This profile was prepared when Victor Berrueta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
The Patsari Project tackles the failures characteristic of energy-efficient stove projects by incorporating an improved, user-tested stove design with long-term user accompaniment financed by proceeds from international carbon credit sales. For decades, governments and citizen organizations (COs) in Latin America have promoted the installation of energy-efficient cooking stoves in rural areas. However, in general such initiatives have failed to produce lasting results. The users, mostly rural women, tend to abandon the stoves either because they are too accustomed to cooking over an open fire or because the stoves—often designed cheaply with little durability—fall apart. Project funders are so focused on installation numbers that they often neglect to finance user accompaniment over the medium to long term, contributing to the high rates of stove abandonment throughout the region.

Having identified a number of systemic gaps among typical energy-efficient stove initiatives, Victor has designed a strategy that integrates elements of user-tested design, close contact and follow-up with rural user households, sustainable financing through carbon credit sales, and a long-term plan for replication that embraces other types of appropriate rural technology in addition to stoves. At the core of Victor’s work is the appropriation of rural technology by end users, usually indigenous Mexican women. Realizing that many other attempts at installing these stoves in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America have failed because the stove designs and programs do not take into account users’ preferences and needs, Victor has set out to ensure that the end user actually adopts the new technology in the long term, thus securing the attendant health and environmental benefits.

One of Victor’s key insights is that user-friendly stove design is simply the first step on the road to technology appropriation; a human-centered approach to user accompaniment over time is also critical, as is a sustainable financing mechanism to pay for the entire cycle of technology appropriation. Understanding that the medium- to long-term monitoring and accompaniment process can actually be more costly than the building and installation of the stoves themselves, Victor seized upon the idea of aggregating the carbon emissions offset by thousands of rural families using Patsari stoves, selling those savings as credits in the voluntary carbon market, and using that unrestricted revenue to fund the user appropriation component of his Patsari Project. In one stroke, this financing mechanism helps eliminate the single most important bottleneck in the long-term success of rural technology appropriation. Victor is clear that the money generated from carbon credit sales “belongs” to the end users, since they are the ones generating the carbon savings; Grupo Interdisciplinario de Tecnología Rural Apropiada (GIRA—Interdisciplinary Group for Appropriate Rural Technology), the umbrella CO to which the Patsari Project belongs, uses those funds to pay for the follow-up visits and maintenance and repair of the users’ stoves.

Victor’s plan for expansion does not only involve installing increasing numbers of Patsari stoves, but also lifting the entire rural technology sector in Mexico—and beyond—out of its current dependency on traditional funding sources and beyond its focus on installation instead of long-term user appropriation. He is already applying his experience with carbon credit sales to give other social-sector projects that reduce carbon emissions access to the voluntary carbon market. These COs, whose technologies include not only wood-burning stoves but also biodigesters, solar panels, and other energy-efficient devices, are too small to attract carbon credit buyers on their own. Victor is leveraging his understanding of the voluntary carbon market to help link these COs to a sustainable funding source. Within the next five years, Victor envisions this portfolio of COs evolving into what he calls a Social Carbon Fund that will aggregate the environmental and social impact of the COs and give them a proportional share of revenues from carbon credit sales to pay for follow-up services, ultimately transforming how the rural technology sector operates in Latin America.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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