At FINCA Ventures, we look for entrepreneurs leveraging market-based solutions to create large-scale, lasting social impact. In this recurring series, “Meet the Entrepreneur,” we’ll be taking you into the minds of the intrepid leaders at our portfolio companies who boldly venture into markets in need of positive disruption.
Impact investors and international development experts are keen to talk about approachable topics like solar energy and clean drinking water. But bring up the subject of safely processing and recycling human waste and people get uncomfortable. In this interview, we sat down with Andrew Foote and Emily Woods, co-founders of Sanivation, to understand how they’re overcoming this taboo. Sanivation is a social enterprise in Kenya that provides waste-to-energy sanitation services to local governments and refugee camps, turning fecal sludge into environmentally-friendly fuel alternatives to charcoal and firewood.
What was the genesis for Sanivation in terms of the market opportunity?
Andrew: The origins of Sanivation date to separate and overlapping experiences that Emily and I have had in international development. When I first got involved in community development, I realized that so many of the existing sanitation solutions were woefully inadequate. And then I looked at the data and discovered that 95 percent of fecal sludge in developing countries like Kenya is disposed without treatment, which leads to diarrheal disease being the second leading cause of death for children under the age of five. These inequities and injustices were just so stark and as I dug deeper I started to understand just how much sanitation impacts lives — from health, to environment, to livelihoods and the economy, to basic human dignity — there is such an opportunity to develop better sanitation solutions in areas of the world where it can have such a positive impact. We are sending electric cars up in space, but we can’t get a grip on how to do sanitation solutions well.