Hello, Kigali

Here we are in Kigali, pleased to introduce Pivot in Rwanda. We've entered into a partnership with the City of Kigali and are fast preparing to commence construction on a Pivot Works factory to manage the city’s fecal sludge.

Kigali is an exciting place to be. It's a city that appears to be embracing innovation, technology, and the environment in both word and deed. President Paul Kagame recently said that “we are not making a choice between environment and prosperity; we are rather looking at how to combine both.” This is, after all, the country that banned plastic bags way back in 2008 and committed to low-carbon development by adopting a Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy at the UNFCCC’s COP17 in Durban. Coffee shops are planted next to startup incubators, and the bureaucracy continues to justify its standout World Bank Doing Business ranking.

Still – and the reason we are here – Kigali has no sewer network. There is no facility to treat fecal sludge. Most Kigali residents use pit latrines – which must be manually emptied, the contents disposed of within the community – while waste flushed to a septic tank gets trucked to an open pit at the nearby Nduba Landfill. The World Bank estimates poor sanitation costs Rwanda $54 million each year.

President Kagame says “success will come down to whether we embrace innovation and harness advances in science and technology,” and that is exactly what Pivot is doing in Rwanda. We are starting with Nduba. Our plant will handle all of the fecal sludge currently transported to the landfill each day. We will also conduct trials with pit latrine sludge, working with local NGO Water for People and colleagues from UC Berkeley to systematize safe and affordable emptying of pit latrines and delivery of sludge to our plant. Furthermore, we’re confident the product coming out of our plant – Pivot Fuel – will be an attractive and welcome product here. Energy scarcity and the high cost of energy are widely recognized as major bottlenecks to development in Rwanda.

As 2015 shapes up in promising fashion, we will be building on the experience and lessons of 2014. Our work in Mombasa, Kenya, was fruitful. We made headway in facility and production design; in fecal sludge sourcing research; in human resource development; and in cementing our company culture.

And we stuck to our values. Like most startups, we encountered obstacles and, like any private firm engaging a traditionally public sector, we confronted potent risks and questions about our business model. When those risks, realized, had an impact on milestones, we decided it was time, well, for a pivot. As a successful entrepreneur we know says, it’s 5% inspiration, 95% perspiration. Kigali’s interest in innovative solutions to sanitation and energy problems means we should feel right at home.