June Arunga, CEO of Usafi Comfort Wastewater Treatment Solutions has brought Japanese technology to deal with ever growing problem of raw sewage in Kenya’s urban centres.
What inspired you to pursue this business?
I am inspired by a desire to build a successful business that o?ers Africans more dignity, provides decent jobs and deepens my entrepreneurial skills. I remain shocked by the reality that over 20,000 Kenyans are su?ering, and dying, in large numbers from water-borne diseases that are easily preventable with decent sewage treatment.
That even the middle-class and the well-o? have such problems is appalling. Dealing with wastewater is one of the biggest problems we have, and that has received less attention than it deserves.
I believe that problems are opportunities for ?nding solutions and turning that into a sustainable business. I love ?nding the biggest problems that are getting the least attention and then attacking them. It makes it tough to start the business but the motivation is strong. Usa? seeks to build a great business while contributing to the quality of life in Kenya and the region.
How did you start?
I started with a massive desire to learn everything that could be learned about this huge problem of untreated or expensively treated sewage in Africa, and to turn that knowledge into a business. I was also blessed with a supportive family that has invested resources and time into the business.
I approached and partnered with a company in Daiki Axis of Japan that is leading in energy e?cient, low maintenance small scale sewage treatment plants. If I were to calculate these investments and partnerships in ?nancial terms, it would be worth millions. I started with my sweat equity and the right relationships.
What is the biggest threat facing this venture?
This business is simple but even the simplest parts in business can boil down to much complexity and di?culty.
The biggest threat is getting lost in the wrong details and in poor execution. We work hard, and try to aim for clear standards using repeatable processes; all this to mitigate these threats.
How do you plan to navigate the waters, this being a rather new idea in Kenya?
In its newness is the opportunity. There are millions of Kenyans who need quality, low maintenance sewage treatment. We are already registering high demand. We want developers and existing property owners to know our solution, and to understand that we will work with them to deliver a best-in-class solution at a competitive price.
How can the government assist in such a venture?
By putting the right regulations and policies in place. Our product positively impacts the Big Four. One of the biggest costs in health is paying for the treatment of water-borne diseases. With our Johkasou technology, ground water and water bodies will not be contaminated, and there will be fewer sick Kenyans.
This technology also enables buildings to have onsite wastewater treatment, cutting down on the high costs for the government building sewer lines and municipal treatment plants.
And by treating domestic wastewater to high standards for safe use in activities like irrigation, we will be contributing to the Food Security pillar of the Big Four. Finally, with the water shortages we experience, it is imperative that we consider how we will drive industrialisation without adequate water.
Manufacturing requires ample water supply. So we need the government to create incentives for Kenyans to reduce, reuse and recycle water for health, food security and industrialisation, which is critical for job creation for our rapidly growing young urban population.
Sewage being a ‘smelly’ venture, how would you convince a person to take this up?
Sewage management is a constant cost in real estate management. There is no avoiding this reality. Every person in Kenya generates between 50 to 150 litres of wastewater per day from laundry, bath, kitchen and toilets.
Over 70 per cent of buildings have no municipal sewage connection and so whoever is responsible for the management of these buildings has to ?gure out a way to get rid of the sewage.
Our value proposition is that with a Johkasou, you get a plug and play Japanese engineered technology that converts the sewage to clean non-portable water that can be safely released into storm water drains or reused.
It takes a week at most to install, and saves you up to 90 per cent in sewage management costs incurred when you use a septic tank where one needs to frequently pay an exhauster to carry away the sewage. It further raises property value, helps with tenant retention due to higher hygiene standards, and helps to stabilise rental income for those who have invested in rental real estate.
What drives you?
To raise a healthy and happy society, to be a loving and reliable partner and friend, and to do all this while building a great business.
Any plans for the future?
My plan is to treat billions of litres of sewage per day in homes, o?ces and industries across the region. That, and to develop a bathroom-in-a-box that will transform our rural homes.
With all our challenges, we are a country with so much greatness in us. I would like to urge all Kenyans, and especially women, to get into business. It is what will provide our people with good jobs and solve problems. We can be a glittering country that shows the world what African potential achieved at scale can do.