Duke-UNICEF Accelerator Announces New Cohort of Social Enterprises

Duke and UNICEF have announced the second cohort of the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, which supports social enterprises tackling the most pressing challenges facing children and youth around the world.

Entrepreneurs selected for the Accelerator receive training, coaching, mentoring, peer learning, initial grant funding, and other resources, supporting them in business development, capacity building, and scaling impact. In addition to drawing on diverse perspectives and guidance from Duke faculty, staff, alumni, and researchers, the Accelerator engages students in meaningful experiential learning projects and provides context and lessons for future entrepreneurs and changemaking leaders.

Focusing on Sanitation & Hygiene

Image courtesy of Tanzania Young Eco Protection

The Accelerator’s second cohort consists of four nonprofit organizations and three for-profit companies operating in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Sierra Leone. The innovators’ solutions—which range from distribution models, to recycling programs, to hygiene products—all relate to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).

With climate change, overexploitation, and pollution having led to severewater stress around the world, the latest JMP report (2017) found that 2.2 billion people globally lacked safely managed drinking water services accessible on premises, with 4.2 billion lacking a safely managed sanitation service. Accelerator entrepreneurs are working to reduce environmental waste, improve WASH education, and reduce the spread of disease, particularly among vulnerable children—efforts that underpin poverty reduction, economic growth, and environmental sustainability.

Introducing the Innovators

After a rigorous application process, seven social enterprises were selected to receive Accelerator support to scale and increase their impact:

Eco-Soap Bank: Rescues and recycles unusable soap remnants from commercial manufacturers, putting soap in the hands of impoverished children via schools and WASH programs.

Kidame Mart: Facilitates distribution of last-mile health and sanitation products via rurally located female sales agents.

Sanivation: Implements a non-sewered sanitation and treatment solution at scale—treating waste to create an environmentally friendly fuel product for sale to local businesses—in a way that makes sanitation not a cost burden, but rather an opportunity to generate revenue.

Image courtesy of Eco-Soap Bank

Smart Girls Foundation: Makes the Smartbag, a recycled-plastic backpack with a solar panel to light latrines and to study at home, along withdiscreet compartments for used sanitary pads. The Smartbag also contains a menstruation kit consisting of reusable pads, a menstrual pad sewing kit, and a menstrual health management information booklet.

Tanzania Young Eco Protection (TAYEP): Sells ahand washing station powered by foot pedals for filtered water and soap, decreasing contamination and improving access to healthy and safe water.

ToiletPride Initiative: Strengthens the sanitation product supply chain through the marketing and sale of toilets via toilet entrepreneurs and local education campaigns to urban and peri-urban schools and impoverished people.

Wow Mom, Ltd.: Installs innovative baby changing stations in public toilets and provides sanitation and hygiene training to caregivers in Nairobi and other urban centers creating child-friendly spaces.

Drawing on Personal Inspiration

Like so many entrepreneurs, Accelerator participants developed a passion for their work based on firsthand experience.

Peninah Ndegwa, managing director of WowMom Ltd., recalls observing open defacation among children and being unable to access a clean baby-changing facility for herself in Nairobi’s central business district. She set out to change the status quo through baby changing stations and child-friendly toilets in public spaces and households.

In 2014, traveling in rural Cambodia, Samir Lakhani—founder and executive director of EcoSoap Bank—witnessed a village mother bathing her infant son using toxic laundry powder. “I asked people in the village what type of soap they used—some brought out laundry powder, but most had no soap at all.”

Jamila Mayanja, CEO of Smart Girls Uganda, is motivated to improve the wellbeing of girls following her own struggles related to menstruation. “When I didn’t have access to resources during my menses it affected my school attendance and self-esteem. I wouldn’t want any girl to feel the way I felt.”

Irene Kawiche, project manager for Tanzania Young Eco Protection, began her path to support advancement in sanitation and hygiene when her aunt lost a 6-year-old child to diarrhea. “This death put a face behind each and every pediatric death that resulted from waterborne disease,” she said.

Image courtesy of Smart Girls Foundation

Finding and Scaling Local Solutions

By developing local solutions, the innovators provide tailored support and resources for communities while also taking into account vital cultural considerations. “Locals understand their challenges more than anyone,” said Shani Senbetta, founder and CEO of Kidame Mart. “What might seem like a good idea in the board room may not be feasible to implement.”

Yet with support from the Accelerator, these local solutions have the potential to grow and effect change on a much larger scale. Chukwuma Nnanna, founder and executive director of ToiletPride Initiative, said, “Participating in the Accelerator will open me up to more opportunities and resources to improve my capacity in strengthening entire value chains that can be self-sustained after [my time in the Accelerator], thereby benefiting a larger population in Nigeria.”

Senbetta said, “I hope to make access to and awareness of sanitation and hygiene practices [in Ethiopia] so abundant and accessible that they are taken for granted in the next generation.”