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UpFront/Special | Jul 11, 2012 | 4541 views

Kris M Balderston: We want people to know that what they're going to buy is going be good

Kris Balderston says India will be a priority country for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves as it accounts for about a quarter of deaths from issues related to cooking with traditional cookstoves
Kris M Balderston: We want people to know that what they're going to buy is going be good

K

ris M Balderston is the Special Representative for Global Partnerships at the Global Partnership Initiative in the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office, where he leads the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in Washington, DC. He was previously Clinton’s first legislative director, when she was in the Senate, before serving as her Deputy Chief of Staff. Since the cookstoves initiative was launched in 2010, the Alliance has 400 partners and ties with 34 countries, a third of which are donors and the rest are implementers. Here, in an interview with Sujata Srinivasan of Forbes India, Balderston talks about how the Alliance is enabling shared value creation through public-private partnerships and what the key challenges are in bringing India on board.

Q. What is the role of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in enabling shared value creation through public-private partnerships?
Everything we do at the Global Partnership Initiative [in the US Secretary of State’s Office] is going to create a platform that is a public-private partnership. Every one of the models has this shared value idea. So, when we went to India, we tried to find those partnerships. If we want to truly be a market-driven approach, we just can’t talk to government and NGOs–we want to talk to the business sector because they’re going to be more tuned in to the fact that money could be made. Communities and markets could be stabilised and they have an incentive to do this. Morgan Stanley came in–they’re interested in carbon credits. Dow Corning came in—they’re interested in expanding the local networks in Africa and India. Shell Oil came in—they’re looking at diversifying their base. We went to the United Nations Foundation. Then we said let’s go to countries–what is their shared value? And now we have 34 countries that have come in to the Global Alliance. 

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Q. But unlike your newest member China, according to media reports, India has declined to join the Alliance. Why is this?
That’s a mischaracterisation actually. We’ve heard everything from they’ve declined to what not. They have not formally declined. On her recent trip, our executive director Radha Muthiah had conversations with the Indian government and I think they are getting more and more interested. But everybody is going to enter the Alliance differently. Everybody we’ve talked to–Canada, the UK, Malawi, Uganda and others–we don’t want them to enter and say ‘Hey, we’re members,’ we want them to be active partners. We don’t want to check a box and say India’s joined. We want them to be fully engaged. And we’re in the process of making them feel comfortable and having them understand what we’re doing.

Q. What are the challenges in bringing India on board?

India has had a rich experience at studying this problem. The US doesn’t have half a million people a year dying from cookstoves. So, I think because they have so much at stake, they’re trying to figure out how to meld their technology, their current programmes, with what we’re doing. They have their National Biomass Cookstoves Initiative and the rub is that because they’ve been so actively involved and engaged, how do they mesh into the Global Alliance? And I think like the US, India has many different characters and players. When we went to India we had meetings with four or five ministries. So, it’s trying to get all of these different actors on the same page to jump in the pool together. We’ve made two trips to India. The Secretary [of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton] did a cookstove event in Chennai and we are hopeful that India is going to join.  

In a Forbes India story on April 6, 2011, Indian government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Alliance should not just fund innovation in new cookstove technologies, but make a monetary commitment to an existing, local initiative in the country. Would you be open to this?

Yes. We are looking at funding such projects down the road.

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