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Kenya Dispatch: Toilet Parties in the Nairobi Slums

“Once you don’t have it – that’s when you realize the value”
David Kuria, founder and CEO of Ecotact, speaking about toilets

When I first journeyed to Kenya in 2004, celebrating the launch of a public toilet facility was one of the last ways I imagined spending a Monday morning – or any morning (or afternoon, or evening), for that matter. In fact, unless I had enjoyed an elephant’s dose of mango juice and was on a 5 hour safari across the Great Rift Valley, I might not have had reason to celebrate a toilet at all.

Six years later, however, armed with the realization that an estimated 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation and 2.2 million die each year from water and sanitation related diseases, I now have billions of reasons to attend toilet parties, an emerging trend in the Nairobi slums thanks to David Kuria and Ecotact. So when the Acumen team received the invite to attend the launch of Ecotact’s 17th Ikotoilet facility last Monday, I practically ran for my dancing shoes.

Sitting under a small tent adjacent to the about-to-be-launched Kawangware Ikotoilet, Rob Katz and I listened eagerly with the 200-plus gatherers inside and spilling out the edges of the makeshift party hall. The crowd – a mix of residents, officials and journalists – engulfed the architecturally distinct Ikotoilet structure. It was clear that Acumen wouldn’t be dancing alone at this party.

The Minister of Public Health and Sanitation and the Chief Public Health Officer also showed up for the celebration. Given the honour of Chief Guests, they both made remarks before cutting the ribbon: this day marks the launch of a noble public-private partnership initiative, as we bring necessary services closer to the people and are no longer dependent on flying toilets.

The Kawangware facility is part of Ecotact’s newly implemented slum outreach model; it is now the second Ikotoilet in the informal communities of Kenya. And according to Kuria and the Minister, there will be more Ikotoilets in Kawangware in the near future – extremely exciting news for Acumen as a BoP investor!

Ecotact is experimenting with a school model in the slums as well. After cutting the ribbon at Kawangware – and being mobbed by reporters as she toured the facilities – Minister of Public Health and Sanitation and Kawangware MP Beth Mugo led a delegation to the Dagoretti Secondary School, about 10 minutes away from the new Ikotoilet.

The school’s 150 students currently use pit latrines. But with funding from the Solid House Foundation, Dagoretti will soon inaugurate a free-for-use Ikotoilet on site. What’s more, a biodigester will generate valuable methane gas, pumped from the toilet to the school’s kitchen.

With facilities in Nairobi’s central business district, city parks, slums and schools, Ecotact is tackling the sanitation problem here in Kenya on many fronts. As an investor and partner with Ecotact, Acumen Fund is eager to continue the celebration with Kuria and his team, as they grow from 17 facilities to a target of more than double that within the next year.