How SOIL is acting local and thinking global
Thanks to the support of our friends and donors around the world, SOIL is able to have quite a large impact in Haiti already. If you drive into the city of Cap-Haitien on a SOIL collection day, you’ll see bright green EkoLakay containers stacked up alongside the rode and a fleet of green three-wheeled motorcycles zipping along picking up containers and visiting customers. We are a team of more than 70, working through rain storms, floods, and holidays to ensure that our household toilets and composting waste treatment operation hums along. For every home on our service, SOIL ensures an affordable, dignified, and safe place to use a toilet. For every bag of compost we produce, we’re increasing harvests and supporting soil restoration. And for every job we create, we’re ensuring a livelihood.
But even though we’re proud of how far we’ve come, we have even bigger dreams. It’s not enough that 6,000+ people now have access to a toilet because of SOIL. We believe access to a toilet and a safe, healthy environment are basic human rights, and we are working as hard as we can to create a world where these basic human rights are ensured for everybody.
This fall we held a strategic planning session in Haiti to review how SOIL can exponentially increase our impact in Haiti and have a real impact on the global sanitation crisis. One of our role models, Dr. Shashi Buluswar*, took time out of his busy schedule to be our volunteer facilitator this session. Shashi gently reminded us that the most difficult challenges in the world – such as the global sanitation crisis – exist because of systemic failures. It’s not enough to bring goodwill and heart to the problem. We have to tackle this with everything we have!
Why is this challenge so important?
3.4 million people living in urban communities in Haiti lack access to improved sanitation (meaning an in-home toilet) and just 1% of waste in the country is safely treated. The lack of access to sanitation has a range of negative impacts across the country, from public health to childhood development, to safety for women and girls.
It’s commonly cited that investing in sanitation is one of the most impactful things you can do to support a country’s long-term development. But some sanitation investments are worth more than others and part of the reason for this global crisis is that there are very few affordable technologies that work in the context of the dense, rapidly-growing urban communities which often have the worst sanitation coverage.
What can SOIL do to expand our immediate impact?
We think the moment has arrived for container-based sanitation and Cap-Haitien, Haiti. SOIL has an evidence-based technology and service model that has been proven to be safe, affordable, and user-approved and we’re fielding inquiries for toilets every day. The Haitian Government’s sanitation authority is in support of our work, too, and wants to see SOIL expand access to our service.
At our strategic planning session with Dr. Buluswar, we mapped out how we can get from the 1,000 toilets we serve today to 8,000 toilets within the next five years. Reaching this number of households would mean that we’ll be serving 48,000 people (or over 15% of the population of Cap-Haitien). This also means that our next few years are about to get even busier with marketing sanitation services, building toilets, collecting containers, and transforming a lot of waste into compost. And at this level we’ll have created more than 80 new full-time jobs, be treating over 230 tons of waste a month, and we’ll have reduced our unit costs through economies of scale – meaning that our solution is even more affordable.
What’s our ultimate vision?
In addition to directly expanding access to sanitation, we want to create a service that’s financially sustainable so that it can be here for the long run. This means that at the same time that we’re expanding our service, we will be working to cut costs by investing in research and development and implementing cost-saving innovations.
We will also be working with international funders and the Haitian government to set up a public private partnership. If we are able to incorporate sustainable public finance to SOIL’s model for sanitation provision, we could get to a point where sanitation businesses and waste treatment facilities like SOIL’s can be sustainably replicated around the country.
In countries where you are able to go to the bathroom, flush, and never think about it again, it seems like sanitation is a simple and relatively affordable service. But those flush toilets and sewers took decades of intensive public sector investment in infrastructure and maintenance. We don’t believe we have decades to wait, so SOIL is working to create an environmentally-smart, cost-effective solution that can be scaled and replicated even in the most resource-poor contexts in the near future.
We’re going to tackle this with everything we have
With the help of supporters around the world, SOIL will continue to expand access to life-saving sanitation services and build a pathway to a long-term sustainable service that can continue to prevent disease, create jobs, make earth-restoring compost, and provide families with a safe and dignified place to use the toilet for years to come.
Thank you for joining us.
*Dr. Buluswar is the CEO of the Institute for Transformative Technologies, the founder of the LIGTT Institute at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and a professor at University of California at Berkeley
Featured image photo credit: AJ+
SOIL depends on individual donations from people like you to fund our work in Haiti. Please consider supporting SOIL today.