New Routing App Streamlines SOIL’s COVID-19 Response

SOIL began partnering in 2019 with DataKind, a nonprofit committed to helping organizations leverage cutting-edge data analytics to maximize impact, to develop a route optimization tool for our sanitation collection services. What was SOIL’s puzzle for our friends, the data experts? We needed to figure out how SOIL collection teams can navigate the container collection routes between households on our service in the most efficient way possible through growth. With collection happening weekly for the families who depend on SOIL for safe sanitation, any reduction in gas, time, or distance is important for our broader goals to increase efficiency and grow our impact (Read more about our early stages on the blog here!). Together, we designed a ground-breaking new mapping app to not only increase our efficiency, but to also help build systems capacity and technical expertise across our team of collectors.

Though our initial plan to field test the routing tool was delayed late last year due to the situation in Haiti, the onset of the COIVD-19 pandemic pushed SOIL to rapidly roll out implementation as our team worked to decrease the risk of disruption to essential elements of SOIL’s sanitation service provision. For example, if SOIL’s EkoLakay sanitation service collectors were to need to quarantine, we would need somebody who could step in to continue operations in their place for at least two weeks.  

While we swiftly implemented operational changes to ensure our team’s safety, SOIL hired 11 new contractors to support any operation gaps that may need to be filled in the months ahead. When toilets help families stay home amidst a pandemic and reduce the burden of diseases on health facilities, we take our commitment to uninterrupted service seriously!

Where does our mapping tool fit into this? Historically, EkoLakay collectors relied on their incredible memory and deep local knowledge to conduct the weekly pickup of containers from families’ SOIL toilets. Amazing as this was, we knew this wouldn’t be feasible through the process of scaling up if collection routes grow by the week. SOIL’s Director of Research and Innovation, Erica Lloyd, explains, “when we were developing this tool, it was really based on efficiency – we had no idea just a few months later we’d be planning for a scenario where we may need to complete collection without collectors who know the households by heart.” Though we are doing everything in our power to help prevent our teams from contracting the virus and remain hopeful we won’t need it ,Erica shared that the tool will help SOIL “ be prepared for the impact of a pandemic.”

With coronavirus cases growing, we launched an abbreviated training process in April. Since then, we have rolled out the mapping tool in seven out of nine of SOIL’s service zones in northern Haiti. Initial results are promising!  The data shows that we are already cutting route distances by 10%, which reflects significant potential to reduce transportation related costs and carbon emissions.

The new tools have also opened up opportunities for SOIL to be more responsive to the families on the service. For example, our collectors are now using the mapping tool to track the number of containers used each week to help us inform container supply.

We are excited to have these new tools on hand as a critical component of our COVID-19 response plan and are working to implement newly optimized routes in all of our collection zones and finish training the entire team. Once that is finalized, we expect that the optimization tool will further increase efficiency and cost effectiveness, as well as enable SOIL to scale our regenerative sanitation services to reach additional communities in Haiti.

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