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Archive for the ‘Ceramic Water Filters’ Category

It’s been a little while since my last month and boy has a lot changed.  A couple of posts back I mentioned that I accepted a job with Unitus, a non-profit focused on international economic development, specifically in the area of micro-finance.  Unfortunately, about two weeks after I started, the Unitus board announced that they were shutting down operations and the entire staff was laid off. 

Fortunately, an interesting position opened up with PATH, another Seattle-based international non-profit that focuses on health care.  PATH is in the middle of a 5 year project studying and improving the commercial viability of low-cost water purification solutions like the water filters and chlorine solutions I’ve been discussing on this blog.  The role is a temporary consultant position based in Nairobi for several months.  I’ve accepted this position and am now back in Kenya.  I will act as the liaison between the Seattle team and the African partners, project manage two sub-projects around clean drinking water, and will try to identify and support social entrepreneurs doing work in the water and sanitation space. 

There have also been some good developments on the Kibera Kiosk project.  We’ve just filed the articles of incorporation for a new non-profit organization and are in the process of obtaining our tax-exempt 501(c) status so we can accept direct donations.  Steve, the Kenyan general manager, has moved to Nairobi and we’re working to refine the business plan and register the organization with the Kenyan government. 

Stay tuned for a lot more updates in the coming days and weeks now that I’m back in Kenya.

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For those of you who have ever thought about volunteering abroad, know someone who wants to volunteer abroad, or simply want to support an organization doing great work abroad, I thought I’d tell you a bit more about Village Volunteers.  Village Volunteers, the organization that I went through for this Kenya trip, is a Seattle-based non-profit that partners with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) all over the world.

Shana Greene Dormitory

Shana Greene Dormitory

If you’ve read my posts on Emmanuel’s school in the Maasai Mara or Joshua’s Common Ground for Africa, which is a school, bio-intensive farming training facility, and water filter plant, then you already know about some of the terrific programs that Village Volunteers supports.  They also work with programs in the fields of healthcare, economic development, women’s empowerment, childcare, and more.

Village Volunteers works with these programs in two ways.  The first is to send international volunteers like me to work with CBOs on specific projects or to provide general assistance.  All the marketing work I’ve done for the water filter project in Kiminini was a direct result of the partnership between Village Volunteers, Common Ground for Africa, and the Kenya Ceramic Project.  The second way Village Volunteers supports these organizations is to help them find funding sources through grants or connections to private donors.  Many of these amazing organizations simply wouldn’t be able to survive or flourish without the help of Village Volunteers.

Recognition of Shana and Village Volunteers

Recognition of Shana and Village Volunteers

To give you an idea of how much these global programs appreciate the help of Village Volunteers, Joshua from Common Ground for Africa told me that he named one if his daughters after Shana Greene, the Executive Director of Village Volunteers.  There’s also a Shana Greene Dormitory, and Emmanuel’s primary school publically recognizes both Shana and Village Volunteers.  I’ve personally been so impressed with the quality of the people and program that I recently joined the board of directors of Village Volunteers.

If you have any interest in either volunteering internationally, volunteering domestically to support Village Volunteers, or supporting Village Volunteers financially, please visit www.VillageVolunteers.org for more information or you can e-mail me at jeremy@villagevolunteers.org.

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I’d like to take a minute and thank everyone who donated to these fantastic water projects in Kenya.  I have many friends back home who contributed money.  Outdoor Research contributed a number of weatherproof jackets, shirts, pants, and hats, which I gave out at various slums and schools throughout Kenya.  I have also received a generous donation from an organization who asked to remain anonymous.

Outdoor Research donated jackets

Outdoor Research donated jackets

The Kibera water kiosk project has great momentum and I’m very optimistic that we’ll receive government approval.  I’ll then need to raise approximately $20,000 for the initial infrastructure including four 10,000 liter water tanks, the smaller 500 liter containers for all the kiosks, educational signs and materials, and more.  Once the initial costs are paid for, the business is set up to be financially self-sustaining.  If you would like to support this amazing project that will both reduce disease and create jobs in one of the largest slums of the world, please click on the following link:

http://www.villagevolunteers.org/donation/donate-info.php

When asked to specify the purpose, just type “Jeremy Farkas”.  The donation is tax deductible and will go towards supporting a fantastic cause.  I’d also like to note that all my time is donated so your donation will go directly towards project expenses.  Thank you so much for your support.

Woman in slums enjoying her new jacket

Woman in slums enjoying her new jacket

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I wanted to post a short update on the water kiosk project.  I met with Steve, my Kenyan colleague, last evening to discuss several details about the business and things are looking very good.  I’ll be heading back to Kibera around May 28 to conduct additional market research in the community and hopefully meet with a couple of organizations currently working there to improve health and the general standard of living.  I’m also hoping that I can begin flushing out a detailed action plan of steps that must be completed to launch the business.  I’m very excited that Steve is on board and it looks like we won’t lose much momentum when I leave Kenya.

I’ll actually be leaving Kiminini in a few days to head to the Masai Mara area before returning to Nairobi.  It’s strange to think that things are wrapping up for me on this part of the water filter project, but I do not think it will be the end of my involvement with this incredibly passionate team.  I intend to help them in any way I can to ensure the filters are successfully marketed and adopted by the community.

Make sure you check in over the weekend to see several new pictures.

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We were walking through the village where I’m staying last night and came across the stream where many locals get their drinking water.  As you can see in the pictures below, the stream contains a makeshift dam with a pipe in it that acts as a faucet.  This is known as an “improved” water source because in theory it prevents animals and people from contaminating the water.  However, as we stopped to look at the stream, we noticed several frogs (along with quite a few bugs) happily swimming in the water.  Not more than two minutes later did a little boy come by to take water from that stream.  Not that I had any doubts about why this program was necessary before, but times like this really reinforce how truly important it is.

Frogs in the drinking water

Frogs in the drinking water

Frogs in the drinking water

Frogs in the drinking water

Boy getting drinking water in Kenya

Boy getting drinking water in Kenya

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Trying to craft an advertising strategy has been an interesting experience in Kenya.  The marketing channels are far more limited than in the US.  E-mail, direct mail, search engine marketing, magazine ads, and event sponsorship are all unavailable.  Television ads are both prohibitively expensive and not terribly useful to reach a large population that doesn’t own a television (or certainly doesn’t watch it as much as Americans).  After spending a lot of time observing what works in Kenya, it seems one of our best options is plastering the area with signs.

We’ll likely use a combination of large road side signs placed on the main road, along with hundreds of small signs that we’ll provide to shops that sell our filters.  Here are some mock ups of potential road side signs.  If they seem very simplistic, it’s because they are.  Advertising here is generally very basic and to the point.  In fact, the most common way to produce a sign around Kiminini / Kitale is to have it painted by hand.

Road side sign 1

Road side sign 1

Of course, like all marketing, a single channel is not nearly as effective as an integrated multi-channel campaign, so these signs will reinforce the messages we’re promoting through live market demonstrations, community group presentations, educational fliers, and more.

Road side sign 2

Road side sign 2

Road side sign 3

Road side sign 3

Road side sign 4

Road side sign 4

Road side sign 5

Road side sign 5

Road side sign 6

Road side sign 6

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The interviews are just about done.  The competitive research is complete, as is an assessment of viable marketing and distribution options.  After several weeks in Africa and many weeks of research ahead of time, I’ve put together a 2.5 page document outlining the key findings and recommendations for the water filter marketing strategy.  I’ve previously posted several key findings and won’t repeat them now.  Instead, I’ll just include an excerpt of the recommendations.  If you’d like to see the full document, just let me know and I’ll be more than happy to send it your way.  I’d love to hear your comments on the recommendations below.  Tomorrow I’ll post the sample road side signs.  Also note that new pictures are available through the Flickr link on the right.

Key Recommendations

Promotion – Overall the biggest barrier to mass adoption will be lack of awareness, which can be overcome with continuous marketing efforts

1. Traditional advertising

  • Roadside signs
  • In-store signs (similar to Safaricom’s “Top up here”)
  • Flyers / brochures
  • Joshua’s radio program

2. Community presentation

  • Community / Women’s groups
  • Churches
  • Schools

3. Market demonstrations (live performances / demos)

  • Kiminini Market
  • Kitale

Distribution – A broad distribution network is required to reach a relatively disbursed population, especially given the need to pay in installment

  1. Dukas in Kiminini, Kitale, and in villages will likely be the primary distribution channel given the quantity of dukas and their ability to sell in installments given their personal relationship with customers
  2. Direct sales – We can hire and train commission-based salespeople to sell the filters directly to individuals.  These people can also give community group presentations and market demonstrations.
  3. Allow doctors and health offices to sell the filters.  In addition, if allowed by law, it would be great to check with the medical community to see where cases of typhoid are being reported so we can quickly target those communities (legitimate fear of typhoid is a huge and valid motivator)
  4. KCP could sell directly, but I recommend against undercutting the market on price.  We can set the price we would like to see in the market, but undercutting dukas jeopardizes those relationships and will drastically reduce coverage.
  5. Community groups can help members purchase filters in two ways
    1. Groups can establish a filter merry-go-round fund where x members contribute Price/x shillings every 2-4 weeks to purchase a filter for one member.  The process is repeated until all members have a filter.
    2. KCP can sell filters to the community group either for cash or on credit, and the group can sell to its members using whatever terms they prefer.  Selling to a community group on credit is less risk for KCP due to the social pressure to repay, potential joint liability, and greater ability to find and repossess filters from people who default.

Price

  1. We should sell the filters at the lowest price that allows KCP to operate at a minimum of break even plus profit used to invest in plant maintenance, financial reserves, and fair employee compensation.
  2. If KCP sells directly to individuals, we can set a fair price but should not undercut the 10-15% markup required by our distribution partners.  The 10-15% amount was obtained from Khetia’s (largest store in Kitale) staff, but should be validated with the duka network.
  3. It will be critical for us to be able to advertise that the filters are available for purchase in installments.  As such, dukas selling the filter should be told of this expectation, and we should consider not using dukas who refuse these terms.  Exceptions should be made for larger stores like Khetia’s and Subiri supermarket.

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Today was the first day of interviews in the urban area of Kitale.  I met with a women’s group in the slums of Kitale, a group of mechanics, some shopkeepers, and several random people we just stopped to speak with for a few minute.  It turns out that while there were a few new issues that came up, the general mindset and decision making process was pretty similar to the people in the villages.  I’ll discuss this a bit further over the weekend, but I’m a bit under the weather and am going to bed early today.

This weekend I’ll also write at least one fun, fluffy post about the children of Kenya.  I’ll also post some new pictures, so make sure you check back soon.

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After 4 days  and a lot of walking, I’ve completed the village interviews.  I still plan to conduct several urban interviews in Kitale and Nairobi, but the answers from the villagers were consistent enough that I feel satisfied in drawing some conclusions.

Kenyan interview team

Kenyan interview team

The first key finding is that all the points I listed back in May 6th in the “Village Interviews – Day 2″ post have consistently held up across the remaining interviews.

Here are some of the most important conclusions from the village interviews:

1.  People usually treat their water out of a direct feat of typhoid, either because they personally, their family, or their neighbors recently contracted the disease.  Just the general risk of getting sick is often not enough of a factor to make people look into treating water on their own.  In most cases, the decision to either boil or use chlorine was based on the recommendation of a doctor, so marketing to the health offices and regional doctors will be critical for mass adoption.  A public awareness campaign to teach people that clear water doesn’t mean clean water might help to get some new people to treat their water, but it won’t convert everyone overnight.  Another effective strategy may be to meet monthly with local health offices to see which villages are experiencing outbreaks of typhoid and then sending in a sales representative to target households in those areas.  That way we can reach people when they’re most concerned and hopefully prevent new cases of typhoid from occurring.  Group presentations in those areas would also be a good idea.

Kenya village interviews

Kenya village interviews

2.  Most people don’t consider new alternatives to water treatment, but are open to considering them once they hear about them.  Along those same lines, most people are operating under the false assumption that water treatment is prohibitively expensive.  The looks of shock, surprise, and glee that I saw during several interviews when I told people about the price of WaterGuard would be hard to fake.  In many cases people are paying five to ten times more for firewood than they would for WaterGuard or a filter, but assumed that boiling is the cheapest method.  As such, ongoing marketing including roadside signs, fliers, market demonstrations, and village presentations at churches and community groups will all be valuable in raising public awareness of the filters.  I do believe that once people are made aware of the long term cost effectiveness compared to boiling or contracting typhoid, many people will buy the filters.

Kenya village interviews

Kenya village interviews

3.  Numerous distribution channels will also be key to the successful adoption of filters.  Several shops have already agreed to sell the filters in installments, which is absolutely critical to making the filters affordable to the poorest Kenyans.  Even the people who probably could pay all at once still strongly preferred paying in installments.

Selling the filters to community groups also has a lot of promise.  These groups are very common in the villages, and are often based around financial services like savings and lending.  These groups could start what is known as a “merry-go-round” specifically for filters, where everyone in the group contributes enough so they could buy one filter.  They then repeat that process every 2-4 weeks until everyone in the group has a filter.  The other way to leverage these groups is simply to sell them to the group, possibly on credit, and then the group can sell to individual members on their own terms.  Selling to the groups greatly reduces default risk, as there is high social pressure to repay and in some cases the groups may agree to joint liability.

Picture of scenic Kenya village

Picture of scenic Kenya village

The third potential channel that has been discussed is a network of commission-based sales representatives that could travel through the villages selling the filters.  The obvious benefits here are that it lets us provide more education directly to the customers and it increases local employment.

4.  My kiosk model was not well received at all in the villages.  I’m not at all upset by this news, as I learned right away not to waste any resources on developing the model for rural areas.  It will be interesting to see the reaction of additional households in urban areas.

I hope you enjoyed reading the findings from the village interviews.  I’ll post the findings from the urban interviews in the coming days.  I’ll also be posting some pictures of draft marketing collateral like signs and brochures in the near future as well.

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Today we reached a key milestone towards the successful distribution of the water filters.  Along with one of the factory staff members, I went to speak with several shop owners in Kiminini market to gauge their interest in selling the filters.  Not only were they very excited about selling them, but they also said that selling them in installments would be no problem at all.  The installments are a critical component, as most villagers said they wouldn’t be able to (or wouldn’t want to) pay 1,000 – 1,500 shillings all at once.  Putting up signs and posters in their shops is fine as well.

Kiminini, Kenya Supermarket

Kiminini Supermarket

I have the say that while there may be a lot of problems with business in Kenya, I do love the lack of bureaucracy (so long as the government isn’t involved).  We were able to speak directly to the shop owner (often the only person working in the shop).  At the end of the conversation, several owners asked if they could have some now so they could start selling them.  No checking with procurement, legal, and a host of VPs all with their own agendas.  They just thought it was a good product that their customers would like and they were ready to go.  Very refreshing.

We spoke with the largest pharmacy and the largest supermarket, as well as several smaller shops.  The more shops we can get into, the better.  This will keep the pricing competitive, increase our brand awareness, and help ensure that most people can get the filter with a shop keeper they know and trust.

Kiminini, Kenya Pharmacy

Kiminini Pharmacy

Based on the initial reactions of both the local residents and the shop owners, I’m far more optimistic that we’ll not only be able to launch the filters successfully in Kiminini and Kitale, but eventually roll out the filters to other areas such as Eldoret, Kisumu, and Nairobi.  Overall, a good day.

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