cook stoves, a mix of household stoves (5 people per stove) to large stove for schools, cafeteria and refugee-camps (500 people per stove). The total amount of people we impact is 270,000 worldwide (India, Haiti, Congo-drc, Sudan). Our target for the next five years is to deliver 1.5 million stoves, and impact the life of 7 million people. Our business and product’s performance is increasing every year, our stove’s cost is also reducing. We are on our way!
Which path did your project took from its creation to its nomination at the Forum?
We evolved like any startup. Except that in our experience, as entrepreneur in the hardware, we found very few people (impact funders, foundations, impact investor) who had an experience in this field. Most of their expertise was in software (mobile), distribution, financing (microfinance institutions), sometimes packaging (solar). The sector above are very different from hardware sector, they take much less time, much less investment to go from idea, to startup, to first established sales. Because of the lack of experience and understanding of hardware enterprise by funders, hardware sector has been evolving extremely slowly in comparison to other sectors.
If you were in 2040, which issues would have been solved thanks to your project?
We have a clear and significant social and environmental impact. As we are sustainable and in continuous improvement and scale up, we show how social enterprise approach is effective. We are, hopefully, a good model for other entrepreneurs, and even more important, a case for impact funders who need to be more, much more effective that what they are. The Convergences World Forum needs to keep on looking on how to contribute effectively at making impact funders more effective.
How would you describe this adventure ?
Design and innovation, at the product level, as well at business model, can create impact, in a sustainable and scalable way.
Interview of Mouhsine Serrar, Prakti’s founder, reported by Virginie Siaud, November the 9th.