East Africa, particularly Nairobi, Kenya, is often thought of as the ‘innovation hub’ of Africa. IBM chose the city for the location of its first ‘Innovation Center’ on the continent, and the Kenyan mobile money system M-PESA is one example of an innovative new technology that has rapidly spread throughout the country. Through the WASH Impact Network, R4D is partnering with Millennium Water Alliance (MWA) to support the top water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) innovators in the region. MWA has several years of experience in East Africa, including local offices in Nairobi and Addis Ababa and deep connections in the sector through its 16 MWA consortium members.
MWA identified 77 innovative WASH programs to profile and include in the Network’s peer learning and capacity development activities. MWA will be coordinating the Network locally, and recently held its first workshop in Nairobi for 19 innovators from Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia. While the primary criterion for inclusion in the Network is whether the organization is testing an innovative approach in the WASH sector, MWA also focused on finding small-scale, grassroots organizations to participate. Despite this commonality, these 77 organizations in the Network vary widely in the approaches they are taking to extend access to safe water and latrines, and improve hygiene practices for individuals in East Africa.
Comparing the cohort
Geographic spread: The East Africa cohort is mainly located across four countries: Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. A small number of programs also operate in South Sudan, Zambia, and Mozambique. A minority of programs have also scaled across countries or regions, such as Impact Africa Industries, whose Safi reusable menstrual pads can now be found in both Kenya and neighboring Uganda.
Subsector: Programs are fairly evenly split across the three major subsectors of WASH: water (47 programs), sanitation (42), and hygiene (44). A high number of programs (43%) also work across multiple subsectors within WASH, and many operate across sectors other than WASH, such as food security in the case of RiPPLE. Based in Ethiopia, RiPPLE has adopted the Multiple Use Service (MUS) Strategy, which advises institutions to design and implement infrastructure to incorporate both domestic and productive uses of water. RiPPLE includes the promotion of school gardens in its water programs to support local entrepreneurship as well as better childhood nutrition.Water Sanitation Hygiene
Common Focus Areas drinking water, purification, storage, and agricultural water management.
Common Focus Areas waste management and disposal or re-use, and environmentally friendly toilets.
Common Focus Areas hand washing, menstrual hygiene management, and safe and sustainable cooking.
Program Spotlight Whave in Uganda acts as a model rural water utility, providing a reliable source of safe water. Whave signs reliability assurance and WASH service agreements with communities and builds PPPs to support local cost recovery and sustainability.
Program Spotlight Sanitation Solutions Group (SSG) is a sanitation enterprise that provides affordable sanitation products and services to households in Uganda, including latrine construction, upgrading, and emptying through a market-based approach.
Program Spotlight Irise Uganda couples their menstrual hygiene products (including washable, reusable sanitary pads) with high quality, fact-based menstrual health education. Irise changes the discourse around sanitation into a drive to promote women’s education, health, and rights.
Funding model: Comparable to the cohort of innovators that R4D convenes in the health and education sectors, innovators in WASH also tend to operate non-profit enterprises. However, over a third operate either a for-profit or hybrid (for-profit/non-profit) model, and many of the non-profit programs included in the recent WASH Impact Network workshop in East Africa expressed strong interest in diversifying their financing within that model.
Within those that operate a purely for-profit model, Chujio Ceramics, for example, produces and sells ceramic water filters to the rural poor in Kenya. The use of the filter to treat household drinking water ensures that a family is free from water-borne diseases and has easy access to safe water. This enables them to save money that would have been spent on hospital bills, medication, and fuel, and time that they would have spent in hospital queues and at water points. These savings can be used to improve livelihoods, for girls to stay in school, and for families to engage in meaningful work.
The future of the Network in East Africa
The WASH Impact Network aims to support innovators like Chujio, who are on the forefront of testing the application of a promising for-profit business model for a dual profit-social benefit purpose. Based on the impact that facilitated peer learning has had on many programs who work with R4D’s health platform, we believe that there is a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be shared across programs in the Network. Millennium Water Alliance will lead these activities with the East Africa cohort, including a second capacity development workshop in the spring. Check back here for updates on that workshop and other insights to share from the Network.