Trees, Water & People Welcomes New Executive Director

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

I have long believed that people have the power to craft their own future. While each journey is unique, we all have the capacity to identify what we value, versus what we don’t, and to forge a path that produces more of the former and less of the latter. If we’re lucky, we have a moment where self-awareness, opportunity, and circumstance intersect, and we take that first step toward the future we want to live.

In 2005, I launched into a career in International Development by accepting an internship with Trees, Water & People (TWP) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. There were more “unknowns” than “knowns” in the offer, and the pay would have barely covered my utility bills in San Francisco at the time, but as I stood at that intersection of introspection and opportunity, I knew this was a path I needed to follow.

Sebastian Africano with clean cookstove
Sebastian Africano got his start with Trees, Water & People as an intern helping with clean cookstoves in Central America in 2005.

Now, 13 years after my first conversations with co-founder Stuart Conway, and almost 20 years since the organization was founded, I am happy to take the next step on this path by accepting the role of Executive Director of Trees, Water & People – effective May 15, 2017. This shift comes after years of thoughtful succession planning and several deep conversations and interviews with TWP staff and board.

TWP set me on a path to discover the world through the smoky lens of traditional cooking practices, giving me an intimate, ground-level introduction to what life is like on the margins of global society. Through this experience, I’ve acquired a broad perspective of the uniqueness of life on our planet, and have made hundreds of allies who value our planet and global community enough that they have dedicated their lives’ work to protecting them.

Sebastian Africano working in the field
After many years of working in the field in Central America, Sebastian Africano will be spending more time in Fort Collins as Trees, Water & People’s new Executive Director.

Despite the hard truths inherent to our work, I find tremendous inspiration in the grit, hustle, hope, and smiles exhibited by the people we serve, both in Central America and on Tribal Lands in the Great Plains. Only by working together can we achieve a more sustainable future for our planet, and I’m privileged to support their struggles and aspirations daily through my work at TWP.

In this new role, my goal is to engage more meaningfully with you – our community of generous supporters. None of the impact TWP delivers would be possible without your support, and I know that together we can redouble our efforts to improve the lives of people and the planet.

I’m ready to craft our future together. Will you join me?

Richard Fox, Trees, Water & People’s co-founder and former Executive Director will be stepping down after 19 years but will remain on staff as the National Director through the end of the year. When asked about the transition, Richard had this to say, “I am honored to step down and for Sebastian to become the next Executive Director of this great organization. He has been trained for this position for many years, and we could not ask for a more compassionate, capable, and competent person to provide the next generation of leadership for Trees, Water & People.” Following his retirement, Richard will remain involved with TWP as a board member.

Trees, Water & People is excited to welcome our new Executive Director, Sebastian Africano! 

Stove Camp 2008

In our quest to improve our stove designs, I attended Aprovecho Research Center’s Stove Camp 2008 in Cottage Grove, Oregon. There were over 20 of us participating: representatives from international development NGO’s, companies, universities, the government, and new converts to the world of fuel efficient stoves from many walks of life.

Marvin, Paul, and Sebastian demonstrate Paul's gasifier stove
Marvin, Paul, and Sebastian demonstrate Paul's gasifier stove

The inventor of the Rocket stove, Dr. Larry Winiarski, reviewed his Ten Design Principles for Wood-burning Cookstoves. Aprovecho staff reminded us of the equally important principle of making stoves women like. If the women you give a stove throw it out the minute you leave, it doesn’t matter how fuel efficient it is, you will not accomplish your goals of reducing their exposure to Indoor Air Pollution (IAP), reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or reducing deforestation! So compromises must be made between competing principles to have a successful stove design.

Our mission for Stove Camp was to design and build the most appropriate stove model for refugees in Darfur, Sudan. We cooked posho (similar to polenta), the region’s staple food over numerous stoves to see which stove performed the best in terms of speed, safety, fuel-efficiency, portability, and IAP. Some stove designs could be made from locally available materials, while others would have to be imported but would be easier to guarantee quality control for.

Our Controlled Cooking Test with posho incorporated Aprovecho’s Portable Emissions Monitoring System and backpack Indoor Air Pollution Meter to quantify how much carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter (think of smog) are created and inhaled, respectively, while cooking with a given stove.

In addition to stove design, we discussed pot design, a generally overlooked part of the cooking equation. Pots with small openings or with metal “fins” increased fuel efficiency by a ton!

Stove camp was a fun and educational experience. It was a great opportunity to step back from our existing stove designs and think how we could improve them by bouncing ideas off of the experts. I plan to share their suggestions with our local partners in Central America and Haiti in the coming year.

Allison Shaw

Assistant International Director