EkoMobil: How SOIL Subsidizes Household Sanitation with a Port-a-Potty Business

Photo: Vic Hinterlang

By Shannon Smith and Leah Page Jean

Should EkoMobil scale up? This question is one that we’ve been asking ourselves at SOIL for several years. At the end of our last fiscal year, SOIL had strategized to release EkoMobil into the market in the hopes that it would flourish as an independently operated social business in Haiti. But it becomes increasingly apparent that this young program actually brings in more revenue than EkoLakay with minimal marketing on SOIL’s part, so we thought it best to reconsider our next steps.

What is EkoMobil?

EkoMobil is SOIL’s affordable, high-quality, and ecologically beneficial portable toilet rental service that SOIL operates out of our two offices in Haiti: Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien. Customers receive a toilet and waste collection service, and for an additional fee, they can elect to have toilet cleaning services and hygiene materials as well. Just like SOIL’s household toilet service, EkoMobil is a container-based sanitation (CBS) solution, meaning wastes are contained and collected in sealable containers, which are then transported in a truck, or “Poopmobile,” and taken to one of SOIL’s two waste treatment facilities for safe treatment and transformation.

Since SOIL launched the EkoMobil service in 2014, over 11,000 people have accessed a toilet and SOIL has signed contracts with over 100 different clients, which have been put to use at community events, construction sites, businesses and schools. The potential market for EkoMobil is anybody with a temporary or transitional sanitation need in Haiti.

The costs directly associated with EkoMobil are marketing, toilet production, installation, maintenance, waste collection, container washing, cover material production and transport to EkoMobil site, toilet cleaning (when customers elect to have this), uninstallation, payment collection, waste transport and treatment, HR management, and administration.

EY’s Enterprise Growth Services Lends a Hand

EkoMobil Client Type

EkoMobil Client Type 2015-2018

SOIL’s ultimate vision for EkoMobil is that profit from the EkoMobil service can help subsidize SOIL’s other operations, while also increasing awareness in Haiti of SOIL’s other ecological sanitation technologies. With the support of EY’s Enterprise Growth Services, SOIL is currently researching what operational and business model changes would be required to maximize EkoMobil’s contribution without detracting from SOIL’s social mission.

The three primary scenarios that SOIL and EY are considering are:

  1. EkoMobil is run in house by SOIL and is integrated with our household toilet service, EkoLakay. The potential financial advantage of this approach is that EkoMobil and EkoLakay could share staff and resources, thereby reducing expenses while still allowing EkoMobil to subsidize EkoLakay and SOIL’s other programs.
  2. EkoMobil is run in house by SOIL but not integrated with other EkoLakay. We may find that in order to focus on EkoMobil’s profitably and growth, we need to ringfence the operation. This would involve enabling a highly-motivated, and perhaps financially-incentivized, EkoMobil Director to run the service, sharing some office space and logistics with the larger organization of SOIL.
  3. EkoMobil hands off the front end of the business to an existing business and only charges for waste treatment. This could allow SOIL to be freed of the operational costs of running the service but still potentially charge a waste treatment fee on the backend. Continuing to benefit from the promotion of ecological sanitation technologies in Haiti and a small amount of revenue. In addition, it would allow the EkoMobil business to grow unencumbered by the non-profit management structure and regulations of SOIL. This would theoretically allow the business to rapidly and flexibly respond to market demand (for example: opening satellite offices or making independent HR decisions). The founding documents of the business could mandate a managing board connected to SOIL and certain social or environmental standards (such as minimum wage, ethical hiring practices, and standards for waste treatment).  Such a business would incur additional administrative and tax burdens.

Over the coming weeks, SOIL hopes to complete an analysis of the costs and benefits of each scenario option that evaluates key points for each scenario such as gross margin, net margin, break-even point, and some social impact KPIs.

A Vision or the Future

SOIL’s goal to sustainably provide household sanitation services at a price point that’s affordable for the most vulnerable urban communities in Haiti is an extremely challenging one. We’re honored to have partners like EY helping us to evaluate the potential for related sanitation social enterprises, such as EkoMobil, to support us in that mission through the cross-subsidization of services.

Interested in following along as we progress through this research? Follow us on social media at @SOILHaiti.

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