Tom Osborn, inventor of 'green' charcoal, proves you’re never too young to innovate

18-year-old Kenyan Tom Osborn founded GreenChar, which makes clean-burning smokeless cooking charcoal from agricultural waste.

Courtesy of GreenChar
Tom Osborn (far right) is the CEO and founder of GreenChar, which makes environmentally sustainable charcoal for cooking in Kenya.

[This article first appeared on TruthAtlas is an online news source featuring multimedia stories about people and ideas making the world a better place. Learn more at]

 Tom Osborn, CEO and Founder of GreenChar, was recently chosen as one of the 42 Echoing Green Fellows for 2014. Over 3,000 organizations from around the world applied for the fellowship. Tom is the youngest recipient to receive the fellowship in its 27-year history.

GreenChar is a Kenya-based social enterprise that creates charcoal briquettes and distributes clean cookstoves to various households and institutions. The charcoal briquettes are made from revitalized agricultural waste (as opposed to wood chips) and are smokeless, high energy, and long lasting.  

The cookstoves use the charcoal briquettes to optimize GreenChar’s clean household energy solution. By creating a charcoal that burns clean, GreenChar is capable of drastically reducing the number of people affected by lung-related illnesses. And by steering the developing world away from wood-based charcoal, they will simultaneously help to tackle deforestation.

“It’s our job to find innovative, clean household solutions and offer them to our target market. This fellowship will go a long way in helping us achieve this,” co-founder Ian Oluoch told Echoing Green. Through this fellowship, GreenChar hopes to expand its business throughout all of Kenya, and eventually all of Africa.

GreenChar also has high aspirations for the youth in Kenya, and hopes to empower youth around the globe to think critically about the needs of their communities. Osborn said too many people sit back and wait for the government or the NGOs to solve their problems, but GreenChar is proof that everyone can look for solutions.

“We want young people to know that their ideas and passions are valid, and that they can be agents of impact and change,” said GreenChar’s Yina Sun.

Echoing Green works to promote impact investing, social entrepreneurship, and innovation​. As a recipient of the fellowship, Osborn and his team will receive two years of funding totaling $80,000, foundational leadership and business development support, and a lifetime membership to a vast network of social entrepreneurs.

Alumni of the Echoing Green Fellowship have gone on to receive MacArthur Genius Awards, TED Fellowships, Goldman Prizes, and Skoll Awards. And 85% of these fellows remain in the social sector in key leadership positions.

To see a list of all the 2014 Echoing Green Fellows, visit

• Michelle Burwell is a Chicago-based journalist and fiction writer. She works as a copywriter for Joint Loyalty, a Chicago loyalty card start-up. She’s also a freelance journalist for 1776D.C.’s Challenge Cup, a global tour to find the most transformative start-ups. Michelle obtained a B.A. in journalism and political science from Miami University Ohio. When she’s not writing, Michelle enjoys traveling, thrifting, and live music. Learn more about Michelle here.

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