WOMEN’S FORUM SPECIAL REPORTS
"Women in the Economy: Looking for New Business Models"
Meet with Lindsay Stradley, Kenya, Social entrepreneur profile from the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards
Joining forces with the Women’s Forum, INSEAD and McKinsey & Company, Cartier created in 2006 the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, an annual international business plan competition to accompany and guide initiatives by women entrepreneurs. Each year, six Laureates are awarded in six regional categories: Latin America, North America, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East & North Africa and Asia-Pacific.
Finalist 2012 for Sub-Saharan Africa, KENYA
If someone had asked Lindsay Stradley eight years ago whether she thought she’d be building toilets in the slums of the developing world, she probably would have looked incredulous. But Lindsay, is a born problem-solver, so when she was presented with the sanitation problems in Kenya’s slums, where a lack of access to clean toilets causes health hazards and disease, she set about looking for the solution. ‘Sanitation options in slums range from pit latrines to public toilets – which are expensive and rare due to a lack of large plots of land,’ she says. ‘There’s also open defecation, makeshift holes in the ground and “flying toilets”, plastic bags that are tossed into garbage or by the roadside. So how to make it profitable, and thus sustainable, to provide sanitation services in slums?’
To find the answer, Lindsay partnered with two fellow students from the MIT Sloan School of Management, where she received her MBA, and brought in civil engineering, chemical engineering and architecture graduates. Together, they have created the Fresh Life toilet: an individual sanitation unit that is hygienic yet inexpensive, at US$200 a unit. It is made of durable concrete, offers privacy and collects waste cleanly and safely through an innovative water-free system that separates liquid from solid waste into two different 30-litre barrels. These are double-sealed and transferred daily in wheelbarrows to Sanergy’s processing plant by sanitation workers, creating extra jobs. In comparison, waste from pit latrines is placed in large steel drums ‘sealed’ with a cloth, which workers roll through the streets. ‘They’re known as “ambulance drivers”,’ says Lindsay, ‘because everyone jumps out of their way!’ Often these drums are emptied directly into ditches or waterways. ‘But human waste has high methane content, with higher carbon emissions than CO2. When dumped instead of being recycled, it pollutes the atmosphere and the environment.’
Fresh Life and its accompanying services are franchised as a ‘business-in-a-box’ to local entrepreneurs, who operate the toilet at a fee of US$0.06 per use. ‘We provide installation, training and support, plus branding and marketing back-up,’ says Lindsay. Land is an issue in slums, so initial franchisees are existing entrepreneurs who can provide the land on which to place the unit and start up the business correctly.
Interview with Lindsay
Women's Forum: From the beginning of your work experience, have you noticed a change of the global economy?
Lindsay: "One big change I’ve noticed in the global economy is changing attitudes toward working mothers. When my own mother started working in the 1970s, it was legal and normal to ask a married female applicant if she was on birth control and to hire accordingly.
While company policies and laws all around the world have shifted to be more accommodating of working mothers, it is still very difficult in the US and Europe to find affordable, high-quality health care – especially if a mother doesn’t have the family support to help her care for her children while she works. One of the advantages of working in Nairobi is that the variety of options for child care allow working mothers maximum flexibility to organize their schedules as necessary in order to be fully engaged at work and at home."
Women's Forum: Why do you work in social business?
Lindsay: "It’s important to me that the work I do has a positive impact, and I sought to either join or start a company for which that was also important.
The “triple bottom line” focus of social enterprises — people, planet, and profit — is what all businesses should strive for. Starting about 15 or 20 years ago, businesses started focusing on corporate social responsibility programs as a way to give back to their communities. Social enterprises take that a step further by baking the focus on CSR into their business plan and business model. More and more investors are taking note and are asking for an ROI in terms of more than just profit. By defining business success in terms of impact in addition to profit, we work to ensure that decision-makers are cognizant of the role their companies play in their communities. "
Women's Forum: Do you think social economy might be an opportunity for women entrepreneurs?
Lindsay: "I think social enterprise is a fantastic opportunity for female entrepreneurs for two reasons:
- Given the early stage of a lot of social enterprises, female entrepreneurs have an unparalleled opportunity to “get in on the ground floor” and establish themselves as key team members in the nascent stages of a company. This allows them the chance to grow professionally and advance their career as their organization – and the overall social sector – develops and expands.
- Many of the issues social enterprises address are of particular relevance to women: health, education, sanitation, water, food security, etc. While many of these problems affect large and diverse populations, women and girls often suffer disproportionately when access to these basic amenities is lacking from a community. Female entrepreneurs have a unique role to play in advocating for the most disadvantaged members of society."
Women's Forum: Could you tell us an anecdote about you as a businesswoman working in the social economy?
Lindsay: "One of the most rewarding parts of my work at Sanergy has been to see the impact that our product and services have had on the women and girls in the communities where we work. Studies have shown that the opportunity to run a micro-enterprise (like Sanergy’s Fresh Life Toilets) benefits women and especially mothers because they are able to run the business on their schedule and remain flexible should other demands arise.
Fresh Life Toilets are designed to be located close to residential areas, so women and girls don’t have to put themselves at risk for rape or assault to reach the bathroom. The improved cleanliness of the toilets and their surroundings has also led to a decrease in child illness, which disproportionately affects the daily lives and earning potential of mothers.
Sanergy also now partners with schools to provide students and teachers with access to Fresh Life Toilets. This allows girls like Yusra to go to school throughout the month and throughout the year without having to worry about their dignity and cleanliness while menstruating. Not having to miss out on school for several days a month improves these girls’ educational experience immensely.
As a co-founder of Sanergy, I aim to improve the lives of everyone who currently lacks access to improved sanitation; however, as a woman, my favorite moments are when I hear from the women and girls whose lives have been improved through access to our toilets."
The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, an international business plan competition created in 2006 by Cartier, the Women's Forum, McKinsey & Company and INSEAD business school, supports and encourages projects by women entrepreneurs.
The Rising Talents initiative aims to distinguish highly talented young women under the age of 40 who are on their way to becoming influential figures in our economies and societies. This initiative is a commitment to promote women leaders and bring the vision of rising generations to the Women’s Forum.