Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

EarthEnable

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What is the name of your solution?

Earth Enable

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Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

EarthEnable develops clean and affordable housing to better the living conditions of the most vulnerable people by upskilling masons.

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What specific problem are you solving?

The poorest 1.6 billion people in the world, including 21 million Kenyans, 8.5 million Rwandans, and 27 million Ugandans, live in dangerous homes. Their houses not only pose health risks, but are structurally unsound.

There are numerous health hazards associated with the homes of people living in poverty. Most rural homes have dirt floors and mud walls that are dusty and infested with rodents, insects, and other disease-carrying vectors. Poor ventilation exacerbates exposure to respiratory pathogens and particulate matter risking acute respiratory infection (ARI). These homes are unsealed, so mosquitos carrying malaria have no barrier to entering. Studies show the impact when homes are made healthier: improved flooring reduces diarrhoea by 49%, parasitic infections by 78%, and depression by 12%. Finished housing materials reduce the risk of malaria infection by 12-15%, while children living in homes with improved ventilation have up to 4.9 times lower risk for ARIs. Most in need of these improvements are women and children who are disproportionately affected by dirt flooring. Women spend an unequal amount of time at home due to rigid gender roles, and children’s lack of hygiene knowledge means both groups spend more time in and interacting with substandard conditions. 

Substandard homes also pose physical risks. Traditional mud structures are increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. In 2021, 23% of Rwandan homes were damaged due to environmental issues, while the climate crisis is expected to destroy 167 million homes in the next 20 years.

However, there are no safe and durable housing options affordable for those in poverty. Addressing this would not only impact the billions in substandard homes, but would significantly impact local economies. Housing investments represent 6% of GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa with 5 jobs created per house built. Thus, developing an ultra-affordable, safe, and healthy housing industry would generate numerous skilled off-farm jobs.

Our market research highlights families in poverty want to improve their homes. Providing viable, habitable housing for millions of low-income rural families would have a significant impact by fulfilling their right to live in adequate housing.

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What is your solution?

In simple terms, EarthEnable designs affordable, durable, and green housing solutions for rural families, and distributes them through a network of certified micro-franchisee masons who significantly increase their income working with us. EarthEnable provides an alternative to unhygienic dirt and out-of-reach concrete housing. 

Our flagship product is our earthen floor. It consists of materials found within the vicinity of a build and has 5 layers: compacted backfill, compacted laterite, sand and clay, a fine clay screed, and sealed with our proprietary flax-seed varnish. Completion of the floor can take around 1 week, but the drying time of the screed and varnish is around 4 weeks. We use a varnish to seal the floor from spills and bumps seeping into the screed layer binding the sand and clay. 

Our plaster, the secondary product, harnesses the same technology as the floor to seal wallings from rain and insects. Both floor and plaster can accept pigments, and designs are etched into the rendered plaster adding a touch of class to the inside and out of a rural home. The technology on show here is simply an adaptation of popular earthen floors found in the United States of America applied to the rural communities of East Africa. 

Besides our flooring and plaster products, we have other housing solutions either ready for roll-out or under testing:

  • Our enhanced adobe bricks which accept our screed and varnish are an approved and accepted home building product in Rwanda allowing us to look towards the future of affordable, sustainable and sanitary homes for rural communities. These bricks can be used as either exterior or interior walling and the plaster described above is applied for a secure and personalised finish. Approved use of these adobe bricks was earnt through co-chairing the Local Building Materials Think Tank alongside the Rwanda Standard Board, and  Rwanda Housing Authority amongst others. 

  • To complete the EarthEnable home, we are testing roofing made from bamboo and recycled fibreglass in partnership with a South African company, who in addition helps us test more resilient sealants made from recycled bottles. 

  • The bathroom is under testing as we foresee using our earthen flooring as a slab for a SaTo pan toilet to sit on. As the bathroom will be sitting above a cesspit and cleaned regularly, we are testing the longevity of the lacquered wooden frame the earthen slab sits on when exposed to rigorous moisture and cleaning. 

  • With climate change causing dry districts to become wetter, we have also had to address the drying times of our floors. With moisture sitting under homes with no chance for the ground to dry in these wetter conditions, our R&D team rolled out moisture interventions as a way to channel ground water away from the homes giving the floors a chance to dry out and reduce dampness in the home for the families. These products are: French drains, trenches, stone underflooring, and a damp proof membrane.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

EarthEnable’s target demographic are rural families, who are excluded from the housing market. The communities we serve are often reliant on agricultural jobs which yield unpredictable harvests and low incomes, meaning basic sanitary housing is out of the question. As they are unable to afford concrete housing products, they remain living in unsanitary and undignified homes constructed from dirt. Due to their rural status and low income, the housing market has overlooked these communities due to the excuses of poor access and poor financial returns. 

 

EarthEnable addresses four market failures with its core product innovations. First, we have developed ways to treat local materials which can be found in customers’ backyards to make high-quality flooring and walling products. This allows us to sidestep the broken rural supply chain of poor road networks and costly transportation. Second, we have recently engineered a proprietary flax-based varnish that seals our earth-based floor, making it waterproof and durable, injecting development and viability into an overlooked rural housing sector. Our floor is a fifth of the cost of a concrete floor, and produces 95% less CO2 emissions. We leverage these same innovations to create earthen plasters and blocks that are also less energy intensive and expensive than concrete or fired bricks. To address the third market failure of a lack of regulation and common standards, we work with local governments to create standards and policies for earth-based products which in many cases were otherwise illegal. 

In addition to the product itself, EarthEnable has innovated a business model that addresses the fourth market failure of standards. We have iterated on the most effective way to recruit, train, and quality-assure the work of our micro-franchisees, who serve their own communities. They receive training and ongoing support on how to treat local materials, utilise our construction techniques, and manage their own successful healthy housing businesses. We have developed a certification scheme which effectively measures both construction skills and business management skills.

EarthEnable’s solution is manifestly scalable as a means to disrupt the rural housing industry worldwide. Using local construction materials which can be found anywhere and installed by local workers, EarthEnable’s model can easily be implemented in new geographies to provide millions of families with safe and healthy homes. So far, we have trained and empowered over 400 micro-franchisee masons. 

With the innovation shown, EarthEnable has built 14,359 floors across Rwanda and Uganda since 2014 changing the lives of 32,300 children in 1,615 Early Childhood Development Centres, and 56,074 people in 12,744 family homes. A further 318 family homes have had their walls rendered with the same earthen technology as the floor reducing malaria spread amongst 1,399 people. Our earthen innovations have proven benefits on families which are a 49% decrease in diarrhoea, a 78% decrease in parasitic infections, a 36% improvement in cognitive development, and a 12-15% decrease in malaria infections. 

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

EarthEnable’s board is 50% East African, with 2 residing in Rwanda and 1 in Kenya. Our COO is from Kenya after having worked in the energy sector providing solar powered lighting to communities without access to regular power. The Senior Management team are all from Rwanda and Uganda with many of them having proven themselves and deservedly earning internal promotions. Our District Managers, who coach and mentor franchisees, have too all earnt internal promotions to lead their regions. 

 

EarthEnable is unique in that it empowers the communities it serves through employment. Each district team recruits, trains, coaches and mentors micro-franchisees to build our products and better their own homes and communities. Our teams regularly meet with district officials and village elders to inform them on the importance a healthy house plays in a family’s life, and this acts as a way to inform people of our work and opportunities. Many of our District Managers once started out as micro-franchisees themselves, so we can safely say that the communities we serve are being served by their own. 

Our products are driven along by listening to our customer base too, with the Research and Development team collaborating with our dedicated call centre to ensure that customers’ feedback is listened to after builds and also listened to when we want to trial new products on the market. 

Our strength as an organisation lies in our ability to listen to and recruit from the communities we serve, and have these people lead the change themselves. They have a great understanding of the communities we serve and it would be wrong not to utilise that knowledge. 

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Enable mass production of inexpensive and low-carbon housing, including changes to design, materials, and construction methods.

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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Kigali, Rwanda
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Our solution's stage of development:

Scale
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How many people does your solution currently serve?

83,117 as of the end of 2021.

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Why are you applying to Solve?

EarthEnable would benefit from utilising Solve’s network of experts and organisations in the WASH and construction sectors. With this application, EarthEnable requests assistance in skills that will support us in developing a whole-house EarthEnable build and in the near future a whole settlement composed of our homes and amenities. We wish to develop skills in modelling and design that allows EarthEnable to plan construction practices and sequences on our diverse topographies and could benefit from training sessions, software packages or consultations to support us in leveraging this technology to advance our mission. Monetary support would then be required to build these prototyped homes and settlements. 

We also want to showcase our whole-house builds using professional animations of the homes and their layouts using software. This would allow us to market our homes to both potential homeowners, master-franchisees and regulatory authorities, educating them on what we are achieving and how.

For our master-franchisation pathway of the franchise model which we are piloting in 2022, we would like to gain support from the Solve network to liaise with other franchisor organisations in the region and with potential like-minded master-franchisees. Access to mentors and partners would be invaluable to better position ourselves as a franchisor that maintains stringent quality control without overburdening ourselves with a third party organisation. 

Our mission also includes creating dignified incomes for our micro-franchisees, and our current systems allow us to track their gross income, but we are not able to track their net income once they pay their helpers, who negotiate their pay outside of our scope. Support from the Solve team would allow us to develop ways to track both gross and net incomes of our micro-franchisees for a better insight into our impact. 

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Gayatri Datar,CEO and Nivah Shihemi,COO

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More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

EarthEnable has a catalytic effect on the rural housing market because our products are affordable, of quality, environmentally friendly, and importantly in demand within our target group. 

EarthEnable’s earthen products are significantly cheaper than any existing safe and healthy housing products on the market. For example, our floors and improved adobe blocks are ~20% of the cost of concrete floors and burned bricks on the Rwandan market. A typical Rwandan home would cost $250 to floor with concrete and $700 to construct with burned bricks; whereas households only pay $55 for an EarthEnable floor and $150 for walls made of our durable, water-resistant adobe blocks.

EarthEnable’s innovation is likely as or more effective than other WASH interventions. A 2021 study in rural Bangladesh and Kenya found that the association between improved flooring and reduced infections with soil-transmitted helminths and Giardia was at least as large as the reduction in soil-transmitted helminth infections due to other WASH interventions or deworming. Improved flooring is likely more cost-effective in the long run because it is a one-off intervention, and because it not only enables but also motivates behavioural change. There is only so much of an impact that WASH interventions can have when children are living on damp dirt with limited sunlight - the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and parasites. Interventions seeking to achieve the same health impacts by installing concrete floors are not nearly as cost-effective, due to the high cost of materials and transport in rural areas.

EarthEnable floors also come at a much lower environmental cost than market alternatives. As incomes slowly rise alongside housing needs, the demand for improved housing materials is increasing. With more than half of the global population growth between now and 2050 expected to occur in Africa, the cost to the environment if all of these families turn to unsustainable building materials like concrete will be massive. This environmental cost is likely to translate to a monetary cost in future if companies are required to pay for carbon emissions, making EarthEnable’s products even more comparatively low-cost than energy-intensive alternatives like concrete.

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What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

Over the next 5 years, we have set ourselves the task of bettering the lives of over 400,000 people and providing dignified job opportunities to another 300 franchisees. The following measurable impact goals for ourselves are all part of our mission and vision: expanding our mission, launching whole-house builds, and collaborating with financial groups. 

Operational scale: In 2022, we intend to scale within our existing 29 districts in Rwanda and Uganda, and expand into a further 7 additional districts in Uganda (totalling 36), as well as piloting in Busia county, Western Kenya. In 2023 and 2024, we will be operational in 45 and 55 districts respectively, and will scale within these districts allowing them to mature and reach profitability throughout 2025-26. 

 

In 2022, EarthEnable will test a master-franchise model in Central Uganda whereby The Water Trust will carry out our role in its operational districts whilst we provide training and quality assurance. We see master-franchisation as the most effective way to scale and expand ensuring that our target populace are served with life-changing flooring as soon as possible. Rather than EarthEnable establishing itself in a district, we will leverage established WASH organisations’ workforces and customer bases to provide sanitary housing whilst we train, monitor and ensure quality assurance of the final product until we are satisfied the organisation can operate independently. We have over 10 organisations across 5 countries looking to become our next master-franchisee, and the lessons from the 2022 experiment with The Water Trust will guide future co-operation with partners.  

 

In addition, we are organically scaling to Kenya with micro-franchisees in order to learn about the market dynamics and construction process (soil types and local styles), but eventually plan to welcome master-franchisees in other districts to scale. The Uganda team will lead the pilot from across the border in Eastern Uganda with the Global team (R&D, sales, finance), and will hire several full-time staff based in Kenya to launch the new branch. In our first year, we intend to start slowly: train 7 micro-franchisees and build 187 floors including demonstration floors in homes to market our product. We expect this pilot in Busia County, Kenya to be a success with 826 people living on better floors. Over the next 4 years, we expect to expand our operation in Kenya to 4 districts using micro-franchisees and have a further 2 potential master-franchisees to work with. 

 

Over the next 5 years, EarthEnable has forecast geographical growth through our franchise model leading to greater revenue and less dependency on external funding.

 

Whole-house builds: EarthEnable has collaborated with the Rwanda Housing Authority and others to develop the standards and regulations for building with adobe blocks. EarthEnable intends to build on this success by prototyping a whole house using EarthEnable products, which also optimises the design of the home to save families money in the long term (e.g. on maintenance, lighting, health costs) while meeting their needs for security, safety, space, and functionality. Over the next 5 years, we aim to build 300 houses as pilots, plots and homes. With the success of the EarthEnable home, we will be in a strong position to design and create sustainable and affordable rural settlements with amenities to support healthy families inline with the Rwandan government’s focus on rural settlements. 

 

Financing schemes beyond credit extension: In Rwanda and Uganda, we aim to continue utilising co-operatives, and will also pilot partnerships with Village Savings and Loans Associations. Co-operatives are more secure to deal with than VSLAs as they are registered organisations based around a workplace so we know the members have regular incomes. VSLAs carry more risk and we therefore must conduct due diligence with the chair of the VSLA to see what the members can plausibly afford check the VSLA has been active for 12 months and has joint group liability similar to microfinance institutions.

 

We also plan to pilot potential financing mechanisms to enable families to afford our homes. Families currently spend ~$300 upfront on their homes, plus an additional ~$100 per year on incremental additions or maintenance. We aim to replicate these cash flows through piloting a rent-to-own or mortgage scheme. We will also explore bundling ongoing maintenance costs into the mortgage payment. Earth construction tends to require more frequent maintenance than conventional building methods, but this maintenance is affordable. Thus, we see an opportunity to innovate on a business model for maintenance. 

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

  • People living in sanitary housing

  • Customer satisfaction

  • Franchisee income

  • Operational Districts

  • Certified Franchisees

  • Grant subsidy per person impacted

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What is your theory of change?

EarthEnable’s housing innovations aim to improve health for millions of people, create livelihoods for tens of thousands of people, and ensure sustainable development of the rural housing industry in Africa. To enable this change with our products, our core activities are: 1) training, supporting, quality-assuring, and selling varnish to micro-franchisees, 2) designing eco-friendly, affordable housing products, 3) manufacturing our proprietary varnish, 4) educating market stakeholders (e.g. customers, governments, WASH NGOs) on the benefits of healthy housing, and 5) financing our products. The outputs are micro-franchisees who gain a new livelihood, and families living in healthier homes. This leads to the following impacts: 1) safer housing for rural families, 2) improved health of rural families, 3) improved livelihoods for micro-franchisees and their employees, and 4) environmental sustainability.

EarthEnable is already significantly contributing to an increase in improved housing among rural families. We are responsible for 28% of floors built in the past 4 years in our operational areas in Rwanda. We are contacted by multiple potential partners each week - largely from Africa and South Asia - who state a demand for our products. 

Evidence points to the impact of improved housing on health with an RCT demonstrating significant reductions of diarrhoea and parasitic infections from improved floors. Research shows the importance of incorporating clean floors into WASH interventions, eliminating a primary pathway of exposure to parasites and bacteria. In one study, soil collected from household dirt floors had significantly higher concentrations of E. coli and enterococci than soil from latrine floors, while a 2021 study demonstrated that improved floors are as effective as other WASH interventions in preventing enteric illnesses among children. The WASH Benefits RCT in Kenya found traditional WASH interventions were ineffective in reducing children’s exposure to pathogens theorising that sealing dirt floors is necessary to reduce exposure to faecal contamination. In 2020, 99% of EarthEnable customers self-reported improved health outcomes and decreased healthcare costs thanks to our floors. This award would allow us to conduct a summary of data comparing the load of dirt on EarthEnable floors in intervention households versus control households.

EarthEnable collects data on our micro-franchisees’ income, which shows that successful micro-franchisees are able to double their income by joining EarthEnable.

EarthEnable’s modelling on the carbon dioxide emissions produced by EarthEnable floors has shown that, for every 25sqm floor constructed with our methods rather than concrete, 402kg of CO2 emissions are avoided - a 95% difference. 

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Numerous studies have found that improved flooring is associated with improved health outcomes. The core causal assumption of our intervention in rural communities is that our floors significantly reduce exposure to pathogens and parasites, particularly soil-transmitted helminths. Our biological plausibility study tests this through a small-scale RCT. The study’s qualitative findings show significant behaviour change associated with living on a clean floor, including improved personal and household hygiene practices. The quantitative findings (analysing sweep loads from sealed and dirt floors), delayed by COVID, will be concluded in August 2022. Given the WASH Benefits finding on the importance of blocking all faecal-oral transmission pathways to improve child health, this study measures whether clean floors are indeed a critical missing piece in the WASH puzzle.

To measure the impact of our work, we measure the gross income of our micro-franchisees;  we have been testing the assumption micro-franchisees clearly increase their income by working with EarthEnable. However, we don’t know how this is distributed between micro-franchisees and their helpers. With this award, we could develop a system for comprehensively tracking the net income of our micro-franchisees and their helpers by digitising their accounting records. As controls, we will compare micro-franchisees’ net income and asset indices before and after training with us, and with what similar people (masons/helpers) in their communities were earning at baseline and endline.

EarthEnable has done comprehensive modelling on the CO2 emissions and water usage of our floors using SimaPro in consultation with life cycle analysis experts. We will continue to update our modelling as our products and operational model evolve.

Finally, we will continue to measure the extent to which we are building the industry for healthy rural homes. We use household datasets to estimate the total number of households with improved homes and compare this to the number of households we have served. For example, Rwanda went from 71.6% to 67% dirt floors from 2017-2020, which means ~163K families got floors. Over that time, we were only operational in ~15% of Rwanda’s territory on average and built over 6.7K floors. Thus, with 24K of the new floors in our territory, EarthEnable built 28% of them. We will measure the % of all new products that are EarthEnable-built, as well as the saturation rate of our products to measure our systemic impact.

Influencing future policy and spurring widespread adoption is central to EarthEnable’s goal of disrupting the rural housing industry. We will partner with NGOs working in the WASH sector to incorporate our products as part of WASH interventions, thus reaching the poorest segments of the population. We will partner with governments to develop the necessary regulatory environment for a rural housing industry to thrive. Finally, we will catalyze replication of our model through master-franchise partnerships in new markets.

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Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new technology

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How do you know that this technology works?

  1. Cattaneo, Galiani, Gertler, Martinez, and Titiunik. (2009) "Housing, Health, and Happiness." American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 1(1), pp. 75-105. https://doi.org/10.1257/pol.1.1.75.  

  2. Tusting, Gething, Gibson, Greenwood, Knudsen, Lindsay, et al. (2020) “Housing and child health in sub-Saharan Africa: A cross-sectional analysis.” PLoS Med, 17(3), e1003055. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003055

  3. Pickering, Julian, Marks, Mattioli, Boehm, Schwab, and Davis. (2012) “Fecal Contamination and Diarrheal Pathogens on Surfaces and in Soils among Tanzanian Households with and without Improved Sanitation. Environmental Science and Technology, 46, pp. 5742. http://doi.org/10.1021/es300022c.

  4. Kwong and Nampala (2021). Preferences for, advantages and disadvantages of, and changes in behavior and feelings associated with housing materials, with an emphasis on improved flooring. https://bit.ly/EEstudyqualitative


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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Manufacturing Technology
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 15. Life on Land
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Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

200 salaried staff and 200 micro-franchisee masons

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How long have you been working on your solution?

8 years

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What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

EarthEnable is committed to having its board and senior management team reflective of the countries and communities we serve. This means EarthEnable’s decisions are guided and made by people with intrinsic knowledge of the geography and sociology of East Africa.

The Board comprises 66% females to 33% males. The racial make-up is 50% Black African, 33% White, 17% Asian.

The senior management team comprises 57% males to 43% females. The racial make-up is 86% Black African, 14% Asian. 

To empower the communities we serve, EarthEnable is committed to creating 360 jobs by the end of 2023 across Rwanda and Uganda. In Rwanda, we are on track to create micro-franchisee jobs for 25 women, 25 youths, and 50 people of low educational attainment, with a further 100 helpers fully trained and working with the micro-franchisees. In Uganda, we plan to create 96 micro-franchisee jobs, 15 of which for women, and 65 operational positions, 25 of which are earmarked for women. 

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Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Our goal was to develop a business model that serves the most families possible. We achieved this goal by both adding adaptability to our product-market fit for various markets, and by optimising long-term sustainability. We believe this business model is the foundation of an industry that will eradicate unsafe living conditions. 

Product-market fit is both a matter of making the products as desirable as possible and as affordable as possible. 

  • Desirable products: We invest in deeply understanding our customer needs, and innovate on both product improvements and new product development to ensure our products are meeting these needs. Customer needs often centre around protection from disease and the elements, and feeling more comfortable and proud of their home. 

  • Affordable products: We invest in both product and business model innovations that make our delivery more affordable. This means a cheaper product and service (at a maintained high standard), but also ensuring financing options are available.  

We measure our product-market fit by the percentage of people that would recommend us to a friend, as this measures whether someone has found value in our product for the price that they paid. This product-market fit directly leads to more families impacted. 

We define sustainability broadly, as we believe that a business model that is sustainable for the local economy, for the environment, and financially sustainable will create the most long-term impact. 

  • Locally sustainable: We invest in the communities we serve to create sustainable livelihoods. Our approach equips master franchisees and micro-franchisees with the skills, tools, and capital to be successful healthy housing entrepreneurs. Micro-franchisees sell and install products that are affordable to the rural mass market, while master-franchisees assure quality. Training and certifying micro-franchisees generates wealth within the communities we serve and assures that customers have constant access to our services. 

  • Environmentally sustainable: We invest in finding new ways to use local and sustainable materials - plants and earth - to build modern and durable products. Our materials have no or low embodied energy, and we also optimise distribution to require no or low fuel in transport. This is not only beneficial for the environment, but protects our business in the long-run as we believe unsustainable products (such as cement) will be taxed heavily in the near future to preserve the planet.

  • Financially sustainable: We invest in reducing ongoing costs (COGS and overheads) and increasing revenue (through marketing, financing, and institutional contracts) to become profitable. In order to build an industry of safe and healthy housing products at scale for the global population, we must become financially sustainable to encourage replicators to emerge. We believe replicators must be able to be commercially viable within a few years in order to see mass replication that would lead to an industry.

We measure our sustainability using several metrics: livelihoods created, carbon efficiency relative to conventional material counterparts, and profit/loss per square metre built. 

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Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

EarthEnable will scale through a franchise model, with both master-franchisees and micro-franchisees in each new region. We will select master-franchisees that already have distribution networks among our target market, leveraging their existing operational structures for rapid scale. EarthEnable will sell master-franchisees varnish, and master-franchisees will take on the functions that EarthEnable currently does in each of our operational districts: training, quality assuring and selling varnish to micro-franchisees.

Micro-franchisees are instantly profitable from customer revenue, and pay master-franchisees for varnish, the margins of which cover the master-franchisee’s costs. While we are still iterating on the master-franchise model, EarthEnable plans to have a support/QA team in franchised regions funded by a licensing fee for the first year, and varnish margins after that. For master-franchisees who cannot afford a large licensing fee, we would fund the initial set-up costs with grants until 2028 when we predict to break even. With 1 organisation as a master-franchisee starting in 2022, and over 10 others looking to replicate our work, we are sure that master-franchisation will achieve the financial and operational impact we expect.

From 2025 onwards, a decreasing percentage of our funds would come from grants until we reach profitability. We project that between 2025 and 2030, 12% of our funds will come from grants and 88% will be from earned revenue. 

As has been mentioned, we cooperate with the Rwandan Ministry for Local Government, and Rwanda Housing Authority, and we expect further collaboration to legislate for more approved earthen housing products. EarthEnable was at the African Union for Housing Finance conference 2021, and we intend to go again to encourage states to better understand affordability and quality. Our main aim here is for banks and micro-financing institutions to better understand the rural communities’ ability to pay for a home, not just a housing product. We are pushing for a mortgage that is sensitive to rural income patterns - income earnt per harvest rather than per month. With such a mortgage made available, our financial stability is shored up as customers will have credit that is appropriate for their means that allows a purchase of an EarthEnable home.  

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Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

The franchise model mentioned above has helped to increase our financial stability by reducing the administrative and financial burden of providing contractual work alongside training. Rather than having a team of Sales Representatives moving from district to district arranging sales on behalf of masons, the franchisees themselves pitch their own sales and negotiate their contracts whilst also paying their helpers.  

Flaxseed oil has been an area where we’ve been reducing our costs. We have reduced the amount required to seal a floor/wall, and looked at other markets for procurement. 

The R&D team reduced the amount of varnish required per sqm from 0.37l to 0.27l. Using January 2021’s pricing of $1.50 per litre of flax oil, EarthEnable has been able to save $3.75 per floor. 

In September 2021 due to a poor harvest in India, flaxseed oil rose to $2.60 per litre. This triggered us to look to procure flax more locally from Kenya and South Africa, and we even began growing our own flax for pressing in Kenya with the help of Cinch. We believe by working with other Africa-based operations we can shelter ourselves from future price rises bringing stability to our work and help create a sustainable economy in Africa.   

Our LOMA builds innovation instantly reduced the operational costs as we were no longer reliant on lorries transporting sand and sediment to builds as part of the last-mile-delivery. By removing the need to procure quarried goods and operate lorries, EarthEnable was able to drop $58,317 per year (a 2019-high, the last year with all districts using lorries). Also, by allowing customers to help with the sourcing of the materials, costs paid to the franchisees are reduced. Though this doesn’t directly affect EarthEnable, it makes the purchase of a floor more affordable for villagers increasing the number of people able to afford our products. 

In terms of financing, EarthEnable has worked with co-operatives, Village Savings and Loans Associations and SACCOs. These organisations allow for their members to save and contribute towards projects and goals over a long period, and the contributions can also be used to improve their homes. In Rwanda alone, EarthEnable works with 55 co-operatives across 14 districts and has built over 700 floors for members.


Funding sources in 2021:

Andrew and Bonnie Weiss: $250,000

Mulago Foundation: $250,000

University of Pennsylvania: $250,000

The Ray and Tye Foundation: $200,000

Emerson Collective: $125,000

The David Weekley Family Foundation: $100,000

Other grants: $789,483

Donations: $52,786

Revenue earnt from building floors:

2014: $22 

2015: $46,025 

2016: $60,141 

2017: $39,144 

2018: $50,587 

2019: $185,073 

2020: $270,858 

2021: $314,069


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