Sanitation Solutions: Interview with David Auerbach

New Cities Summit Dallas 2014


The Fresh Life frontline team collects waste daily from each Fresh Life Toilet

David Auerbach is a co-founder of Sanergy , a pioneering social enterprise in Nairobi, Kenya which builds healthy, prosperous communities in Africa’s informal settlements by making hygienic sanitation affordable and accessible for everyone, forever. David is a speaker at the  New Cities Summit ,which kicks off in Dallas today and Sanergy is one of ten projects selected for this year’s WhatWorks Series of urban innovators. Rashiq Fataar sits down with him to discuss solutions to sanitation challenges in the developing world.

Rashiq Fataar: The lack of hygienic sanitation leads in urban areas to a massive public health risk in informal settlements. How do you ensure that providing infrastructure for these basic services is a sustainable process?

David Auerbach: We ensure that providing hygienic sanitation services is a sustainable process by identifying local micro-entrepreneurs from the community who run Fresh Life Toilets. They are incentivized to keep the toilets open as they derive a good income from charging a nominal usage fee. Micro-entrepreneurs from the community are the strongest advocates for attracting users because they have financial, social and environmental motives to see the toilets thrive. At the same time, our team provides business support services – training, marketing, and business analytics – for all of our micro-entrepreneurs.
2.In some cases over 40% of residents of informal settlements are unemployed- mostly youth. What are the challenges of getting the youth involved in The Fresh Life businesses?

Sanergy partnered with the Forward Foundation, who works specifically with youth under 25, to develop a program whereby youth were able to receive financial support from the Forward Foundation to launch their own Fresh Life businesses. 40 youth running about 70 Fresh Life Toilets currently serve the informal settlements of Mukuru. You can see the story of Ann Kaleke here.

At the same time, Sanergy has made a point of hiring youth to join our team. 40% of our staff is under 25. Only through investing in youth can we see the future that we want for our cities.


Human waste being converted into organic fertiliser.

RF: How important is it for communities to feel included in overcoming their sanitation challenges?

DA: It’s hugely important. Everything we do involves community engagement: the majority of our team and all of our micro-entrepreneurs are from the community. We work with a variety of youth groups in the community as part of our marketing. Moreover, only by understanding what services and products the community – our customer base – wants can we run a successful enterprise, therefore it is imperative that we work with the community.

RF: From your experience how has politics or government, supported or not supported the provision of sanitation in a city or community?

DA: In the past, sanitation in informal settlements has been neglected by government. However, increasingly, the government of Kenya is keen to engage the private sector in helping reach the 8 million people in urban slums who lack hygienic sanitation. For example, the Ministry of Health has formed the first task force specifically focused on sanitation delivery by the private sector.

RF: What are some of the most innovative partnerships and collaborations you have experienced or seen which provides additional benefits to a community due to improvements in sanitation?

DA: One partnership that we are very happy with is with Kiva, the online micro-lending platform. This partnership has enabled 116 entrepreneurs to access interest-free loans in a matter of days, enabling them to set up their new Fresh Life ventures very quickly. This enables us to reach more people with hygienic sanitation services.


Fresh Life Operator Mary next to her Fresh Life Toilet

Watch this newly released session of David Auerbach’s talk:

Also Read: Building the Future, Today, in the Developing World.