FreshLife toilets being assembled at Sanergy’s workshop in Mukuru, Nairobi.

Sanergy is a social enterprise that rolls out low cost toilets to micro entrepreneurs, transforming the lives of slum dwellers

Globally, 2.5 billion people in the developing world lack access to adequate sanitation. Unicef data estimates that a huge population of people lacking access to sanitation facilities is in sub Saharan Africa.

Kenya, like many developing countries, faces a sanitation crisis. Few people, especially in rural, urban and peri urban settlements have access to a clean toilet. The scarcity of physical space, infrastructure and resources worsens matters in slums. In Kenya’s slums, 8 million residents pay up to Kshs5 per use for unhygienic and inaccessible sanitation options. 4 million metric tons (90%) of waste is then dumped into waterways every year.

Some frustrated residents use polythene bags commonly known as “flying toilets” to dispose of human waste. The result is a high death toll, particularly among children. In Kenya alone, the World Bank Group’s Water Global Practice estimates that 19, 500 people— including 17,100 children aged less than five years — die each year from diarrhea, 90 percent of which is caused by bad sanitation.

‘Flying toilets’

Operating from Nairobi slums where the sanitation problem is prevalent, Sanergy is a social enterprise that seeks to address the sanitation crisis in Kenya. The company was established in 2010 by a team of students from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

It designs its own toilets, franchises them out to entrepreneurs (who charge people to use them), then converts the waste into fertilizer that it sells to farmers.

“Solving the sanitation crisis requires more than just building toilets. We take an innovative systems-based approach to build out the entire sanitation value chain,” explains Edith Karimi, a senior communication officer at Sanergy.

Sanergy uses a three-part process. First, the social enterprise builds a dense network of small scale high-quality sanitation centers-Known as Fresh Life Toilets- close to homes. It rolls out the toilets to micro entrepreneurs through a franchise. The micro entrepreneurs are provided with constant operational support to run the toilets as profit-making businesses. Second, Sanergy collects the waste from each Fresh Life Toilet and transports it to a central waste processing facility. Since November 2011, the company has collected, removed and treated 6,645 tons of waste. The company processes over 40metric tons of waste per week into organic fertilizer

Finally, At Sanergy’s centralized processing facility; human waste is converted into a portfolio of high margin products, predominantly organic fertilizer which is sold to Kenyan farms.

“We have successfully launched 748 franchises to 370 local entrepreneurs in six informal settlements of Nairobi including Mukuru and Mathare– a population of 500,000 people,” offers Karimi. “We are also running Research and Development on biogas, biochar, urine nitrification and animal feeds.”

She says that each Fresh Life Toilet receives an average of 40-60 paying users each day, translating to 33,000 residents now having access to hygienic sanitation daily. Here is how Sanergy has effectively addressed the sanitation problem in slums.

Creating jobs

Sanergy’s franchise network has created a further 146 jobs in the community in operating the sanitation businesses.

Overall, 771 jobs have so far been created by Sanergy. This includes the Sanergy team, Fresh Life Operators, and the attendants that they hire as they expand.

Sanergy’s toilets—which come with tile floors—cost about Kshs50000. Each Fresh Life Toilet provides customers with a dignified, hygienic, and enjoyable sanitation experience. Each customer is welcomed by a Fresh Life Operator, who provides toilet paper, sawdust, soap and water for hand-washing. Each clean toilet also contains a waste bin, sanitary bin for women, a mirror, coat hook, and a solar lantern for early morning and nighttime usage.

Customers can pay by the visit, week, or month. Children pay less than adult customers. Some parents buy monthly memberships for children who attend schools with inadequate sanitation facilities. Other families buy a monthly family membership to their neighbourhood’s Fresh Life Toilet.

Karimi says the company has faced its fair share of challenges, rolling out the toilets in informal settlements, considering that many people living in slums do not own land. Sanergy’s Fresh Life Toilets are made of prefabricated materials and are permanently constructed in a franchisees’ land.

However, a network of partnerships with the government, provincial administration and other development organizations have seen the company surmount this challenge, giving a fresh experience to thousands of families living in slums.

Esther Munyiva is one of the many Fresh Life Operators. The Mukuru Kwa Reuben resident has witnessed the change that Sanergy has brought to her community.

Locally Known as Mama Kasoso, Ms. Munyiva was employed for 25 years selling clothes in Gikomba market, earning a meagre income. But in 2012, she joined a group of women and together, they borrowed funds from a local microfinance institution to start their business. Her two flagship businesses were some rental properties in the slums and a Fresh Life Toilet. Looking back now, she beams with a smile as she welcomes her neighbours to use her Fresh life Toilet, which is always well maintained and meticulously clean. A few years ago, Ms. Munyiva and her neighbours used flying toilets, but today, they enjoy hygienic sanitation from Fresh Life Toilets. Her toilet records over 96 visits every day.

“My aim is not to make money, but to help the people of this area. Within 5 months, I think I will be able to add another toilet,” says Ms. Munyiva, who was also voted the chairperson of her section of the slum.

Sanergy relies on well respected, well networked members of the community who can teach their friends and neighbours about the importance of good hygiene and improved sanitation.

For Ms. Munyiva and hundreds of others living in the slums, affording a Fresh Life Toilet is a tall order.

However, through Synergy’s partnership with Kiva, an online micro lending platform, local entrepreneurs are able to pay for the toilets. The entrepreneurs then set their own end-prices, with the standard rate being Kshs5. Sanergy franchise operators make Ksh85, 000 per toilet per year. Sanergy itself makes money by selling the waste by-products to farming customers.

“We’ve shown that people are willing to pay if their demands are met, which means clean toilets, close to where they are living, at an affordable price. The fact that the toilets are run by peers in their community gives them added credibility,” says David Auerbach, Sanergy’s co founder.

The social enterprise has so far received glowing accolades for its work in the slums. Other than being named the MIT100K business plan winners, Sanergy has been recognized by Echoing Green, USAID DIV Program, African Leadership Network, SIDA, and Ashoka.

Banking on its strong partnerships with community organizations, technical agencies, and the Kenyan government, Sanergy intends to serve more than 500, 000 people through a network of 6 000 toilets.



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