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We arrived in Macheros as the sun was setting over the pine and fir covered hills that surround the region. The forest, shrouded in mist, made its presence known by the subtle alpine scent of pine, while wood smoke hinted at the coming cold of winter. As we stepped into the brisk air, it felt as though we were transported worlds away from the bustling city of Morelia just two hours to the North. It was my third trip to the area and I was overcome with excitement about our work in the coming days.

Our Goal: to train and build a team of locals to empower their communities in adopting life-saving stoves.

The region around Macheros is home to one of the most amazing natural wonders I have ever seen, the overwintering of the entire eastern monarch population. These iconic butterflies migrate here from as far north as Canada in such density that tree branches sag under the weight of tens of thousands of butterflies. While I was admittedly unaware of this spectacle before joining ECOLIFE, seeing the butterflies firsthand last February left me in awe. It also left me aware of one of the primary threats to their existence, deforestation. For this declining species, a tree is home, a tree is warmth, a tree is protection.

Like the monarch, half of the human population relies on wood for life. The communities surrounding the monarch habitat are no different, using local firewood to heat their home and cook their meals. While cheap and culturally accepted, cooking with wood has significant health impacts, resulting in over 4 million deaths per year due to the long term effects of inhaling smoke. These impacts can be felt beyond the kitchen, as stoves hungry for firewood lead to deforestation in the surrounding mountains, and depleting precious habitat for years to come.

ECOLIFE’s mission in Mexico is to improve community health and protect precious habitat by promoting stoves that cut wood consumption in half and eliminate smoke in the household.

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With this mission in mind, I stood in front of our newly formed Mexico team. This was an important moment for ECOLIFE as this team will allow us to reach six times as many Mexican households. It was also the launch of our new innovative program model, where we focus on using business strategies to increase demand for safe and efficient cookstoves. One lesson we have learned is that something free is not always something valued. Our remedy is to not give stoves away but to convince people to buy them.

This strategy of marketing our stoves as an essential consumer appliance, creates pride and social value in addition to the added health benefits.  To align with business practices, we focus on treating beneficiaries like customers, even including a one-year guarantee on every stove we sell. With the stoves selling for roughly 8% of their actual value, the cost is purely symbolic, but the impact on long term adoption is huge. In addition to the benefits to our customers, this new model creates over 20 jobs and trains a group of dedicated people, increasing their capacity to support their families and improve their community. Stay tuned for more updates as this program takes off!

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