Ecotact’s IkoToilet

The Iko Toilet is a great idea that has changed the lives of many people around Narobi, Kenya.  It all started with one man, David Kuria, and his mission to change how people think about toilets and ultimately the way people live.  Iko Toilet, which translates to “there is a toilet” is a product made by Ecotact which was started in 2007 as a social enterprise working to find innovative ways to help solve sanitation problems in Africa.  In the past 5 years this product has reached 10 million people and helped them move away from a thinking where open defecation was a norm, and it all started David’s idea.

David Kurina is an architect by trade with over 10 years experience in urban environment, research, community assessment and technology development.  Before he thought up the idea of IkoToilets he saw what were basically unusable bathroom facilities; they were dangerous, and being used as places for drug deals, robbing, and vandalism.  Also, no new facilities had been built for almost 20 years, and were no longer in working order or hygienic.  This fed into a cultural idea that it was better to just go to the bathroom outside then into one of the dark, dangerous toilets, and that’s what people did.  Calling them “flying toilets”, most people would go to the bathroom in a plastic bag and then just throw the bag wherever they felt.  The thing to remember though is that these people don’t want to do this, but they have no other choice because their government does not provide these services for them.  After looking at this David decided that he had to make a toilet that was more beautiful and safe in order to make people start thinking differently about using these facilities.

With that the IkoToilet was born.  The IkoToilet product is a sustainable venture which provides a return on investment while also providing a comfortable and hygienic place for people to go to the toilet.  People are charged US .06 cents per use, and the lines that extend out from the IkoToilets show that people are willing to pay for the opportunity to use a clean toilet in an enjoyable atmosphere, and that’s what they get.  From the outside you’ll see any number of different designs of the IkoToilet’s architecture.  When you walk into an IkoToilet you will immediately notice the cleanliness as well as hear music playing to welcome you in.  They are full bathrooms, with multiple toilets, showers, and sinks that provide clean water and soap.  Pretty commonplace for people in the developed world, but a completely new experience for most of the people using them. However, the bathroom is only one part of the IkoToilet.

IkoToilet in front of the National Archive, Nairobi, Kenya

As part of David’s plan to change the way people thought about toilets he decided to make the IkoToilet have a social aspect to it.  When you go to one you often do not just go to the bathroom and walk away.  Each IkoToilet has the main function of a bathroom, however there are two other stations attached, one on the front and one on the back.  These stations serve a number of purposes from convenience stores where you can buy food, drinks, and other products, to salons, to shoe shine stations, and most recently they have added electronic money transfer stations.  This idea has taken the idea of a toilet and transformed it dramatically into a place of socializing.  People can stop and get a shave or a haircut, socialize while having their shoes shined, grab a soda and sit down with a friend to talk.  I think this is where David really succeeded in changing the way that people think about toilets.  It seems like when you go there the toilet is probably the last thing you’re thinking about, and if true I think that is a great success towards changing the perception of toilets in the communities.

The benefits of the IkoToilet don’t stop there.  With all of the extra amenities you need someone to run them and so each location provides full-time employment for 10 young people from the community.  This is huge in a place where the majority of the population lives in poverty.  With this employment people can change their lives; they can provide for their families, or pay for school.  And with each new IkoTiolet you are providing 10 more jobs!  Another benefit of the IkoToilet is education in sustainability.  While there is no formal education going on, the IkoToilets are helping to make people aware of sustainable sanitation practices.  David partnered with Roto Moulders who make a biodigestive system and provide the IkoToilets with a completely water free sanitation system.  Besides this waterless urinals and low flow faucets are used to keep the water use down to the bare minimum.  This is a smart and sustainable solution in a place that is already water scarce.  Now that we know about the IkoToilet let’s see what kind of effect it’s been having.

Shoe shining businesses at the Ikotoilet at the Aga-Khan-Walk in Nairobi

By 2011 there were 34 IkoToilets throughout 12 municipalities in Kenya, including in two slums.  In 2009 the facilities were used by more than four million people, and in 2010 they reached more than six million people.  Those are staggering numbers.  If the IkoToilets weren’t available there would have been ten million more instances of people going to the bathroom either out in the open or in a shady old toilet facility.  And a byproduct of having a place for people to go to the bathroom is that you no longer have people putting their waste in plastic bags and then throwing them on the ground.  David and his IkoToilets have won a number of awards including Regional Social Entrepreneur of the Year for Africa 2009, Winner of the Change Makers competition and hall of fame (2008), and winner of the Schwab Fellow 2009 and Ashoka Fellow 2007.  Now David would like to expand and help inspire other countries to follow his lead in providing the communities a place to be safe, go to the bathroom, and socialize.  He has succeeded in this and has now started providing IkoToilets in Uganda.  With such a great idea and past success I don’t see any reason why David and his IkoToilets will ever stop providing this haven to people around the world.  For that, I say thank you!

Ecotact’s IkoToilet
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