People often ask – How did you start with this idea? Or similar questions. Well, both Winnie and I have always had a strong drive that everyone is equal, just because someone is “less fortunate” in the hand in life they have been dealt, does not mean they are any less as a person. In various ways on the separate journeys of our lives we have often found ourselves trying to help others.
This led us a few years ago to both become volunteers at VSO (voluntary services overseas). Winnie worked in Health in Mozambique and in Secure Livelihoods in Kenya. Simon worked in Secure Livelihoods in the vocational training sector in 2011 in rural Kenya. Winnie got a job with VSO Jitolee in Kenya in 2012 and it was here that we first met and over time became great friends. Winnie’s contract at VSO ended in 2013 and Simon’s Volunteer term ended too.
Simon got a job with Sanergy social enterprise working in Nairobi informal settlements providing “affordable hygienic sanitation for everyone, forever” through delivering the whole sanitation value chain ……. This was a great introduction, not only to the opportunities and many challenges of social enterprise, but also to the subtle and sometimes, less subtle intricacies of working in informal settlements!
Part of the Sanergy model is manufacturing and building pre-cast concrete toilets.
It was when speaking to one of the toilet franchise operators that Simon first heard the phrase “that toilet is better than my house”. Simon’s inner question was “well let’s build houses the same too?”. Sanergy are doing a very challenging job in Sanitation very well and need to focus on that. They cannot fix the housing problem too. This was early in 2014 but that question and the feeling that surely this can be done stuck in his mind.
Around January 2015, sadly, there was a large fire in the settlement just behind Sanergy’s office in Mukuru informal settlement. Over 100 houses were destroyed, see the photo below!
But look! There is one structure still standing? That is a Sanergy toilet. “That toilet is better than my house”……… On seeing this Simon felt we must do this. Imagine if all those houses had been built in pre-cast concrete like that toilet? Just imagine……..
Simon chatted a lot to Winnie and bounced the idea around over the next few months and also again spoke to Sanergy to try and get them to build houses too. Sanergy did think hard about it again. Rightly, however, they stuck to their Sanitation vision and focus. Simon then said “if Sanergy cannot do this, can I?”. “Yes”. This was June 2015.
Simon and Winnie then did a lot of thinking, how can we make this happen? The Sanergy founders were amazingly supportive and flexible. The most valuable element was the advice they gave and key questions they said we needed to answer. That helped us frame our thinking and avoid many of the early pitfalls and naiveties that can often prevail at this key formative stage of an idea, towards the end of this year they were also key in pushing us to move from thinking, designs and spreadsheet business plans to actually “just do it!”. A huge thank you guys!
A Social Enterprise was born.