EarthEnable

Congratulations! This Entry has been selected as a semifinalist.

EarthEnable: Improving health through sustainable architecture and green chemistry

Kigali, RwandaNyamata, Rwanda
Year Founded:
2013
Organization type: 
hybrid
Project Stage:
Established
Budget: 
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

80% of Rwandans and billions of people worldwide live in homes with dirt floors-breeding grounds for mosquitoes and parasites with serious health impacts. EarthEnable floors are the solution! At 70% cheaper than concrete, we provide affordable sanitary flooring for a healthy home environment.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

...no family had to live on and get sick from their dirt floor, because they had access to affordable, sanitary flooring that was 70% cheaper than the nearest alternative?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

80% Rwandans and billions of people worldwide live in homes with dirt floors. Dirt floors are a major cause of sicknesses including diarrhoea, respiratory illness, malnutrition, and vector-borne diseases (Cattaneo et al, 2009). Existing flooring solutions (concrete or tiles) are prohibitively expensive at up to 300 USD for a 20 square meter home in Rwanda. Thus, dirt floors, and the illnesses they cause, are an everyday reality for most people.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

EarthEnable provides an alternative to unsanitary dirt floors and prohibitively expensive concrete floors: well-built earthen floors. Earthen floors are a proven technology in the United States, and the trade has been refined to make them very easy to clean, abrasion-resistant and modern looking. EarthEnable’s team invented a low-cost drying oil, which allows floors to be made by hand with a mixture of locally sourced, packed earthen materials. These are sealed with EarthEnable oil which polymerizes when it dries to form a waterproof, plastic-like resin on the floor. We have provided specialist training to 28 local masons, who are now employed by EarthEnable to install floors for our customers.

Awards

Echoing Green Fellowship; Mulago Rainer Arnhold Fellowship; D-Prize; Spring Accelerator; Harvard Social Enterprise conference Pitch For Change competition; Stanford Graduate School of Business Social Innovation Fellowship; Bluhm Helfand Fellowship
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Speciosa lives in Gitovu village with her husband and 3 children. The whole family has suffered from the impacts of dust and dirt on their floor, including diarrhoea and parasitic infections. Theophile is a mason from the same village who sought work day-to-day until EarthEnable provided him with specialist skills training and employed him full time, providing a stable, monthly income. Speciosa was able to save enough money for an earthen floor, which she would not have been able to do for concrete, and Theophile installed the floor for her. Speciosa's whole family has benefited significantly - because she can sweep and wash her floor, her home is cleaner and healthier. And Speciosa says she now feels happier and prouder of home!

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

EarthEnable has already replaced dirt floors in around 300 homes, a total of 9,500 m2 of flooring, directly improving the health and mental wellbeing of over 2,000 individuals. Demand is now increasingly rapidly - this month we will deliver 2,400 m2. As well as providing significant health benefits - hard floors have been shown to reduce incidence of childhood diarrhoea by 49% and parasitic infections by 78% - our customers regularly tell us they feel happier in their homes. We have provided specialist skill training to 28 masons and EarthEnable currently employs 64 Rwandans in sales, delivery and administration. We are now piloting options for a DIY package allowing families to install their own EarthEnable floor at even lower cost. Our research suggests this could more than double reach - meaning 2,500 dirt floors replaced in 2016 and potentially many more.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Our objective is to deliver sanitary flooring for as little as $2/m2, compared to $8/m2 for concrete, which is still being used worldwide. We are currently piloting a new DIY product using EarthEnable technology and are building relationships with local microfinance institutions to make EarthEnable floors affordable for even the lowest income Rwandan households. This could potentially halve the incidence of childhood diarrhoea in Rwanda. Going forward we plan to expand to other countries in East Africa and in the next ten years we want to see our low cost earthen floors available globally.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

EarthEnable’s objective is to develop an innovative product and business model allowing our floors to reach the very poorest in a fully financially-sustainable way, rather than selling at a higher price to middle income households.We are using grant funding initially to pilot products and develop operating models, so that in the near term EarthEnable can be a financially independent organisation making floors available at the lowest possible cost

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Several organizations work on improving housing in Rwanda, but no organization is specifically working on developing a low-cost alternative to concrete to replace dirt flooring. While earthen floors have been piloted in several emerging markets (by natural building experts, many of which we have spoken with and gained advice from), globally there are no other efforts to disseminate these floors at scale. Furthermore, there is no linseed oil alternative on the market for the sealant oil. Linseed oil is slightly toxic and expensive, while ours is safe to breath, green, and low-cost.
Team

Founding Story

EarthEnable was started with a dream to improve health outcomes through simple and affordable solutions. We met at Stanford's design school and traveled to Rwanda to understand how poor quality homes affected physical and emotional health outcomes. We were shocked to discover the significant health problems that dirt floors cause. It became our mission to find a way to floor Rwanda. The solution was right in our own backyard! Earthen flooring has been modernized over the past 20 years to make them extremely durable, easy to clean, abrasion-resistant and beautiful. Thus, we found a way to adapt this for Rwanda by bridging the gap in training and developing a low-cost oil to seal the floor.

Team

We have an incredibly passionate and diverse founding team, composed of Gayatri Datar, an international development practitioner (MBA, Stanford; MPA/ID, Harvard) and Rick Zuzow, a biochemist (Ph.D. candidate, Stanford). Gaya is now working as Managing Director in Kigali, supported by Senior Marketing Manager Yannick Ntirushwa and an expanding team of finance and product development experts, primarily Rwandan graduates. Senior Operations Manager, Henry Rukundo oversees the operations team of 45 masons and assistants. We are about to appoint a Board composed of an East African entrepreneur, a finance professional specialising in small business growth and a business strategist with an engineering background.
Background
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Invitation to enter from Ashoka Changemakers

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Co-Founder and CEO of EarthEnable

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

In college, I co-founded the Harvard College Youth Leadership Initiative, an afterschool program for middle school students in Cambridge, MA. We evaluated the needs of the local community's youth, and found while several tutoring and childcare-like programs existed, there was no holistic program that focused on life skills like teamwork, communication, time management, and self-introspection. I led the curriculum development, getting feedback from teachers, parents, students, and other afterschool programs. We had a successful pilot of 25 students in our first year, and immediately went to 80+ students in our second year.

In addition, I have pioneered entrepreneurial initiatives within institutions that I worked in. While I was with the Ministry of Finance's Department of Revenue in Liberia, I recognized high-potential internal investments to gain more revenue and successfully lobbied for them. When I was a consultant with Dalberg Global Development Advisors, I coordinated the DC office's weekly training sessions and speaker series. And when I was in graduate school, I co-directed Operations for the Social Enterprise Conference by the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Since we began to research the idea of providing affordable earthen floors to Rwanda, we have been mentored and guided by leaders in the earthen building and natural building community, namely by Sukita Crimmel and Kevin Rowell. We also received significant business mentorship from professors at Stanford's design school and Graduate School of Business. We have also partnered with the local government in Rwanda and several other social sector organizations in Rwanda in order to raise awareness about our product and its health and environmental benefits.