Despite bold efforts by a range of actors to improve sanitation, a significant majority of households in urban areas have yet to gain access to decent, dignified, healthy and affordable sanitation choices.

 

The Bio-Centre Initiative combines the resources of a civil society agency, Umande Trust, and Bankable Frontiers, a strategic international private sector consultancy firm, to create and improve bio-centers in Nairobi and Kisumu. These 52+ bio-centers serve as multi-purpose service points, designed to improve access to decent and affordable sanitation, convert human waste into clean energy (biogas) and fertilizer for urban greening, and provide income generation and access to information to community-based enterprises.

The project’s objective is to explore innovations in Bio-Centre pricing, payment systems, and money management tools to improve access to healthier sanitation while its financial bottom line is to improve the profitability of the bio-centers.

Our vision of success is that of a healthy, environmentally-friendly “reinvented toilet,” priced for universal usage yet scalable without need for subsidy; and which is leveraged to incentivize the phasing out of unhealthy surrounding pit latrines. The project is committed to affordability and specifically aims to contribute to healthy urban sanitation at a user cost of around $0.05 per household per day. Primarily, the initiative focuses on the inter-twined and reinforcing 4Ps: pricing, [healthy] practices, payment systems, and profitability.

The project shall at all levels, actively engage community groups, small-scale service providers, civil society, and the public, financial, and private sector in an on-going process of dialogue, learning and strategy development.

Pricing

At Umande, we believe that with the right pricing innovations, bio-centers can serve community members of all households, enabling them to choose healthy sanitation options all the time.

We seek to better match pricing with household cash flow realities and decision-making dynamics, so that frequent use of the bio-centers is encouraged. Instead of just pay-per-use for individual services, we actively pilot weekly or monthly pricing that provides unlimited access to all members of the household, along with offering “bundles” that combine the price of toilet access with other basic household services, such as water, bath, cooking fuel, or housing. Among other things, we measure ODF (open defecation free) in the respective bio-center’s catchment areas (e.g. within 60-100m radius) to assess any shifts towards the goal of universal usage.

Practices

We aim to explore the utilization of the bio-centers as a lever to progressively displace unhealthy sanitation practices in the surrounding communities (that are within a 60-100mradius of the targeted facilities).  The project shall develop market-driven incentives to encourage owners/users of existing (unsanitary) semi-private pit latrines (e.g., slum landlords or other shared plot arrangements) to either improve their sanitation or abandon their use. As a principle, we see sanitation by-products as resources to be optimized, not simply ‘waste’ to be discarded. The project supports a full sanitation value chain, and in doing so, intends to incentivize consistent, complete pit emptying, aswaste is a revenue-producing raw material for potential downstream businesses (fertilizer, electricity, biogas, etc.). Teams shall engage small-scale sanitation providers to improve on sludge management of the private pit latrines (e.g., gulper, diaphragm, or connecting pit latrines to bio-centers via piping).

Profitability

We further aim improve the financial profitability of the BCs, so that they can be brought to scale (without subsidy) .To reach substantial scale we develop sustainable, profitable business models capable of attracting commercial, market-driven financing. For instance, if a sanitation facility can achieve a return on investment (ROI) of at least 3.0%, in real terms (i.e., adjusted for inflation), this could be sufficient to attract capital interested in long-term investment horizons. We seek to cultivate specific relationships with commercial financial institutions, such as banks and/or microfinance institutions.

A key incentive here is the inclusion of a Sanitation Development Fund (“SanDev”) to push sanitation models (specifically those tied to the bio-centre’s sanitation objectives) that are currently beyond the existing “micro-financeable’ frontiers.

Payment Systems

Umande’s BCI also has an intentional focus on experimenting with innovative payment systems, technology, and money management tools that cost-effectively contribute to facilitating the above-referenced new pricing structures and improve upon burdensome and inefficient cash management practices.  The project intends to leverage electronic/mobile technology in order to facilitate the new pricing models and track performance in a more systematic way.   This shifts payments away from small cash transactions that are difficult to track and cumbersome to get into the bank, and towards larger periodic transactions that are easily tracked and even automatically transferred into bank accounts. These improve governance among community-owner facilities and open doors to new business models by investors. To this end, the project has a component called the Sanitation Payment Fund (“SanPay”)to explore such payment system innovations.

Products

The products of our Bio-Center Initiative are the many services our facilities provide, including adequate toilets & showers and safe spaces for local organization meetings, community cooking, or entertainment like football game viewing. In addition, the bio-centers provide income generation for their operating community-based organizations through the provision of facility services and conversion of human waste into clean energy (biogas) and fertilizer for urban greening.

Partnerships

We have partnered with community-based organizations (CBOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society agencies, and the donor community to improve access to water and sanitation through the creation of bio-centers. Through these partnerships we…

Foster values of democracy and inclusive governance in our work, within us and all those with whom we work;

Uphold financial probity, integrity and accountability;

Place ceilings on clearly stated, flexible and mutually appreciated performance standards;

Embrace learning, forward-planning and retrospection through regular progress reviews and documentation

Umande Trust

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