Scaling Up a Household Toilet Service – One Neighborhood at a Time
(Photo credit: Monica Wise)
Over 2.5 billion people globally currently lack access to sanitation. As a heartbreaking result, over 2,200 children under the age of five die every day from preventable diarrheal diseases.
Despite billions of dollars spent on sanitation interventions, the global population continues to suffer from the lack of access to safe sanitation. Part of the problem is that traditional sewer systems require considerable up-front capital investment, and depend on the availability of reliable water and energy supplies.
In contrast, SOIL’s believes that by using extremely low-cost environmental technologies paired with simple and streamlined operational logistics, we can create a service that provides dignified, affordable household sanitation services.
SOIL’s sanitation service model is already one of the most cost-effective sanitation models globally given our low operational costs and multiple revenue streams. SOIL’s aim now is to make this sanitation service model sustainable and scalable on a global level.
In order to achieve this lofty goal, we first worked to develop a thorough understanding of all the costs of our service.
Lots of number crunching!
One of the driving motivations for the process cost analysis was to calculate the activity-level costs of SOIL’s sanitation service chain in order to brainstorm alternative management structures to deliver those various activities. Currently, SOIL is the primary stakeholder responsible for managing the sanitation service chain, but we’re interested in knowing whether there’s an alternative management structure that might be more cost-effective, easily replicable, and allow SOIL to scale access to sanitation more quickly. But before developing alternative management structures, we needed to better understand the financial structure of the sanitation service chain.
Should we outsource transportation?
For example, could we outsource transport of organic cover material (bonzodè) and poop buckets to a private entrepreneur to decrease our vehicle depreciation and maintenance costs? If we did that, how much could we pay a private entrepreneur to transport buckets for us, and would that result in net cost savings? What are the risks involved in outsourcing transport, and how could we mitigate them? These are the kinds of questions we could only start asking once we understood how much the transport of buckets was costing SOIL as it is currently managed.
Should we have neighbor-hood based service depots, run by entrepreneurs?
One of the key outcomes from the process cost analysis was defining what activities involved in the containment, collection, and transport of waste could be covered by the monthly service fee by the households on our EkoLakay service. For example, if the costs of operating Activities A, B, and C is less than the revenue from the households, then Activities A through C could potentially operate a financially self-sustaining independent operator. What we found is that household service fees could potentially cover all costs associated with marketing, toilet production, installation, toilet maintenance, payment collection, local bucket exchange, and depot rental.
With this combination of activities, we could imagine an entrepreneur renting a depot and running the EkoLakay service for an independent service area, and then SOIL (or an independent transporter!) would provide cover material (bonzodè) to the depot manager and transport the buckets to the waste treatment site.
In addition to being a feasible idea from a financial perspective, it’s an idea that’s attractive in the sense that it’s replicable – we could establish depot operators in every service zone! – and it’s complementary with the current operational model already where we have local collection done in the service zones with wheelbarrows 3-wheeler motorcycles and then transport of those buckets out to the waste treatment with a large truck.
But we have a lot of unanswered questions.
But there is still a lot to figure out! Like what capacities does a depot manager need? Could service fees from the clients in a service zone cover all direct expenses AND fund a sufficient salary to incentivize a qualified depot manager? How would our supply chains and financial transfers change with a new depot manager? Would clients continue to pay SOIL via the electronic payment system we’re mobilizing and would SOIL pay the depot manager? Would the depot manager contract toilet production directly or do it through SOIL’s existing relationships with local carpenters and craftsmen?
And we have many planned innovations and improvements.
When we sat together to discuss next year’s strategy, we put our heads together (or tèt ansanm as they say in Haitian Creole!) regarding how we could start to experiment and pilot in order to answer some of the questions above, and at the same time implement cost reduction strategies. Even though there are a lot of questions for us to answer, it’s really exciting to have a vision of what the future might look like.
We’ve accomplished a lot already.
We think it’s pretty cool that SOIL is already combatting the public health crisis in Haiti by providing over 6,000 people with a sustainable access to a dignified in-home toilet. And it’s also wonderful that we’re turning all the wastes those toilets produce into rich, organic compost to support agriculture and reforestation in Haiti.
But we still dream bigger!
We believe sanitation social businesses can disrupt traditional models for sanitation provision globally. And we won’t rest until we demonstrate that by building a circular sanitation business model, we can provide a safe, dignified, sustainable, full-cycle sanitation service that is financially accessible to everyone, even those living in the world’s most impoverished and resource-scarce communities.