Sep 4, 2019

Mapping SOIL

Whether it’s using mobile tools to inform marketing or evaluating the optimal design of a compost bin, innovation is at the heart of everything that SOIL does as we provide our regenerative sanitation service in Haiti.

The Challenge

One of the biggest challenges we face in operating SOIL’s EkoLakay sanitation service is logistics and the costs of transportation. EkoLakay’s collection crew visits the houses of families on our household toilet service every week, collecting full containers of waste and leaving clean empty containers and cover material for next week’s waste collection. Our drivers face challenging and ever-changing road conditions as SOIL serves rapidly-growing informal communities. Beyond that, we have found that our vehicles aren’t always used at full capacity. Given these factors, it should be no surprise that transportation is actually one of EkoLakay’s largest cost drivers.

To help us improve our service and reduce our costs, we have been working with DataKind to assess SOIL’s vehicle capacity and collection routes to design the best way to use vehicle, collector, GPS, and GIS map data to tackle this challenge. DataKind is a global nonprofit that harnesses the power of data science and AI in the service of humanity, in a partnership funded by the 11th Hour Project.

Questions to Answer

How long does it take to get to each house and what’s the most efficient path between them? Is there one SOIL service zone that might work better broken down into two, or should we be combining two zones that we current service separately? What’s the fewest number of trips needed to service all of our customers when the number of containers might vary from house to house? Our team of researchers and data scientists have been asking these questions and building an open-source software that incorporates data like vehicle cost per mile and carrying capacity to calculate the best route. Once that’s done? It’s transformed into a map that our EkoLakay team members can follow as they head out for the day.

Beyond having an immediate payoff by helping us reduce costs and fuel use, we know that making these improvements to collection routes is essential as SOIL sets out to provide the service at a larger scale in the coming years. Every time a new family signs up to have a lifesaving SOIL toilet installed in their home, we have to quickly update our routes to adjust for the change. Given that we want to grow our service quickly over the coming years, we know we need to get this right!

Early Updates

After spending much of the winter gathering data, testing assumptions, and defining the desired outcomes, it’s been exciting to see the fruits of the team’s labor. Every few weeks, the DataKind team has sent updates of city, zone, and route-specific maps that we’re able to review and refine to help improve the way the model works. With just a few weeks left in our project, the DataKind team is putting the finishing touches on the model and preparing training materials to hand it over to SOIL.

Driving Forward

While the DataKind team’s work is nearing completion, SOIL’s work on the model continues. We’ll spend this summer testing routes, training waste collectors on using the maps to navigate ever-evolving collection routes, and adjusting some of our logistics protocols to prepare for fully implementing the new tools. Many thanks to our friends at 11thHour and DataKind (including the awesome volunteer team!) who have helped to make this route optimization possible in urban Haiti.

We never stop dreaming of ways to go further and we are already getting excited about the ways that this will vastly improve the efficiency of our EkoLakay service. We look forward to keeping SOIL’s blog readers updated as we make progress!

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Jun 6, 2019

Under One Roof

Since 2013, SOIL’s Cap-Haïtien team has operated out of an office we built from the ground up on a beautiful piece of land just down the road from our composting waste treatment facilities. Over the past six years, this space has served as a wonderful home for SOIL’s work as we have implemented and refined our ecological sanitation service EkoLakay

Now, as we embark on a journey to expand the reach of EkoLakay, SOIL came to realize that it was time to say goodbye to our office in Limonade. Why? We determined that moving offices would allow us to improve efficiency, reduce operating costs, and help ensure we have the best infrastructure and systems in place for when our office is overseeing the provision of sanitation services for a rapidly growing number of families.

Bit by bit, different parts of our teams in Cap-Haïtien have transitioned out of our old office and into new locations. First, our composting team expanded infrastructure at our waste treatment facility in Mouchinette so that those responsible for managing the safe transformation of waste to compost could be fully based out of an office on the site. Last summer, we also broke ground on a new depot in a quiet neighborhood of Cap-Haïtien, Ti Lary, which became the home of EkoLakay’s field teams and management. That left SOIL’s Regional Director, Romel Toussaint, and our Finance and Administration department still working out of our old office in the interim.

After thoughtful consideration and a short search of the properties available in Cap-Haïtien, we quickly realized that the best solution for SOIL’s needs was actually right in front of us at Ti Lary! Since then, we have been hard at work building a space on the land in Ti Lary that could become a hub for all of SOIL’s needs outside of the composting site. Though the construction process was put on hold for part of February due to ongoing protests, we were able to finish building the new offices at the end of March. Now, SOIL’s Finance and Administration department officially moved in.

Since we are now able to consolidate EkoLakay with Finance and Administration, SOIL can save time and resources by reducing the need to move between two offices and the Administrative team can better provide swift support to EkoLakay. EkoLakay and SOIL’s administration are also able to share utility expenses, which is just one of the ways that this transition is setting SOIL up to save money in the long run. Finally, we are thrilled to have SOIL’s Regional Director back in closer proximity to the EkoLakay teams as they continue the operational transformation program our teams undertook last October.

Though we are early into our new office consolidation, we are already discovering new ways that this move will streamline administration and field work. In the weeks to come, we will work on revising finance systems and administrative roles to optimize efficiency across our teams and finalize a few more pieces of the construction project. Next up? Finishing the toilet building station and installing solar panels so that SOIL can be powered by nature as we work to restore it.

Check back in the coming months for more exciting updates from our teams as we continue to prepare our systems for a successful EkoLakay expansion. Until then, join SOIL’s teams in a little celebration as we settle into our new Cap-Haïtien home!

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Jun 6, 2019

Tracking the Reach of SOIL's Compost

Every bag of compost we sell is a step towards a greener, more resilient future for Haiti. To help us improve SOIL’s compost marketing and sales and to grow the reach of our lush, organic soil amendments in a country with dangerously degraded soils, we track the reach of our compost meticulously.

As we crunch the numbers and work to incorporate the learnings into our strategy moving forward, we have four interesting findings to share about compost sales trends this spring:


+ Though we have a large, loyal customer base of clients that buy a bag of compost here and there to help their gardens grow, more than half of SOIL’s compost goes on to support the success of larger agricultural and reforestation projects.


+ In Port-au-Prince alone this year, we have sold more than 1,000 bags of Konpòs Lakay compost! That’s nearly 20 metric tons of organic fertilizer that’s already in the ground nurturing soil health throughout the country.


+ SOIL’s teams in Cap-Haïtien are going to have to help us keep up with the demand for compost sales in Port-au-Prince by sending some of the compost produced in the north to fill orders in SOIL’s Port-au-Prince office.


+ Every year, SOIL establishes a set of key performance indicators (think tons of waste treated, tons of compost produced, and tons of compost sold) to track our impact. We actually reached our ambitious goal for compost sales for this fiscal year an astonishingly four months early!


These successes and insights into how and when sales happen will help inform our approach in the months to come as we strive to expand our impact. An enormous chapo ba, or tip of the hat, to SOIL’s hard working compost teams for making it all possible and to our supporters in and out of Haiti for being a part of our efforts.

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