Acumen Blog

If it’s so obvious, why hasn’t it been done before?

I’m in Kenya this week, with a small group of Acumen Fund Partners to visit our investments here and spend time with our East Africa team.  Today we had the chance to visit with David Kuria, the visionary entrepreneur behind Ecotact, which is single-handedly transforming the notion of what is possible in building safe, clean and affordable toilet facilities in Kenya and beyond.  David’s Ikotoilets, which are sprinkled throughout Nairobi, were used more than 4million times last year – and these are early results from a company that was just an idea three years ago.  David will have 40 Ikotoilets up and running by the end of 2011 and all you need is to see the glimmer in David’s eye to know that this is just the beginning.

Walk down the sunny, bustling Aga Khan walk in Kenya’s Central Business District towards one of the most successful Ikotoilets in the Ecotact network (above), and you begin to understand the genius of the Ecotact model.  The street is literally teeming with foot traffic on this clear, sweet-smelling Nairobi morning, people walking deliberately in suits, ties, formal wear between the various government offices in the heart of the city.  David Kuria pulled a coup when he secured this location – not only for its foot traffic, which is stunning.  This toilet is part of daily life on this street, and not a single government official can ignore its success or turn away from its beautiful, colorful walls and the message they represent – that sanitation matters, that people demand it, and that it can be provided affordably.

And while we are just at the beginning, while the biggest challenges may lie ahead, these challenges, these iterations on the business model, are not top of mind for me today.  If anything, I’m struck with how easy it is forget that, no matter how obvious the Ikotoilet seems now (given its early success) no one has done this before.  It is so easy to put on our thinking caps and pick apart all the things that could be better, all the issues that will need to be addressed as the company continues to grow. It is so easy to forget that this thing was impossible before it became obvious.

Today I want to cherish the notion that all of us together have made a hair-brained, crazy, impossible idea a reality.

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P.S. If you’ve missed it check out Acumen’s new micro-site, Search for the Obvious, where we’re spreading light on just these kinds of ideas (old and new).

This post originally appeared on Sasha Dichter’s Blog, where he writes on generosity, philanthropy and social change.

Sasha Dichter is Director of Business Development at Acumen Fund.

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