Make A Plan For Sustainability

By Will Forester. 01/28/2021

Lather, rinse, repeat. Or as we might say, WASH, rinse, repeat (WASH being Water and Sanitation, Hygiene). Three easy steps. If only every plan was so simple. Planning is something we have been spending a lot of time thinking about over the last couple of years. We discovered that all the effort spent in planning, producing, marketing, selling, distributing, accounting for, and reporting on technology, is at least as important as the technology itself. Probably much more so. Our technologies are used to meet basic human needs, but the plan to implement a technology is anything but basic. That’s because to create and use all of our technologies requires a very complex resource – people. People and their strengths, engagement, and inspiration are the key to the success of each program. And the key to the long-term success of each program is equipping people with the right plan for the right technology at the right place.

Sustainability isn’t just a process you share on paper or through conversation. It’s a mindset. It’s long-term thinking, an acknowledgment that resources are finite, and that progress must be continuously evaluated. Many organizations identify a need, attempt to address that need, then move onto the next need. We don’t think that’s sustainable. In fact, during our most recent Community Engagement in Matsakha, we were told that other organizations had performed interventions in local communities without even introducing themselves to the community and their leaders. No solution is successful when the people it is designed for are not engaged. The best way to create a sustainable solution is to engage them in the process from the very beginning. An even better way is to have people create the solution themselves, then equip them to sell, share, or teach the solution to others. That’s how we’ve developed the Multipurpose Soap Sustainability Plan in Matsakha.

Sustainability icon

How To Start A Sustainability Plan

The first program developed from our Kakamega Water Technology Center in Kenya is with the people of Matsakha. This program is not just our first new program in the area, it’s also the first time we are running our new 5-step process. Originally, that process was envisioned as four steps with the community – survey, engage, train, and optimize. The survey was run last year in partnership with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC). The Community Engagement occurred over three days in the Fall of 2020. What we discovered from our conversations not just during the engagement, but later collaborating with Matsakha Development Group and TCSC, was that there was more to learn. Much more. We decided to capture everything we learned into a single document. The process is iterative and ongoing. In many ways it should never end because the environment and people are always changing. But the process clearly revealed that we were missing an important step between Engage and Train. That step is Plan. And the document that’s produced from that step is the Sustainability Plan. It’s a roadmap to WASH, rinse, and repeat. 

Each Sustainability Plan is going to be unique to the community and technology. For the first technology in Matsakha, the community selected Multipurpose Soap (they hope to deploy all the technologies we share). The Covid pandemic has increased public awareness of the need to wash hands and surfaces. Although a little more than 95,000 people have contracted Covid in Kenya at the time of this writing, only 1.2 million people out of 52 million have been tested. Washing with soap is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of disease. The Matsakha community believed soap would be easy to start and make a significant impact.

Multipurpose Soap Sustainability Plan Elements

Team members

Procurement

Production

Packaging

Marketing

Technology

Training

Roles and Responsibilities

Leases and Agreements

Reinvestment

Reward and Motivation

Human Resources

What We Didn't Know About Producing Multipurpose Soap In Matsakha

The Sustainability Plan is all about people, but it starts with the technology. Although the basic elements of our technologies are consistent across communities, they are customized to the resources, tools, and markets of the specific community. By creating the Multipurpose Soap Sustainability Plan for Matsakha, we learned that schools were not well serviced with soap. That soap available for purchase was often of poor cleaning quality and inconsistent. We discovered that the ingredients for the new soap would have to be sourced from Nairobi which entailed planning for the trip and respective transportation. And that we would have to factor that supply chain into our inventory resupply strategy. We also discovered that to distribute the soap beyond the community, it would need to be tested and certified through the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). That process needed to be worked out and also included in the plan. The community told us what was missing with soap that was already available. We learned about who could and could not afford to purchase soap, and how we could reach those people. Also, we had to determine where the soap would be created and stored, and what safety steps would be necessary. All of this information was and continues to be discovered by engaging with our partners and community. 

An important guiding principal of our work is that we walk alongside people, communities, and partners. The strengths and resources they offer are many times underutilized and more frequently under-acknowledged in community development. We don’t begin work or relationships that aren’t built on equality and equity. Our Multipurpose Soap Sustainability Plan lists all the participant groups in the process, for what they are accountable, and how they all can work together. We are all partners, literally people engaged in the same activity. In this case the two technology committees, Production and Marketing, report into the new community organization, Matsakha Development Group. This group receives guidance and support from Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC), who in turn helps facilitate the program between Friendly Water for the World and all other parties. 

Equal Partners

5 Partners

The Value Of Building Long-Term Relationships

These relationships and agreements are codified but also designed to be flexible. This flexibility is a key feature of sustainability. Different people and partners may connect to the program based on varying ground conditions – these could include effects of the Covid pandemic, seasonal work, changes to the market, new ways to source and create the technology, and perhaps most importantly, feedback from the market and community. The health and social benefits possible with our technologies can be significant. We hope our work inspires people to be engaged, even advocates for this work. In one of the most important sections of our Sustainability Plan, we identify how our partners, especially the Marketing and Production committee members want to feel motivated and committed. Importantly, it acknowledges that cultures and communities value different incentives and rewards. And that this work only succeeds if it is undertaken together.

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