From 2016-2020 the Inter-American Development Bank partnered with SOIL and provided transformational support that enabled SOIL’s climate-positive container-based urban sanitation service, EkoLakay, to prepare for scale. At the conclusion of this three-year project, SOIL has provided high-quality service to thousands of customers in Haiti, reduced the cost of providing the EkoLakay service by more than 20%, undertaken innovative service improvements, and invested heavily in research and outreach to support global replication.

The Problem Open external link

  • Today, approximately 4.2 billion people around the world lack access to safely managed sanitation services.
  • In Haiti, it is estimated that only 34% of urban residents have access to improved sanitation facilities. Less than 1% of human waste in Haiti is safely treated.
  • Haiti contributes negligibly to global climate change, but is one of the nations most vulnerable to its impacts and most adversely affected by natural disasters.
  • Soil fertility in Haiti and around the world has declined precipitously in the last decades, mountainsides have been deforested, and 36.6 million mega tons of soil are lost to erosion annually, all of which contribute to long-term food insecurity.
Haiti topographic map

SOIL is combatting the public health crisis in Haiti by incubating a climate positive social enterprise specifically designed to provide safely managed in-home sanitation to dense urban communities where traditional technologies have failed.

EkoLakay display

SOIL’s work represents a pioneering force in container-based sanitation (CBS), a novel approach to sanitation designed specifically for dense urban communities without access to sewers. SOIL’s full-cycle approach to sanitation services is currently the only intervention in northern Haiti that meets the standards set by the Sustainable Development Goals, which require safe management of the entire sanitation value chain (from toilets through to waste treatment). Additionally, by safely transforming waste into agricultural- grade compost, SOIL is recapturing valuable nutrients for application to Haiti’s depleted soils, a critical intervention in a country where approximately 45% of the population is malnourished, largely due to declining soil fertility and reduced national production.

In addition to providing a safe and dignified sanitation option and restoring soil fertility, SOIL’s sanitation service is climate positive, contributing to ecosystem resilience by producing compost, a resource with incredible regenerative properties, and emitting less greenhouse gas relative to traditional waste treatment technologies.

SOIL logo

2006 SOIL founded in Milot

2007 Humanitarian public toilet program for communities in Northern Haiti begins

2009 SOIL develops the first version of a household container-based toilet

2010 SOIL leads a globally recognized emergency response program post- earthquake in Port-au-Prince

2011 The EkoLakay household toilet service begins to take shape

2016 IDB partnership begins

2019 Container-Based Sanitation (CBS) officially recognized by the World Health Organization as safely managed sanitation

2020 Today SOIL’s award-winning service provides nearly 7,000 people in Haiti with safe sanitation

new SOIL logo

In 2016, SOIL and the Inter-American Development Bank signed an agreement to enter into a three-year project, titled "A Social Business Model for Affordable, Sustainable Provision of Sanitation Services in Haiti."

The project yielded significant results in Haiti and for the global sanitation sector.

SOIL’s flagship program EkoLakay provides desirable and affordable household sanitation services. EkoLakay has grown from a pilot project in 2013 to a service which today reaches nearly 7,000 urban residents with safe and dignified access to household sanitation. For a small monthly fee, EkoLakay provides households with toilets, weekly collection of wastes, and safe treatment and transformation of wastes into compost using a process that respects World Health Organization standards. By providing toilets and removing waste from communities, SOIL is preventing the spread of waterborne disease, increasing families’ safety and security, and protecting vulnerable aquatic ecosystems.

SOIL’s compost is sold to support agriculture, reforestation, and climate change mitigation efforts in Haiti, one of the most climate-vulnerable nations in the world. The use of compost stabilizes soils, helping to prevent catastrophic floods and mudslides, and improves the soil’s ability to sequester carbon by increasing plant growth.

Service cycle diagram, labeled

Over the course of the project, the IDB’s support has proved transformative to SOIL’s operations in Haiti, creating positive impact in every area of SOIL’s work. With gratitude and pride, the SOIL team is pleased to share the following outcomes of this project:

Costs Reduced by 23.5%

During the three-year grant period SOIL reduced the overall costs of the EkoLakay program by nearly 24%.

Costs of Household Toilet Service
10.0%
Costs of Waste Treatment
25.5%

More Impact, By The Numbers

Sanitation Service

6810
Number of People Provided with Uninterrupted Safe Household Sanitation
93%
Reported Customer Satisfaction
88%
Average Payment Rate
90%+
Mobile Money Payment Rate*

*Over the project period, SOIL transitioned from door-to-door payment collection to mobile pay to support preparation for scale.

Transportation

34 Metric Tons
Average Waste Removed from Communities Monthly

Waste Treatment

1,516 Metric Tons
Total Amount of Waste Treated
100%
of waste safely treated

Transformation and Reuse

210 Metric Tons
Total Amount of Compost Sold
$40,000
Compost Sales Revenue

Job Creation

84
Full Time Positions Created for Haiti's Sanitation Sector
200+
Temporary Contract Positions Created

As SOIL scales the sanitation service in northern Haiti in years to come, more jobs and small business opportunities will be created.

Research and Innovations for Cost Savings

To ensure that SOIL's social business is the most cost-effective provider of safe sanitation in Haiti, SOIL undertook the following research activities over the course of the IDB project:

Black Soldier Fly Research Open external link

As part of SOIL’s effort to look at alternative waste-to-resource technologies to complement composting, SOIL completed a successful Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) pilot in the summer of 2019. This research highlighted the potential to produce and sell chicken and fish feed as a means for increasing earned revenue from the waste treatment operation.

The direct costs of SOIL's sanitaion service are 19% less than the cost of sewer-based sanitation.

Cost Effectiveness Research Open external link

As part of the IDB partnership, SOIL was able to work with a range of consultants to quantify and model the costs of providing safely managed sanitation in Haiti, accurately quantifying costs at the current scale and modeling projected cost reductions at a citywide scale. Recent work with EY consulting demonstrated that SOIL’s service is more than 5 times less expensive than sewered sanitation.

Customer Profile Research Open external link

Over the course of the IDB partnership, SOIL undertook significant research to better understand our customer base. Initial work focused on annual customer satisfaction surveys, followed by a formal research study carried out in collaboration with the University of Oregon. This research is designed to evaluate whether CBS can result in long- term behavior change and also to provide SOIL with insights on how to better retain existing clients. Initial results indicate that container-based sanitation (CBS) does result in long-term behavior change, demonstrating that CBS can be a powerful sanitation solution for non- sewered urban areas.

SOIL's service has up to 250x lower greenhouse gas emissions than waste stabiization ponds.

Greenhouse Gas Research Open external link

SOIL worked with researchers from University of California Merced and Stanford University to evaluate the climate impact of SOIL’s sanitation service relative to alternative sanitation approaches. This work, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, demonstrated that SOIL’s service has up to 250x lower greenhouse gas emissions than waste stabilization ponds. Ongoing work with these partners seeks to better understand the ways in which CBS impacts climate adaptation and resilience. This research was ground-breaking for the sector and has inspired a global body of work dedicated to understanding the climate impacts of sanitation.

Route Optimization Open external link

To help us improve our service and reduce our costs, we completed a partnership with DataKind to assess SOIL’s vehicle capacity and collection routes and to design the best way to use vehicle, collector, GPS, and GIS map data to tackle this challenge. This tool is now instrumental in setting SOIL’s sanitation service up for adaptations necessary to ensure continued service provision in the face of a pandemic, and we hope that it will be made available to sanitation providers around the world in the future.

Every year, a SOIL EkoLakay toilet uses 19,000 fewer gallons of water than a flush toilet.

Water Savings Open external link

One of the most water intensive household activities in a household is the flush of a toilet. Most adults go 6 to 8 times per day, and the standard flush is 6 liters (or 1.5 gallons), though it’s often significantly higher for older toilet models. On average, it takes a household 187 uses to fill their EkoLakay container, meaning that every filled EkoLakay container saves 187 flushes of water. That means that, even taking into consideration water usage at the composting site to sanitize containers and wash uniforms, a household using SOIL’s household sanitation service is saving on average almost 20,000 gallons of water per year as compared to a family using a flush toilet.

Public Health Research Open external link

SOIL worked with a range of partners to evaluate the safety of the sanitation service. This research included rigorous microbial community assessment during the composting process to ensure pathogen elimination and development of a sanitation safety plan in collaboration with local government officials and the World Health Organization.

Lessons Learned

The following lessons learned are shared to promote the global replication of SOIL's innovative approach to urban sanitation.

Churn Management

As with any paid service it is critical to have mechanisms for encouraging payment and reducing client attrition due to debt. In January 2019 SOIL launched a new protocol to cut off EkoLakay’s service after clients accumulate two months of debt, which involves removing containers from the households but leaving the toilet for a period of three months to allow the customer to pay their debt. This effort led to significant reductions in debt and resulted in nearly 60% of clients whose service was suspended rejoining the service. Improved debt management resulted in significant reduction in churn rates through the close of our grant, and we believe strongly in maintaining stepwise approaches to debt reduction and management, aiming to keep as many customers on the service as possible before removing a toilet.

Mobile Money

Although door-to-door payment collection is possible at a small scale, a growing paid service in an urban context necessitates mobile payment options. This was particularly challenging in the context of Haiti where credit card payment is not possible and mobile money is a relatively new technology. At project close, more than 90% of payments received in Cap-Haitien have been processed through mobile money, an emerging technology in Haiti. SOIL’s work to shift the way we collect payments allows us to scale the service and free up time for our payment collectors to enter into marketing and other customer service tasks, as it became clear over time that door-to-door payment collection was an unsustainable activity that would have become impossible to maintain at scale.

Collaboration

Global replication of CBS services will require a nuanced understanding of how the services can succeed in different contexts. To inspire a deeper understanding of CBS in different contexts, SOIL co-founded the Container Based Sanitation Alliance, a group of sanitation providers working globally to roll out container-based sanitation in underserved urban communities. Collaborative research and sharing of lessons learned among providers has been a critical catalyst for improving government acceptance, facilitating growth and improving the quality of the service.

Human Resources Improvement

Over the course of this project SOIL invested in human resources changes necessary to scale. The leadership team focused on improved management skills through performance reviews with evaluations based on KPI outcomes, targeted training, and hiring new staff. Salary incentives increased efficiency and grew sales, and organizational complexity was reduced to lower costs, simplify management, and better ringfence operations between business units.

Systems Development

For sanitation businesses to truly understand their costs and move towards financial stability and resilience, it is critical to invest in financial management systems that enable real-time cost and revenue tracking and analysis. SOIL invested in the financial and operational systems changes like a new financial management system, NetSuite, needed to reduce costs, ringfence business units, and keep a focus on costs and revenues to scale rapidly. If sanitation is going to be provided as a business, then specialized mobile technologies will be required to accurately track customer feedback. SOIL developed a mobile CRM system in collaboration with Salesforce and Taroworks to replace Excel-based customer data tracking, which is unsustainable at scale. SOIL is now working with the Container Based Sanitation Alliance to create an open source CRM platform for sanitation providers which could be used by replicators globally.

Marketing for Growth

As with any business, it is essential to incentivize growth through commissions-based sales. SOIL implemented referral marketing incentives to drive growth of our service. We awarded staff a small bonus for each new customer referral. This had an immediate impact during the first three months of roll-out with back-to- back record-setting toilet installations. Since then, SOIL has created and recruited a Marketing and Sales Department to lead growth efforts.

Financial Viability

Although SOIL is using social enterprise principles to drive cost efficiency and customer satisfaction, it is important to note that safely managed sanitation is always financed through a combination of user revenues and public subsidy and/or support. SOIL is now working with the IDB and the Haitian government to develop a results-based financing contract to build a bridge to future public sector involvement and financial sustainability. SOIL developed a sustainable business plan and an ambitious 2025 growth strategy, both of which have been integrated into our operational efforts to guide our growth in the coming years and serve as a model for global replication.

Thought Leadership

While we work to scale a revolutionary model for rapidly deployable and user-approved urban household sanitation in Haiti, SOIL's team openly shared lessons learned to support broader global replication.

Sanitation Safety Plan
Developed in partnership with the WHO
and local government Open external link
Peer-reviewed research papers
published by SOIL Open external link
4

International Conference Presentations on SOIL's Model: 33

World Economic Forum Skoll World Forum Pres03_COP24 SOCAP World Water Week FSM4 WEDC Global Innovation Exchange Consortium of Universities for Global Health GSMA

Awards Received: 9 Open external link

Expo Live Energy Globe FAMAE Top 100 Lush Spring Regeneration International Sarphati Schwab Swiss Re Foundation UNFCC

Thank you

Our deepest gratitude to the Inter-American Development Bank for their transformational support. Thanks to the catalytic impact of this project, SOIL has refined our sanitation and waste treatment service into a resilient, durable, replicable business model that can be sustainably scaled to reach our goal of serving 15% of Cap-Haitien residents in the coming years. We believe that, thanks to this partnership, SOIL’s groundbreaking model can effectively serve as a transferable model for operators wishing to initiate similar projects around the world.