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Sanga Moses: Ugandian energy innovator awarded $1 million to boost his business

Sanga Moses, (with his family) founder and CEO of Eco-fuel Africa, a Ugandan non-profit that produces eco-friendly fuel

Sanga Moses is a passionate social entrepreneur. Six years ago the Ugandan native started a remarkable journey to launch a clean and sustainable energy initiative in his homeland.

In an audacious move, he quit his accounting job with just $500 in savings to find a solution to Uganda’s over reliance on wood-fuel for cooking, which was causing deforestation and socio-economic issues in his impoverished community.

In an interview with UrbanGeekz, he says he was inspired to take action after he witnessed his 12-year-old sister skip school to carry firewood to their family for fuel. At that moment he knew he had to do whatever he could to find an alternative source of fuel, he says.

“When my sister saw me, she started crying and told me she was tired of missing school to gather firewood,” he says. “This troubled me so much because I was paying school fees for my sister and wanted her to get an education.”

Moses spent a year researching possible solutions until he figured he could turn farm and municipal waste [sugarcane waste, coffee husks and rice husks etc.], which was abundant, into eco-friendly cooking fuel, that’s cleaner and 65 percent cheaper than wood-fuel.

By April 2010, Sanga launched Eco-­Fuel Africa. “I had to sell most of my belongings, including my bed, to pay for the launch,” says Moses, who’s a Business Administration college graduate. “Even so, Eco-­fuel Africa [EFA] introduced its first products in November 2010, less than two years after I saw my sister carrying her bundle of wood.”

Eco-­Fuel Africa trains farmers to turn agricultural waste into char powder, which is used as a substitute for wood-fuel. The non-profit serves more than 115,000 households on a daily basis and demand for their fuel exceeds supply. It uses its proceeds to plant trees. The target is to plant at least a quarter of a billion trees in Africa by 2020.

“Fewer forests are being depleted and there are more jobs for women and farmers since Eco-­Fuel Africa began,” he adds, “ We have also seen more girls enroll and stay in school. Currently, 4,209 marginalized girls in Uganda are able to go to school consistently because of our project.”

“Now that we have found an effective formula, I am determined to expand the system and replicate it to other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa,” Moses says.

In fact, Eco-Fuel Africa is the 2014 recipient of Verizon’s 2014 Powerful Answer Award, a global challenge that rewards ideas that leverage cutting-edge technology to create solutions that deliver social good.

Now in its third year, the annual award has tens of hundreds of applicants each year. The 2015 Powerful Answers Award, which is now open for submissions, offers innovators, developers and entrepreneurs a total of $6M in cash prizes, including the opportunity for winners to participate in an Accelerator program designed to help develop their ideas and bring solutions to market faster.

Moses plans on expanding his production with Verizon’s $1 million prize money. “For us, winning the Powerful Answers Award has been a pleasant surprise. When we first heard about the prize, we almost did not apply because we thought we could not compete with people from Harvard and Stanford,” Moses said. “But we were encouraged to try anyway and as they say, the rest is history.”

“Verizon is committed to supporting innovation at all levels, from early stage startups to more developed companies through a variety of initiatives including the Powerful Answers Award, Verizon Ventures’ portfolio and investments, and through the Accelerator program for Powerful Answers Award winners,” says John Doherty, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Verizon Ventures. “We’ve seen previous winners enjoy great success, and look forward to the new ideas and solutions this year’s program generates.”

Follow Helena Joseph on Twitter@helena_josep