René van der Velden works as an Engineering Manager for BioMassters in Rwanda. His work involves solving one of the toughest challenges in international development: Access to clean cooking for all. René is responsible for product development, analysing data, and improving BioMassters' IT systems and internal processes. With his passion for clean cooking, he aims to make a huge impact on people's health and their economic situation.
"In Kigali, more than 57% of households use charcoal as their primary source of cooking fuel. But cooking indoors on an open fire comes with health hazards. Worldwide, more than 3 million people die from air pollution due to open-fire cooking. Women and children suffer the most; women prepare meals and keep their children inside with them.
Cooking on charcoal is not just risky; it is also expensive. And the emissions from cooking on wood and charcoal contribute to global warming.
Making a change
There are various clean cooking solutions available. The challenge is to make them commercially successful and scalable. At BioMassters, we are bringing about change by supplying clean cooking fuel and an improved stove. We now use sawdust waste from Rwanda's furniture and forestry industries to make pellets. And we aim to find other agricultural waste products to make pellets from too. This will make clean cooking fuel available to more people.
Switching to clean cooking will reduce smoke emissions in kitchens and smoke-related illnesses. And people will save more on cooking fuels, meaning more money to buy food. This way, families can improve their lives and invest in other opportunities.
It is all about teamwork
We are a small team at BioMassters. My fellow Young Expert Clarisse and I see each other almost daily at the office. With our different focuses (HR/finance and engineering), we support each other and bring different knowledge and perspectives. Most importantly, Clarisse helps me understand the Rwandan context. She often uses her network to help me arrange things in Rwanda.
Our partner in the Netherlands, Mimi Moto, produces efficient and sustainable cookstoves. It takes teamwork across borders and passion to make the change.
Becoming a YEP professional
The YEP Energy training programme was very important. It helped me get to know myself better, address my pitfalls, and use my strengths. Also, the Intercultural Work training course helped me understand the Rwandan context. The Project Management training course improved my understanding of the organisation, partners, project and all actors involved. Lastly, the network is essential. I can exchange knowledge and expertise and share this with people experiencing a similar adventure abroad.
I am only just starting at BioMassters, so I plan to develop my leadership skills further and use the experience I get at this start-up for my future entrepreneurial plans. In what context that will be is still unsure. All I know is that the Rwandan culture is teaching me to apply my skills in a radically different context. It is definitely making me more versatile."
Find out more about YEP Energy
Would you like to learn more about YEP Energy and how it can benefit your organisation? Or are you a young energy expert, and would you like to learn how to get involved? Visit the YEP website.
The Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP) hosts and manages the overall YEP programme. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency is the YEP Energy programme's coordination point and network organisation. For information on calls for proposals or how to apply for a subsidy, please contact the YEP Programme Bureau.