Our thoughts are with all those affected by the horrible attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi this weekend.
Our thoughts are with all those affected by the horrible attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi this weekend.
2012 has arrived, but I wanted to take a moment and reflect on all that was accomplished in 2011. I remember this time last year we were facing challenges with Kenyan government support and registration. Steve was our only salaried employee and we were working out of my Nairobi apartment due to extremely limited funding. Our model was still conceptually fluid. At this time last year we were still nearly six months away from launching operations in Kibera.
However, despite these challenges, we launched on May 25, 2011 and saw tremendous success right out of the gate. We focused heavily on generating awareness of Life Force Kiosks in the market and worked hard at communicating the benefits we brought to the people of Kibera. We saw a need for a water purification solution that was truly affordable, convenient, effective, and didn’t ruin the taste of the water. We thought that Life Force Kiosks would meet that need, and the community agreed. During our first full month of operations we purified roughly 20,000 liters of water. In November that number was closer to 70,000! I’m excited to say that in 2011, Life Force Kiosks purified over 312,000 liters of drinking water! Of course putting clean water in a dirty storage container doesn’t do much good, which is why we’ve also cleaned about 3,000 storage containers. What might be even more incredible is that we did all that with a budget of around $15,000.
I’d once again like to thank all our generous donors who made all of this possible. And of course, the real heroes of Life Force Kiosks are Steve Mumbwani, Fred Omondi, and our ten kiosk vendors. Our board consisting of Scott Espiritu, Richard Wardell, Andrew Otieno, and Rikka Trangsrud also provided extremely valuable support and I greatly appreciate all their efforts.
2012 brings some exciting new opportunities. The growth from 20,000 to 70,000 liters of water purified per month without hiring additional vendors or increasing our marketing budget shows the clear demand for the services Life Force Kiosks is providing. The next step is to expand our vendor network, as that’s the best way to increase our positive impact in Kibera. We’re talking with two organizations that are potentially interested in providing funding, and of course we hope our donors will continue to see the value in supporting Life Force Kiosks. I look forward to sharing updates on our progress throughout 2012 and beyond. I wish you all a very happy new year.
My apologies in not posting more updates over the past couple of months, but I’m delighted to present our sales data from our first quarter of operations. In just three months, Life Force Kiosks has purified 91,260 liters of drinking water in Kibera! We have also cleaned 1,168 water storage containers. What’s ever more exciting is our growth:
Month 1: 19,880 liters
Month 2: 29,080 liters
Month 3: 42,300 liters
It’s clear that this model of working with the vendors to purify water right at the point of sale is working. The Life Force Kiosks model presents an extremely affordable, convenient, effective way to purify water that minimizes the negative impact on taste, and it has been strongly adopted by the community.
In addition to our strong product offering, our local management team has done an incredible job of strengthening our vendor network and generating demand through community marketing campaigns. We meet regularly with our water vendors to recognize top performers, talk through challenges, and discuss sales goals. This type of sales support has never been available to the water vendors and they’re growing professionally as well as earning more income for their families while performing an important community service. Our marketing efforts like our weekly raffles and door-to-door presentations have also been successful at educating the public and creating demand.
Even with the great success we’ve seen over the past few months, everyone at Life Force Kiosks remains confident that our impact can be even greater. We’re still working with some vendors who have opportunity to improve and are experimenting with new marketing approaches. In addition, these sales numbers were accomplished despite consistent water outages across our vendor network. Over time, equipping our vendors with water storage tanks will make their services even more valuable in the community. In addition, we will be seeking some modest additional funding to hopefully expand our coverage area beyond our existing 10 vendors.
I want to once again thank our generous donors, board members, management team, and everyone else who has supported Life Force Kiosks to date. We’re rapidly approaching the 100,000 liters mark and we couldn’t have done it without the help of many dedicated people. This is truly a remarkable success story, and I can’t wait to see it continue to grow from here.
If you are interested in making a donation to Life Force Kiosks, you can easily do so at www.LifeForceKiosks.org. We are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the United States and a registered NGO in Kenya.
I apologize for the delay in posting to the blog. It isn’t due to lack of activity, but rather an overwhelming volume of activity as we rapidly approach the launch of Life Force Kiosks in Kibera. I’ll write another post in the next couple of days on the launch, but first I wanted to share the results of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) testing.
As we have 12 vendors starting in our pilot, we decided to do a full census of water points and pulled water samples from all 12 taps. We also pulled samples from several other taps in Kibera as well as directly from households. As a reminder, we split each sample into four sub-samples and treated them with 0, 1, 2, or 3 ml of chlorine. When untreated, we saw dramatically high rates of fecal contamination. In our pilot area, about 42% of taps showed unsafe levels of coliforms in the water. In other areas and with household samples that number was even higher.
While that was somewhat expected, the really exciting news was that KEMRI found that only 1 ml of chlorine was enough to reduce the coliform count to safe levels. This means that Life Force Kiosks can achieve the desired health impact without dramatically impact the taste and smell of the water. KEMRI also tested for contamination of water containers before and after Life Force Kiosks washed them. We tested 10 containers, and in all cases the container showed some level of contamination prior to cleaning but no unsafe contamination after the thorough cleaning with soap and chlorinated water.
I was asked the other day why the major promoters of liquid chlorine suggest a 3 ml dosage. It’s a great question, and I believe they have two very good reasons for doing that. First, they are promoting packaged chlorine across a huge geographic region and can’t adjust their dosing directions for each specific community. If packaged chlorine like WaterGuard is being used in areas with untreated water (from wells, streams, etc.), a higher 3 ml dosage may be required. Life Force Kiosks is fortunate to be able to conduct ongoing testing in our specific operating areas and adjust the dosage accordingly. Second, I believe they encourage a higher dosage to ensure there is residual chlorine in the water that will prevent re-contamination. This is not a bad idea. However, Life Force Kiosks is in the position to offer storage container cleaning services alongside the water purification service. This dramatically reduces the risk of recontamination so we can offer a lower dose of chlorine, thus protecting the taste and smell without dramatically increasing the likelihood of re-contamination. We will conduct this testing on a regular basis to ensure that our model continues to be effective.
KEMRI has reviewed the results and has given us their green light to start operations in Kibera. We are very excited to now have full confidence that our model will reduce waterborne disease, and I want to personally thank Professor Karama of KEMRI, Professor Ichinose Yoshio of Nagasaki University who works with KEMRI, and the entire KEMRI lab team.
Today was an exciting day for Life Force Kiosks. We met for the very first time with our team of water vendor partners in Kibera. At the meeting, Steve and I explained in more detail our model for treating water and washing water storage containers to reduce the risk of disease. We also explained the benefits to them as partners, namely that they will earn more money every day while helping their community stay healthy.
When I first started talking to other non-profit organizations in Kibera I was warned that the vendors are often threatened by people working in the clean water sector, but it was not too difficult to win them over with our model.
First, there is no out-of-pocket cost to the vendors. Life Force Kiosks provides the supplies to the vendors for free and then we recoup the cost with sales revenue. It’s a lot easier for a non-profit organization to raise the investment capital than a bunch of water vendors living in the slums. Second, there’s no opportunity cost for the vendors. They still show up to do their same job every day like they would if we didn’t exist. Worst case scenario for them is that they can’t sell our products in which case they just make the same income they would normally make from selling water. But if they do sell our products, they make their normal water income plus some extra amount from the new sales. Third, we make their job easy by implementing lots of marketing promotions in the community. We’ll have fun events like raffles and concerts to promote our products, put up signs all over the community, partner with health clinics, and give presentations at womens’ groups. Eventually some people will simply walk up to the vendor and ask for our products, which means the vendors make a little extra cash with very little extra effort.
We’re excited to have the pilot team fully formed and excited to get started. Over the next few weeks we’ll conduct some basic operational, business, and health training to the team. Stay tuned for more exciting updates as we approach the launch of Life Force Kiosks in Kibera!
So I don’t fail to recognize the irony that the last blog post I wrote titled “Momentum” was followed by three months of silence. While the blog might not have had much activity, I can assure you that plenty was going on here in Kenya. Some good, some not so much.
If you remember, back in December I thought we were nearly through the Kenyan registration process to become an official Community Based Organization (CBO). Unfortunately, despite what we had heard from our contacts in the government, we didn’t qualify as a CBO because we’re run by a management team and not directly by community members. Instead, we were told to register as an NGO (Non-governmental organization) and that turned out to be quite the lengthy process. In fact, a couple of months after submitting all the paperwork, we just received approval on our bylaws yesterday. I’m waiting to hear back on if there are any additional requirements, but fingers crossed, we may be closing in on finally becoming an officially recognized NGO in Kenya.
There’s been a tremendous amount of less sexy work going on over the last few months as well such as identifying suppliers, crafting training materials for the vendors, meeting with water vendor groups, creating marketing materials, and more.
I also have some exciting news to share about a few strategic partnerships that are in the works, but I’ll explain more about them in my next post. Things are starting to really heat up and it’s possible that we could be up and running within the next few weeks if a couple of things break our way (though it is Africa, so you never know). Either way, I promise you won’t have to wait another 3 months for the next update. Stay tuned…