Implementing a Tech Solution in an Informal Settlement: Mobi-Water


A covered Mobi-Water Sensor on top of a Water Tank in Kibera

You know the phrase, “When in Rome...”. Well this turned out to be especially true for Mobi-Water, when implementing our Mobi-Water pilot in Kibera, Nairobi. We were quite naive when we think back now about how we thought about project implementation in an informal community, versus how it actually turned out. It has been a journey filled with lessons at every step of the way and we are happy to share!

Working in Kibera presented challenges from the onset, from ease of access, to personal safety, so we established good partnership with a Local NGO in the area that worked at improving the WASH service delivery through building sanitation blocks. They provided us with detailed information about the community, they provided assistants to escort us during site visits and were able to mobilize women groups when we wanted to conduct baseline surveys. And because of their wide reach, they were able to provide us with one of their sanitation blocks as an initial pilot location for our Mobi-Water system so that other potential users could visit and see how the system worked.

Because of the many challenges in Kibera, Many organisations and Businesses alike have all kinds of projects there and therefore the locals are used to “Visitors” and especially “foreigners” coming to visit or implement projects. Since most of these projects are FREE, we had a bigger challenge to face as our product had a price (repayment) to it which locals weren’t very used to paying for, especially for Water Projects. Explaining to the locals that we were a private company and not an NGO was also not very easy, but we managed to get really good water providers who could see value in the system and were willing to try it out! And interestingly enough, most of them were private individuals with more than one water point at various locations, who could see the business sense of remotely managing their water at the various locations. These were the individuals who were our early adopters and wanted several installations and were very upfront about starting the repayments after the pilot duration was complete.

(_We were curious about this so we will delve a little deeper and in our next blog, we share our experiences on the uptake of our technology among Individually owned water points versus Community group water _points!_)

We also were quick to learn that as with any other consumer, pricing of your product is key. For Kibera, being a low-income community, we had to find a way of cutting down costs and quickly strategizing of different structured repayment models as opposed to the One-off Payment as we had initially thought.

Scaling a solution in an informal settlement is do-able as long as you work with the community. Part of what has made our solution work was asking for their views before making adjustments to anything that would affect them e.g the SMS formats/installation procedures. It created a sense of ownership amongst them which also turned into great word-of-mouth marketing for us!

Flexibility is necessary! Initially, our Mobi-water systems were designed to use Grid power but in Kibera, most of the Power connections are illegal and hence, unregulated and erratic. We had to make various changes in our hardware design to accommodate the fluctuating power supply, our installation procedure also had to change for our technicians and integrating solar power to our systems became very important. Part of the changes we had to make was to cover all the sensors on the tanks in order to avoid theft.

Vi Nguyen's picture

Great insights into the key lessons learned from your innovation journey so far - thanks for sharing!

Did you also work/engage with any local government bodies? Some of our projects have found challenges in working with local district/government, so I'm interested to hear whether you might have any tips based on your experience?

Kelvin Gacheru's picture

At the onset we tried to engage the local City Water Provider but we we're not fruitful, even though they had recently set-up a new office in our pilot location. However, towards the end of the pilot, once we proved our system works and the accuracy of the data from our systems, it is now becoming easier to engage utilities. In November, we were approached by 2 Public utilities who are willing to use our system to monitor their bulk water reservoirs. So far the engagements have been great and we're waiting for approval from the utilities to proceed.

I think the edge we have now as opposed to at the start of the project when it failed is that now we have proof that our system works, which is backed by months of data from the project implementation. You could say they wanted proof that the solution your offering working and have locations where the solution has been successfully implemented.