Woman Entrepreneurship Series: Clean Cooking and Food Security in Times of Crisis
In 2012, Kalinda Magloire founded SWITCH S.A., one of the first woman-led clean cooking companies in Haiti. Under Magloire’s leadership, this social marketing and manufacturing enterprise has helped transition nearly 400 schools, 1,000 food vendors, and over 2,000 families away from burning inefficient and polluting fuels like wood and charcoal to using liquified petroleum gas (LPG).
Despite its strong progress, SWITCH’s operations have been negatively impacted by widespread lockdowns in Haiti, linked to political protests and to COVID-19. Magloire, a finalist for the Alliance’s 2019 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, shared how her company is stepping up to support her community — through clean cooking as well as healthy meals.
This interview is part of a series showcasing women entrepreneurs in the clean cooking sector.
Until recently, CEO Kalinda Magloire and her team at SWITCH S.A. (SWITCH) primarily focused on providing LPG stoves to Haitian schools. The gas stoves allowed students’ meals to be prepared in a safer and healthier environment. However, SWITCH’s business model was recently affected by two major developments. First, a series of national lockdowns in 2019 — linked to citizen protests against issues like corruption and unemployment — resulted in the closure of schools, public services, and much of Haiti’s economic production. Then, COVID-19 brought mandatory social distancing policies that further restricted people’s access to basic necessities, like cooking technologies and fuels. As a result, Magloire has had to seek new and innovative ways to continue providing access to and raising awareness for clean cooking.
Utilizing her role as an industry leader, Magloire decided to venture outside of SWITCH’s normal activities to help address the immediate needs of those around her by providing healthy meals. She teamed up with local organizations in the Kenscoff area of the capital Port-au Prince to develop community kitchen programs. Using clean, efficient, and modern LPG stoves to prepare food, these programs provide low-cost meals for people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Fortunately, LPG supply chains have remained steady throughout the COVID-19 crisis, according to Magloire, and demand may even have risen as other forms of fuel become less available.
Magloire has since been able to expand this initiative and set up eight more kitchens in Kenscoff, as well as focus on the needs of children whose schools have been shut down.
“A lot of schools have programs where they offer one meal a day. But now that schools are closed, this meal is no longer there. So that’s the negative impact we are trying to mitigate with these community kitchens,” said Magloire.
To demonstrate the different levels of engagement women can have in the clean cooking and clean energy sectors, Magloire is also using the community kitchen programs as an opportunity to engage women’s farmer organizations.
“In general, clean cooking isn’t common among women farmers and I think I have a lot to offer these women, such as helping them organize, and helping them have their voices heard,” she said.
For instance, with the help of a group of individual investors, Magloire was able to increase the women farmers’ sweet potato production to help support the community kitchens. Now, Magloire is helping them to report on the progress of their production to attract a second round of investors.
Looking forward, Magloire shared how being a leader at her company and in the clean cooking sector gives her an opportunity and platform to inspire others.
“I think that one of my responsibilities is to lead by example. I see my role as helping people around me as we go through this crisis,” she said. “SWITCH usually helps people gain access to what’s below the pot, but in these challenging times, we cannot ignore the difficulties for people to put something inside the pot”
Magloire is hoping to incorporate more clean cooking awareness-raising activities into the community kitchen programs, helping people learn about the benefits of preparing meals using cleaner, more modern stoves and fuels.