Making Money, Doing Good

The development of EkoMobil, SOIL’s portable toilet social business pilot, represents investment in a long-term and durable sanitation solution. Every dollar that’s invested in EkoMobil is returned as revenue plus profit, reinvested and returned, ad infinitum. With every dollar of EkoMobil profit, we’re able grow the scale and quality of the EkoMobil business – creating more local jobs, enabling greater and more widespread access to sanitation, and providing a sustainable source of revenue – as well as support the growth of our household EkoLakay social business through research, education, and subsidies.

Social business sees no trade-off between the selfish objective of maximizing profits and the selfless objective of maximizing environmental, social, and public health impacts; we can make money and do good. In fact, we can do more good if we make more money.

In the past two months, we’ve fielded requests from NGOs, private individuals, and public entities for EkoMobil service at their festivals, events, and work sites. We haven’t been actively seeking new clients – most requests happen as the result of informal conversations and personal connections. It’s very exciting to have so much demand for the service even without a formal sales strategy – Haiti is clearly ready for green port-a-potties!

It’s wonderful to be wildly popular, but that won’t help create a durable and sustainable business if we’re not also wildly profitable! Getting that second piece in place is essential to EkoMobil’s success and without it the program would remain dependent on foreign donations, hardly a sustainable strategy moving forward.

Last month, we provided 10 EkoMobil toilets to the Ministry of Tourism for a four-day festival at Parc Milot. Milot is home to the Sans-Souci Palace and the Citadelle Laferrière, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each year, the Parc Milot festival welcomes thousands of visitors to explore the Citadelle, the Palace, and the lovely town of Milot.

fet parc milot

Just in case the photo doesn’t do it justice, let me share some more information about the rich history of the Citadelle Laferriere:

  • Built over 20 years between 1804 and 1824
  • Large mountaintop fortress equipped with 365 cannons to keep Haiti safe from French incursions
  • Situated atop the 3,000 ft Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain, a steep 8 km hike uphill from Milot (so steep that visiting tourists are actively encouraged to ride horses and motos instead of hiking).

The EkoMobil service at the Parc Milot festival was an incredible sale for SOIL. Before the festival, Sanitation Director Emmanuel and Project Coordinator Marion took a draft price quote for 3 toilets to the Ministry of Tourism, who promptly asked for 10 toilets  – to be installed the next morning at 9 am.

Cue the melee!

SOIL’s Administration department starting pulling together the updated price quote, the Technical department putting some finishing touches on the EkoMobil toilets, the Sanitation department working to ensure we’d have all of the right people and supplies ready to go. Somehow we managed to get everything together – well almost.

As with every last-minute event, there were some things – and some costs – that we just couldn’t anticipate.

We’ve been collecting cost and revenue data since we launched EkoMobil, and over the past few months, we’ve been working on a predictive pricing model that properly accounts for direct and indirect costs:

Cost CategoryDescription
Installation/RemovalThe cost of labor to install and remove the toilets.
ServicingThe cost of labor involved with collecting full buckets and replacing,empty buckets, as well as cleaning the interior toilet during collection.
ManagementThe cost of toilet managers and related materials (soap, toilet paper, water, etc.).
RentalThe cost of cover material used, related waste treatment costs, and the depreciating initial capital investment of the EkoMobil toilet.
Transportation The cost of gas and transport labor related to installation/removal and servicing.

The festival at Parc Milot was our first real test of the pricing model, we estimated the following for our expenses:

Figure 1 Breakdown of Costs, as Modeled

Figure 1 Breakdown of Costs, as Modeled

Based on the calculation of these expenses, we applied a 20% “markup” to all our expenses to calculate the final price for the client. However, our team decided to offer a discount of $100 because we saw it as a great opportunity for SOIL to market our service in Milot, a region where we’re hoping to increase the density of our client base, as well as to build a relationship with the Ministry of Tourism that could be beneficial in the future.

But life never fits into an Excel chart! And nowhere is that more true than here in Haiti. When the team arrived in Milot, we were informed of two key parameters that were unexpected and impacted our costs:

  1. We were held responsible for providing water for the handwashing stations.
  2. We were to install two toilets at the very top of the Citadelle.

Let me remind you that tourists are strongly encouraged to ride, not walk, up to the Citadelle.

After the event, it was with some trepidation that we started to look at what our actual costs were. In addition to all the direct expenses we incurred (parking/transportation fees, food for all the staff while they worked during a holiday and weekend, and overtime for all the staff that worked during the holiday and a weekend), we also needed to take into account all the indirect expenses.

After some calculations, this is an estimate of our total expenses from the EkoMobil service at festival at Parc Milot.

Figure 2 Comparison of revenue with actual costs. Actual costs include direct and indirect expenses, as well as the avoided cost of servicing.

Figure 2 Comparison of revenue with actual costs. Actual costs include direct and indirect expenses, as well as the avoided cost of servicing.

You might also observe that where we had budgeted for servicing costs for the collection of full buckets, we didn’t end up needing to transport buckets until the end of the event, eliminating those costs. This provided us with an unanticipated – and much appreciated – margin for our unexpected costs, which, in addition to our markup of 20%, kept this rental from being hugely unprofitable.

In summary, for the biggest rental in EkoMobil history, we made $131! But while the rental may not have been hugely profitable in the financial sense, it was a veritable gold mine of data for testing and further refining the pricing model. This kind of research is so essential for the future of EkoMobil as a social business – and we’re well on our way to doing more good.

2 Replies to "Making Money, Doing Good"

  • Sheila P.
    June 11, 2015 (10:29 pm)

    This is such a cool post!

    It is interesting to hear about how you are adjusting your business model as you try to scale up. Great behind-the-scenes look at your continuing efforts to close the loop with the poop!

  • SOIL Haiti | Learning how to serve
    October 27, 2015 (2:02 pm)

    […] posts, such as the launch of our Port-au-Prince Ekolakay household toilet pilot project, or our EkoMobil mobile toilet cost […]

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