MBA Students Use Business Knowledge to Help with Sanitation in Haiti

From January 4th, 2014 to January 15th, 2014, Jon Eppolito and Airin O’Connor, two RIT MBA students concentrating in Sustainable Management, traveled to Haiti in order to gather market data and research to assist RIT’s Sustainable Engineering students in design of affordable sanitation solutions for the rural regions of Haiti. Below is their trip report:

TRIP REPORT:

While in Haiti, we conducted several focus groups.  The goal of the focus groups was to determine household sizes and purchasing capabilities based on recent buying behavior.  We also asked several design preference questions for the Arborloo, the name for the model of waterless toilets being developed by the sustainable engineering students.

The focus groups spanned the northern coast of Haiti in townships surrounding the city of Cap-Haitian, which acts as the hub for the entire northern portion of the country.  We tried to limit the attendance of the groups to 20 individuals as to stimulate more productive conversation.  This was an effective strategy as a trend developed that the smaller the group the more helpful the session was.

Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to get people to answer the questions honestly, rather than telling us what we wanted to hear.  We revised our questions after each group when we figured out what worked and what didn’t.  There has been significant education in the importance of proper sanitation and the consequences of not disposing of waste properly, however many people lack the means to create a better option.  People are interested in many technology improvements to their lives such as with solar power or electronic communication (cell phones, etc.).  People consider toilets a necessity but also have many things they need in their houses and toilets are often purchased last.  Many seemed interested in having customizable options as well as payment plans or a credit system to purchase the toilet with.

Additional conversations with sanitation professionals stressed the importance of education and we believe this will have to be incorporated in any marketing campaign for a future product.  The communities that had the most education about how to properly use, maintain, and repair toilets found them to be the most valuable.

We also evaluated our options for product distribution.  Many organizations, such as the peasant organizations, are interested in partnering with our group to provide a product to their larger communities. Infrastructure and politics are on-going considerations that impact the reach this product can have.

Currently, we have joined the student incubator team for the Arborloo; working with our coach and professors we will try to extract more value out of our data and use this information to create an effective product not only for Haiti but potentially many developing countries.  The eventual goal is to create a business model that we can step away from and allow Haitian communities to manage on their own accord in order to stimulate local commerce.  We both feel that our coursework from marketing and sustainable management courses helped significantly in how to approach the issue and further develop the business model.

Jon Eppolito and Airin O’Connor

Erin (in green shirt) and Jon (in bright blue shirt) help run a market focus group.

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