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Maji Mamas: Women using environmentally sustainable technology to bridge Planet and Prosperity for their community.

Maasai women building microfranchises providing affordable water solutions, protecting the environment while generating sustainable income.

Photo of Sydney Gray
26 11

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Innovations in earth architecture have made the construction of rain tanks extremely affordable for rural communities with plentiful rainfall but limited surface water. By connecting this technology into a for profit direct-to-consumer distribution model, we can scale this innovation throughout the Maasai community of Southern Kenya for a fraction of the cost of comparable solutions. Historically pastoral, the Maasai have received considerable pressure from the governments to give up their nomadic ways and settle down into permanent homes. But the land they have received is rural, arid, and absent access to any stable water source. The lack of water access has the typical downstream health impacts, but for the Maasai, it also means that their primary source of wealth, their herd, is dying. Coupled with a need for building materials for new permanent homes, Maasai are being forced to turn to charcoal burning to generate income which is illegal and causes deforestation. Rain tanks provide an opportunity to capture the prolific rains in the region and ensure the Maasai have access to the water they need to live healthy, productive lives. Interlocking Stabilized Soil Blocks (ISSBs) are produced using a press manufactured in Kenya. This press is manual and highly portable, ensuring ISSBs can be produced on site without electricity and ISSBs are fully cured without the need for firewood, providing an environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional, fired bricks, which contribute to deforestation and air pollution. By utilizing ISSB tech, we can provide rain tanks and pit latrines at half the cost of the competitors on the market. By engaging women as shareholders, they own a piece of an important business, allowing them to increase their income and gain standing in the community. With women engaged in construction, we see a change in the narrative about a woman’s ability to earn and build, and the power structures in the community shift to accommodate.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our primary beneficiaries are Maasai women (16-45) forced to settle in Southern Kenya. This idea works with women’s groups to develop a microfranchise selling environmentally sustainable water tanks and construction materials to their community. As shareholders, the women are paid for their labor and receive profit sharing from their business. In addition to masonry and construction, we provide the women with training in leadership, business, and sales. The shareholders also co-create the policies and procedures for their pilot business. We also provide marketing materials, source collaborative contracts, and support supply chain development. Engaged in important leadership roles building their community, the narrative and power structures in the community shift to accommodate. The secondary beneficiaries are the Maasai communities. This idea will ensure they have access to extremely affordable & environmentally sustainable water and sanitation solutions and construction materials

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

The Interlocking Stabilized Soil Block (ISSB) technology has been pioneered by leaders in the development industry, including the United Nations, USAID, and DFID. This means that the majority of ISSB technology and training has been distributed through charity models. In the development of this initiative we interviewed a women’s group in Kakamega who received a donated ISSB press from an INGO. Despite a strong community need for water, they told us they could only work when they had spare money. This meant that in four years, they built only five tanks and they were saving up to build a tank for a local school. But in Uganda, when a community-based organization paired ISSBs with a subsidy for purchase, they were able to construct 600+ tanks. Leveraging our highly entrepreneurial staff with 30+ collective years uplifting women through business, this idea moves ISSB tech into a participatory forprofit model that provides the women with the support they need to build and scale.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Mama Maji empowers women to change their world through water. www.mamamaji.org

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
  • Yes, we are a registered social enterprise.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Over the last five years I have seen the women from our programs organize, arrest cholera outbreaks, open health clinics, and support the electrification of their neighborhoods. One village selected their first female village elder from the women we trained. I know that the solution to Prosperity and Planet lies in the hands of engaged & empowered women. This idea was inspired by the Maasai women, the traditional home builders looking to gain an income and a voice in their changing communities.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

The Prosperity of the Maasai has been deeply impacted by the arid land on which they are being forced to settle by the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments. While rain has been plentiful, the long periods of drought (Planet) between the rains have killed many cows, the primary income and wealth for the Maasai (Prosperity). The enforced settlement has also restricted their ability to earn an income and many Maasai are turning to environmentally destructive charcoal burning, which is deeply impacting Planet. While this idea primarily impacts the intersection of Prosperity and Planet, this is also beginning to impact Peace. Because the forced settlement is on such arid lands, the Maasai are still trying to take the cattle they have left into areas with water and fodder. This has led to strife between the Maasai and the government, who have killed off a number of cattle for illegal trespass. The Maasai have started driving their cattle into city centers in protest, increasing tensions.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We are working deeply in partnership with the Maasai community to develop this idea. We are co-developing this idea with two women’s groups based in Eremit who are the shareholders in the local social enterprise. The women have informed: idea structure, business model, shareholder agreement, wages and profits, methods of local engagement and marketing, development of a demonstration tank, and market location. These women have also provided guidance on land rights, historical use of microfinance and ideal structure, and workplan development. The Matonyok Nomads Development Organization (MANDO) is our primary partner and idea co-founder. Community based, MANDO coordinates with the local leadership and grassroots groups. They provide input on ideas and how they can be altered to make them more effective within the local context. They also serve as the lead in engagement with local leadership, including local tribal Elders, the county government, and the Kenyan Ministry of Health.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The Maasai in Kajiado have a number of competitive advantages: 1) Surplus of women ready and able to work, many of whom already have some small business training 2) Cultural history of women as home builders 3) Deep community engagement providing rapid product feedback and market insight 4) Communal culture, ensuring that many women can be engaged 5) Community shift to permanent structures creating exponential market opportunity for affordable and sustainable construction materials

Geographic Focus

The initial phase of this project focuses on the Maasai women in Kajiado county.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We anticipate 24 months in our timeline. The first six months will focus on continuing to work with the Enkoireroi Maji Mamas to identify and fulfill contracts and connect the community with microfinance options. The next six months will focus on working with women’s groups in nearby market centers to build two additional microfranchises. The last 12 months will be focused on working with these three groups to strengthen their business and identify and secure larger, collaborative contracts.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

26 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Hi Sydney Gray ! I am definitely inspired by your project to re-empower and support women in their role as entrepreneur water stewards. I am curious, is there a way to construct a rain tank using the same process the Maasai use to build their mud homes? - Carrie (part of Dusti Becker 's team)

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Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

The problem with the old style of earthen construction is that it's not super water tight or sufficiently strong to handle the weight of water. Also, water is the single most effective solvent known in the world - and it has everything to do with its molecular structure.

This technology is actually a modern version of the traditional earthen homes. It uses the same basic foundation, mud, and incorporates stabilizers and a small amount of cement to make a construction material with a comparable strength to cement blocks. Cured ISSBs weigh about 2/3 as much as a cement block and have comparable compressive strength.

It's this mixture that makes these modern earthen tanks strong enough to hold up to 20,000L of water above ground and up to 200,000L in a submerged tank. And a thin lining of waterproof cement on the inside of the tank ensures that the tank retains all the water it collects.

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Fascinating, and yes, had envisioned there would need to be some sort of waterproof lining!

Spam
Photo of Paul Ennis
Team

Sydney - Powerful project idea. Rooted in nature and need and strength and courage. These Challenge opportunities are fascinating, synergistic vortexes. Glad to know you are there doing what you are. - PWE/RTMN

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Thank you, Paul Ennis !

Spam
Photo of Paul Ennis
Team

Sydney - You're quite welcome. If I could find a way to work RTMN into Mama Maji I would have suggested so. All I could do was shine some light where it needs to be shown. Or better yet, reflect back the light you're beaming so brightly. C U 'round the Challenge. - PWE/RTMN

Spam
Photo of Dusti Becker
Team

Paul Ennis Sydney Gray Hmmm... having fun thinking of possible mashup with both of your work, something like a reading/storytelling event on waterkeepers or water and feminine leadership. Such potency in both of your projects! -Carrie (part of Dusti Becker team)

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Photo of Paul Ennis
Team

Carrie - Thanks for the fun thinking on our behalf. I fully agree that a reading/storytelling event, or series of events, could help to communicate/memorialize the cultural/older roots of the waterkeeper/water-bearer, as well as express the current reality of feminine leadership very potently. Time will tell as the OpenIDEO process moves along. We gotta make it through the first round of review in order to see which direction the winds are gonna blow us all. Enjoy your days. - PWE/RTMN

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Photo of David Ezra Jay
Team

Hi Sydney,
This statement caught me as 100 percent correct, "I know that the solution to Prosperity and Planet lies in the hands of engaged & empowered women." I've spent a lot of time in the rift valley working in community health and have had the pleasure of watching a few powerful women in the area have a tremendous impact on their communities. The problem of starvation is still real there. I firmly believe that empowering the women here is a major part of the solution. Our missions are the same.

I would love to start a conversation with you and see about tapping into your network. We are now employing Maasia women in Northern Tanzania to grow trees, and we can offer some opportunity to empower women in your communities as well.

Spam
Photo of Eman Hassan
Team

Really love your idea
Good luck dear :)

Spam
Photo of Luz Gallo
Team

Sydney, I love your idea. Empowering women brings a lot of energy to any idea. Have you considered making any partnerships with global or national actors in order to widen the range of impact of the project and maybe start intertacting with other communties?

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Luz Gallo Yes! Absolutely. We're actually speaking to a number of partners about our work in the Rift Valley with the Maasai including Rotary International, Water. org, Equity Bank, and other microfinance specialists. We are also looking for potential partners with experience in land trust issues. While we're still in the early stages, these partnerships would allow us to both deepen the project and broaden the range of things the Maji Mamas are working on. For example, we recently met with a group of nuns looking to build a dam in their area. They are looking for environmentally sustainable and cost-effective building materials to line the dam to prevent water seepage.

In terms of interacting with other communities, we've been discussing the viability of the project in the context experienced by the South Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda with Oxfam and UNHCR. And today we just met with a conservancy serving the Northern Turkana region that thinks this would be an effective program with the Samburu, a tribe with many similarities to the Maasai.

Spam
Photo of Luz Gallo
Team

Great to read this. Consider also to include this part in orde to better understand the scalabity of the project ;)

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Good point. I am going to see where I can revise.

Spam
Photo of Temba San
Team

Good to see you on board.How do you consider access to capital model to those Maasai women?

Best,
Temba

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Hello yes! Thank you Temba.

Access to capital is relevant for a few places in this idea. First is the startup capital. The training, press, and cost of a demonstration tank is approximately 750,000KES. This is much too high even a group of women in these communities. While we are providing this through philanthropy for the pilot, we anticipate moving the largest line item in this cost (the press) to a microleasing model. This means that we will provide the press up front, and the Maji Mamas will make payments on the equipment. This brings the philanthropy contribution down to approximately 350,000KES without overburdening the women.

There is also an access to capital issue in the wider community. While Maasai families are often spending a lot of money in a single day to purchase water for their household and (when available) cattle, many of the households do not have the upfront savings for the cost of a tank. We are partnering with three microfinance organizations with products targeting women and/or WaSH services. Three Maji Mamas will be trained in these loans and will connect the families with loans to make purchases, and support their repayment. These loan repayments will be lower than what they're currently spending on water.

I think I answered your question, but please let me know if I can clarify further.

Spam
Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Sydney Gray we definitely have the same heart for women and sustainability! It looks like we are approaching peace building through similar routes. I am curious about your business model. You use the term micro-franchise but it seems similar to network marketing? What is the cost for women to start this business? If the cost is paid by the non-profit what is the 'buy-in' for the women?

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Christina Schwanke Saw you on the webinar today!

Ah yes! This is not network marketing (also known as multi-level marketing if anyone else is curious). The two models are definitely both ways to help people start businesses, but the Maji Mamas are not involved in recruiting new salespeople nor are there minimum purchases required of them.

We opted for a micro-franchise model after speaking with both the Maasai women and some business expansion experts. It allows us to develop a "business in a box" model that's relevant to a specific context, while ensuring we can provide ongoing support and engagement.

Through this pilot, we are not charging the women anything to start the business, and are instead providing the entire start up cost (press, materials and labor costs for a demonstration tank, training, etc.). In turn, these women know that they are putting more work in to developing the business model, marketing, and strategy with us. This is time and work the women are putting in for free (marked as in kind contribution in our records) to both grow their business and to be a model for other Maasai women. While they're excited for business growth, it's really the latter, being a model and building something that will support more women than just their shareholders, that has them so deeply engaged in the process.

Part of the iteration we need to do in the next 24 months has to do with the model moving forward. We anticipate we will be moving the largest cost for the startup, the manual press, into a microleasing model. We are waiting to see the longer term numbers for business revenue to get a sense of whether or not we can move to a microloan model (i.e. the women pay all the startup costs back) or if a certain amount of the start up will need to continue to be funded through philanthropy. We are also market testing the viability and interest in collaborative contracts, which will bring in a different source of revenue that can help underwrite startup costs.

The shareholders in the first franchise have been very informative about this process, and have stressed how important it is to know the revenue before any decisions are made around startup cost sharing.

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Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Sydney I saw you as well! It was nice to put a face to the conversation. This has been such a moving experience, after yesterday's webinar I was able to video conference with another contributor. It's so amazing how this has brought people's perspective into the mix!

Thank you for your clarification. I am actually a supporter of network marketing because it gives a much needed opportunity for passive(or not so passive) income. I also believe the model works because it requires people to make an investment which can be motivating. Of course as with anything there are companies that give the process a bad name.

I am glad that your shareholders have been informative. From a business standpoint I would be curious to know what route you take in the next 24 months. Let's connect
https://www.linkedin.com/in/christina-schwanke-3660b468/
https://www.facebook.com/christinamworley

Are you local to the project? Or are you based somewhere else?

Christina

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Christina Schwanke Oh I most definitely agree. And I'm connecting with you now!

Spam
Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Sydney Gray would the sale of the water tanks replace the coal burning or would it sustain the cattle or both? Given the forced settlements would the water tanks create peace or would resentment still linger from forced settlement?

When I first read your submission I envisioned the water tanks as a means of survival through drought for sanitation and drinking but when I reread the section on how it created peace it looks like the water would help sustain the cattle? Or would it economically replace the cattle?

I apologize I may have read to much into it!

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

No, you actually have it absolutely right. We also initially had the perspective that it would be the means for survival, primarily focused on drinking water and sanitation. But the women have expanded the purpose. In addition to a number of household tanks, the local village elders have negotiated a contract with the Maji Mamas for an additional tank in the market area. The families have agreed to pay in a small monthly fee for the upkeep of that tank, and the tribe will have full access to water their cattle. This was a contract these women negotiated themselves with the village elders. So the families in this area are looking to have the tanks help sustain cattle.

In addition, we're starting to plan for agricultural tanks. Depending on the press you use, the ISSB tanks can be scaled from 10,000L to 200,000L. Of course, the 200,000L tanks need to be in ground, but they are useful for things like farm irrigation. The most recent drought killed a lot of cattle, and there are a number of Maasai men looking to disinvest from cattle into agriculture. For those families, this will economically replace cattle. It's also looking like agricultural tanks are going to be a significant source of revenue for the Maji Mamas.

For the women, Maasai women don't own cattle. The herds are for men, and women have limited opportunities for income and wealth. For them, this neither sustains nor replaces anything; this builds.

Spam
Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh
Team

Hi Sydney I like your project idea and I am also implementing an agroforestry project in my home state Meghalaya in north east India and in the post conflict zones of Sri Lanka. But right now I am working on developing a blockchain to power the first Ecosystem Services market place that rewards indigenous communities to restore the Eastern Ghats in India. Together with out local partners in India we are building bridges between community driven mountain ecosystem restoration using blockchain technology for sustainable development financing. https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/ideas/developing-a-blockchain-to-power-the-first-ecosystem-market-place-that-rewards-communities-to-restore-and-protect-the-eastern-ghats-in-india

Perhaps we can collaborate at a later stage as you progress on your project idea. I wish you and your team all the very best.

Spam
Photo of Ozuluonye Shedrack
Team

Hello Sydney,
In Nigeria, we have a similar problem of Herdsmen trespass and farmers clash which has resulted in communal class and have caused several death. Do you consider water supply as the root cause of illegal trespass? Looking for an idea that will bridge conflicts between herdsmen and farmers.

Spam
Photo of Sydney Gray
Team

Dear Ozuluonye, thank you for your comment! For the Maasai the primary driver for trespass is moving cattle to areas with water or fodder. The fodder comes down to a water issue, since the plants in the area die during the dry season. The Maasai have indicated that with a better way to manage their water, they can grow feed for cattle within their tribal land and diversify their income to include agriculture.

There is also an aspect of cultural nomadic history, but the primary reason for their trespass is water. Have you spoken with the Herdsmen in Nigeria? Why are they trespassing with their herds?

Spam
Photo of Ozuluonye Shedrack
Team

Many thanks @ Sydney, for the responds, In Nigeria the major reason for trespass is the search for green plants (food for cattle's)  and the activities  of some criminal element (rustles) who tried to steal from herdsmen. looking forward to learn more from you and your team.