2022 Kirby Prize Finalist Spotlight: EarthEnable

The Problem EarthEnable is Working to Solve

The poorest 1.6 billion people in the world, including 62% of Rwandans and Ugandans, live in dangerous and unhealthy homes. Many of the citizens have dirt floors and mud walls that are infested with bacteria and parasites, have poor ventilation that causes acute respiratory infection and are unsealed, which can attract malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Most available sealed flooring options – such as cement – are not only unaffordable but also taxing on the environment to produce.

Why We’re Excited About EarthEnable’s Impact Potential

Standing on a newly completed EarthEnable floor

EarthEnable designs affordable, durable, and green housing solutions for rural families, and distributes them through a network of certified micro-franchisees. EarthEnable trains, certifies, and supports micro-franchisees who run their own small businesses selling and building EarthEnable healthy housing products within their own communities. The floors are made from locally sourced materials that can be found in the customer’s backyard, combined with EarthEnable’s proprietary plant-based varnish which seals the floor making it both waterproof and durable.

On average, EarthEnable’s floors are a quarter of the cost and emit 96% less carbon dioxide than concrete floors.

We are excited about EarthEnable’s impact for several reasons, including:

  • Strong and dynamic leadership team. Much of the leadership team comes from the regions where EarthEnable works. The team brings together knowledge and expertise from the many sectors required to execute its work, and deep local knowledge to ensure that all solutions and approaches are appropriate and sustainable. The team dynamic we observed over two virtual interviews made us extremely excited about their potential to achieve impact at scale.
  • Building capacity of local businesses. Through its micro-franchise model, EarthEnable invests in developing the capacity and success of local businesses by training over 1000 new masons and creating 378 new jobs, thus allowing the masons to double their daily income.
  • Contribution to dignity.  At the core of EarthEnable’s work is the deep understanding that access to adequate housing is a human right. Rural families want to live in safe and clean homes, able to keep their children healthy and safe, and to have pride in their home – restoring a sense of dignity and self-worth.
  • Profit and impact are inextricably linked for core products. Social enterprises of any legal form can apply for the FM Kirby Impact prize, and we usually have some different questions for nonprofits versus for profits. With for profits we want to be sure that the target population remains a priority, given the incentive in some cases to move upmarket for more profit. For EarthEnable, a for profit social venture, we were happy to see that its profit and its impact are inextricably linked to its core product. The product is developed for homes with dirt floors, thus keeping it focused on serving a low-income market.

The Plan to Achieve Impact at Scale

Over the past three years, EarthEnable has grown its customer base from 4000 to over 16,000; has trained 79 micro-franchisees; and has a customer satisfaction rating of 99%. Over the next five years, EarthEnable plans to provide healthy housing solutions to 1 million people through the following scaling strategies:

  • Increase reach: EarthEnable will continue to scale the number of micro-franchisees in EarthEnable’s own operational areas, selling varnish, training, and conducting quality assurance on each franchisee.
  • Increase the number of products offered: EarthEnable is continuing to expand its product line based on beneficiary demand.
  • Enabling others to scale the work: EarthEnable will partner with “master franchisees” – companies that already have distribution networks – in new geographies. EarthEnable will sell master-franchisees varnish, and master-franchisees will take on the functions that EarthEnable currently does in each of its operational districts, such as training, quality-assuring, and selling varnish to micro-franchisees.
  • Developing new markets: By proving the profitability of the earthen construction sector and developing the needed policy standards to legalize earthen construction, EarthEnable hopes to crowd-in competitors and replicators. This growth will ensure that affordable, sustainable construction options are available to meet the growing demand in Africa.