Sanitation Africa – Local solution to local sanitation issues

Javier Ayala
By on July 16, 2018

Having grown up in one of Kampala’s slums, experiencing for himself problems of poor sanitation, young and innovative Samuel Malinga started to develop an effective and clean sludge management system right after graduating from Makerere University with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Engineering. In 2015, Samuel founded Sanitation Africa where he, together with his team developed a full-cycle sanitation system, addressing the whole chain of sludge management. “Good sanitation is essential for so many aspects of life – health, education and in turn employment and income. We know that poor sanitation is keeping children out of school, especially girls. I decided it was time to find a local solution for a local problem” – Samuel Malinga, Founder and Managing Director of Sanitation Africa.

The full-cycle system begins with a modular precast toilet, is followed by a toilet emptying service and ends with the conversion of sludge into cooking briquettes. The toilets are constructed from a reinforced, long-lasting concrete blocks that can easily be used in small congested areas. They are easy to construct, cheaper than the usual pits, can be constructed in phases, and can be modified fitting needs of different users, for example, children with disabilities or people who are otherwise constrained by sickness or age. “Our product is innovative because it can easily be built in congested areas and it can be fitted to accommodate different needs” – Samuel.

For children under five, water- and sanitation-related diseases are one of the leading causes of death. In Uganda, diarrhea alone kills 33 children every day. At Sanitation Africa, they aim to enable low-income households’ in Uganda access to decent, affordable sanitation facilities. Their goal is to build over 800 toilet facilities in the next two years, benefitting 4000 people. Their aim is to reduce the frequency of waterborne illnesses by 90 percent in the areas they operate.

Samuels devotion to community development and his unwavering determination to create impact has, in recent years, rewarded him with several awards, nationally and internationally and most recently, he was elected one of 17 UN young leaders for the SDGs. In late 2017, Sanitation Africa was also selected as one of the final 35 grantees under the Innovations Against Poverty project jointly implemented by SNV and Sida in partnership with BoP Innovation Center and Inclusive Business Sweden. The funding provided by the Innovations Against Poverty fund plays a crucial part for Samuel and his team. “If you intend to create a real impact when working in sanitation, you need to focus on more than just a good product” – Samuel explains.

“It’s more than constructing facilities and offering services, it’s working with behaviour change”. Access to improved water and sanitation facilities does not, on its own, necessarily lead to improved health. There is clear evidence showing the importance of behaviour change. The key to increasing the practice of, for example, hand washing with soap and ending open defecation is to promote behavioural change through motivation, information, and education. Working together with local leaders, Samuel and his team are working to create awareness, not only of their products and services but of the importance of good sanitation in communities. He works with a team of marketing officers that move from household to household, from school to school, with the products. Women and girls are especially affected by inadequate sanitation because of gender-related differences – cultural and social. To address the often sensitive subject of girls education and menstrual hygiene management, Samuel employs young women that can, more easily, approach the important subject when talking to communities and schools.

At Sanitation Africa, a couple of messages have been developed to communicate attributes like comfort/relaxation, freshness, health, and dignity that a decent toilet conveys to users. This, however, requires quite enormous financial muscle to exploit the different avenues to deliver information to the communities. The company realizes that programming right messages in terms of print, audio, visuals, pictorials, drama, is critically important in informing and educating the masses. The company understands that there is a need to make use of influential figures such as politicians, social celebrities to break silence on poor sanitation and what needs to be done. In addition, it is also important to involve cultural leaders, political leaders, use of poems, novels/literature. Sanitation Africa does realize further that early programming of a young generation in sanitation aspects is critical especially from schools by entrenching it in the education curriculum, formation of health clubs, modeling among other forms.

Working with behaviour change takes time and effort at a time when a startup like Sanitation Africa is not making enough money to date. Being one of the final Innovations Against Poverty investees provides them the means needed to scale up – to continue producing and disseminating their products and services while continuing to create awareness of good sanitation. One of the next steps, says Samuel, is to develop a system of micro-financing, making their toilet facilities accessible for the poorest communities.