Business in Africa magazine
“Our students come from the slums of Nairobi, they’re the poorest of the poor, ” says Paula Meyer, who co-founded the organization in 2006.
Meyer, who capped a long career in financial services leadership as senior vice president at Ameriprise Financial, concluded that continuing to fund the charity through philanthropy alone was not sustainable.
“We decided we needed to start a business to create a revenue stream to support our mission as well as provide employment for our graduates, ” she explains. “The education we provide completely changes the course they’re on. But if we are going to truly transform their lives, they need work.”
Last year the charity began a pilot project, renting what are called “sanitation cabins” in Kenya — what Americans know as portable toilets.
“I met Todd Hilde, the CEO of Satellite Industries, years ago when we were in the Young Presidents Organization together, ” she says. “We’ve stayed in touch and he told me, if you start a portable toilet business, I will deliver ten to your doorstep free of charge. It was a challenge and a generous contribution.”
In the first year of the pilot project, the sanitation rental business, called Karibu Loo, turned a profit.
The next phase of the plan calls for major expansion.
“Right now we have a container of 60 more loos that are on their way. We’re going to start scaling the business. Our goal is to become the largest provider of on-site sanitation in Kenya, ” Meyer says.
Currently, Karibu Loo employs a staff of 19, but that number is expected to grow rapidly as well.
“This year, we think the business will generate $25, 000 for our charity, but by 2020, it could be $250, 000, ” Meyer says. “It’s a huge trend that nonprofits will need to get some portion of their budget from earned income. This will give the organization the financial underpinning that it needs to endure.”