Social Entrepreneur Nancy Hughes Stove Team International CNN Hero

Nancy Hughes, Founder of StoveTeam International

CNN Hero and social entrepreneur Nancy Hughes is a 73 year-old grandmother and the founder of Stove Team International. They have distributed more than 56,000 fuel-efficient cooking stoves in Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Nancy Hughes was widowed at age 65. In an effort to fight the loss, she went on a medical mission trip to Guatemala. It was there that she witnessed a woman who’s hands had been burnt shut for sixteen years. At age two, this Guatemalan had fallen into an open cooking fire. Her team opened up her hands through surgery.

Nancy Hughes found out that cooking stoves were a leading cause of death around the world, causing eight times more deaths than malaria. The indoor air pollution caused by the smoke (equivalent to smoking four packs of cigarettes per day) was causing lung disease, asthma, and many health problems, especially for women and children. Inefficient cooking stoves required a high volume of firewood, contributing to deforestation. Nancy wanted to prevent these problems by developing and distributing fuel-efficient cooking stoves.

“Just do it,” Nancy thought to herself. So she contacted her Rotary International club in her hometown in Eugene, Oregon to start StoveTeam International. They started stove-making factories in the backyards of local entrepreneurs in Central America. Together, they have started seven factories in the region.

Show Links StoveTeam International


Show Notes & Summary StoveTeam International

  • What Nancy did when her husband passed away
  • Nancy’s first trips to Guatemala
  • There are 6 million cooking stoves in Guatemala.
  • Carlos Santana saw an article about Nancy’s efforts and he did something that changed it all
  • Gustavo Peña, the first factory owner for StoveTeam International lived in El Salvador
  • The StoveTeam stoves are made of cement, pumice rocks, sheet metal, and tiles. No imported supplies
  • How Nancy confronted the machismo culture
  • What it was like starting the first backyard stove factory in El Salvador using corrugated metal. The stoves were stored in the dining room!
  • How one StoveTeam International factory employs 22 people from the community
  • Selling the cook stoves is a challenge in itself
  • It costs $70,000 to start a factory, including a used pickup truck
  • The stove factories are for-profit and run by a local entrepreneur
  • Selling door-to-door is difficult because of the violence and crime rate in Central America
  • What Nancy does when she gets discouraged
  • The shocking tragedy with her partnership in Mexico recently
  • Why opening bank accounts in Central America are so challenging
  • Stove Team is starting a new factory in Estelí, Nicargua
  • Why answering emails has been so important for Nancy
  • Why patience has been the most important leadership skill for Nancy
  • Nancy explains why fundraising through Rotary International is effective
  • “We’re not a top-down organization.”
  • Nancy talks about her unmatched work ethic
  • How Nancy prepares for her public speeches
  • “Just do it.”
  • How Stove Team collects data for research, showing a 50% reduction in fuel usage