Entrepreneurship and innovation
One thing that came forward over and over again about Eva during our conversation;, is that she has been committed to her business since the beginning. Her journey into WASH has been a slow transition that started in 1998, immediately after her high school education when she founded Varet products, then a detergent manufacturer and supplier. She quickly gained access in school supply market, where she could supply the detergent in bulk for cleaning school latrines. With time, she realized that the smell in girls latrines did not go away even after cleaning with the detergent. This made her ponder on what could be the reason. She discovered that disposal of used sanitary towels was the main cause of ever lasting odour in girls latrines. She started researching on the solutions applied in countries and cities with mass population to avoid odour problem.
From her research, she learnt that the sanitary towels were collected separately and then disposed. She discovered that she could source collection bins for the sanitary towels in China and supply in schools and institutions. She embarked on a mission to dignify menstrual hygiene in Kenya. But there was another problem, after collecting the sanitary towels, how can they be disposed safely? Eva made it her goal to figure out how to solve the problem. From her google research, she settled on visiting India and south Africa to see the solutions being employed there to solve the said problem; In India they used Incinerators for menstrual hygiene management.
Advocacy for menstrual hygiene and sanitation
It came to her attention that the same incinerators had been introduced to Kenya in the 80s through WHO. However, the challenge was that the ministry of health and the ministry of education were not open to share data with her company as a private entity. To find a way around it, she founded an NGO, Global Sanitation Environmental programme (GSES) to acquire a seat at the table. This made her realize that the biggest barrier to WASH was advocacy and governance. She decided to use GSES as an avenue to advocate for WASH and influence policy development and implementation.
As a sani-preneur, Eva worked often with manual emptiers. Through conversations with them, she felt that they were not recognized in the industry and faced a lot of stigma from the society.
“It will take advocacy and political good will for sanitation workers to have a seat at the table.”
She started being vocal about issues affecting sanitation workers on twitter. Through the interaction on twitter, she has been able to garner attention from like minded people and together, pushed the conversations about sanitation workers in the global eye. This has led organizations such as water aid, WHO, World Bank and others to team up and look into the rights and safety of sanitation workers.
In her position as the vice president of Pan -African association of sanitation actors, her main role is to advocate for sanitation from a woman's perspective. Eva aims to de-stigmatize sanitation to the society and to dignify sanitation workers to feel respected in their capacity. ‘”This will help sanitation workers accept themselves for who they are and feel they have a role to play in the community” said Eva.
She believes that it will take advocacy and political good will for sanitation workers to have a seat at the table. She is currently pushing for faecal sludge transfer centres and allocation of budget for the same in informal settlements in Kenya, which she believes will improve manual emptying services and avoid disposal into water bodies or the environment. In her position as a committee member of Nairobi river commission, she aims to ensure Kenya has a community engagement framework.
Eva’s career highlight so far has been voicing the situation of sanitation workers in Kenya and attracting the attention of the government to the issue. Although it is work in progress, there has been big strides towards recognition of sanitation workers in the country.
“The most stereotypical challenge as a woman in WASH has actually been from women not supporting what i am doing and sometimes sabotaging my chances for business”
Sisterhood and women collaboration in business
At the end of our conversation, I asked Eva a question about her challenges as a Woman in WASH. I did not expect much but it was the highlight of my interview with her.
“The most gender stereotype challenge as a woman in WASH has actually been from women not supporting what I am doing and sometimes sabotaging my chances for business” said Eva. When you sit in a space and find women and think it is a chance for sisterhood and to build together as women but then it turns out to be the biggest stumbling block. Women need to understand that there is space for everyone. As we are pushing for gender equity, we need to have capacity building for women to learn how to work with each other and without pulling each other down.
So I asked Eva how she has been able to overcome this. She explained to me that she aims to build a platform where women support other women to succeed.
She is engaging other women to collaborate and to show that it is possible for women to work together and succeed. She aims to mentor women in sanitation while making it clear that they should pass on the knowledge to the next woman. Eva aims to showcase stories from Women in sanitation which will encourage other women to be part of the sanitation.
In her journey to revolutionize women relationships in business, Eva has collaborated with other women to form a company that focuses on Digitizing water and sanitation. They are currently working to create an application (SANI-tracker) which is like an ‘Uber’ for sanitation services in Africa and aims at digitizing sanitation all over Africa. This application has been bought by ESAWAS and will be launched soon. ‘
Parting shot: Find you and be you! Often we are defined by other people who are also still trying to find themselves and end up being a copy paste of someone who does not even know themselves. When you find yourself, you are authentic in everything that you do.