Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.
10Mn people in Kenya live in slums, and this population is growing at 7% per year. In Nairobi, 75% of the residents live in slums that comprise just 5% of the city’s land area.
At present, slum residents resort to three untenable sanitation options. They pay to use public toilets in commercial areas, which are located far from homes and are therefore inconvenient and unsafe for women. More often, they pay to use unhygienic makeshift toilets that drain into pits and waterways. Finally some defecate in the open or use “flying toilets” (plastic bags). Because these areas lack sewers and are often inaccessible by road, laborers typically remove the waste with buckets. Even when the waste is removed, there is a lack of effective waste treatment and disposal options. The waste is dumped into open drains, polluting water and spreading disease.
NGOs and government have failed to provide long-term sustainable sanitation infrastructure in these areas because of inappropriate technology and inadequate management. These organizations have, though, worked extensively in increasing awareness of health consequences of improper sanitation. We partner with the government and community organizations to increase awareness and then to implement our system that addresses the challenges around technology and business models.
Because sustainable access to hygienic sanitation reduces the community’s incidence of sanitation-related disease, our model will restore productive, income-generating time and reduce health expenses - providing more than $150 of annual social benefit to each resident.
Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project
Growing up in India, my family and I faced the daily reality of the lack of sanitation, and the reuse of waste was a necessity. After moving to the US for studies, I launched a technology start-up in India and worked in the US health care industry. Three years ago, I moved to the Philippines to turn around a chain of dialysis clinics serving low-income patients. In 8 months, I used my operations, finance, and engineering skills to lead the company to profitability – preserving jobs for the 100-person staff and critical services for the hundreds of patients.
My success in the Philippines showed me the power of market-based solutions to solve social challenges. As an MBA student at MIT, I continued to look for such solutions. Drawing on my youth in India, I recruited MIT teammates to explore whether hygienic toilets that provided gas could reach millions in need.
We went to Nairobi to find out. In the Mathare slum, we met River Jump, a youth group. They were a tough lot, yet they wanted to improve their community. They took us to a former trash yard which they had cleared and developed into a garden of crops. Then, they took us to a toilet facility which they had been operating as a business without any technical expertise. When we saw the facility, we understood why sanitation had failed in the slums. It was expensive to construct, dependent on water delivery, and located far from homes.
Although the statistics on sanitation are daunting, I realized that the determination of groups like River Jump combined with our model could have a slum-transforming impact.