The New Popular Front

MBA students win award for figuring out new ways to exploit the shit out of the third world

The above statement is entirely true. These MIT business students (who else?) plan to sell the use of their toilets to Kenyans, then literally re-sell the excrement coming out of their asses. From the article:

…the handful of students from the MIT Sloan School of Management will be heading to the slums of Nairobi… to build toilets.

Vallabhaneni and his team developed a business plan for turning a public health crisis into an economic opportunity. Some 2.6 billion people in the world lack basic sanitation, according to the World Health Organization, and the MIT students think they can help change that.

Vallabhaneni said the idea for a company was hatched when he and fellow MIT students studied sanitation conditions in places like Kenya. In parts of Nairobi, for instance, many people defecate in plastic bags, then throw the bags on the street. Others pay 6 cents to use makeshift bathrooms.

“Typically they’re just holes in the ground with plastic sheeting around,” Vallabhaneni said. “What that shows you in terms of the fact that they’re paying to use unhygienic pit toilets is that there’s a big value for privacy and dignity.”

The Sanergy team thinks people will pay that same 6 cents to use Sanergy toilets, essentially modified porta potties. They’re far from glamorous, but a huge step up from current conditions.

It will cost Sanergy about $200 to build each toilet. They’ll then turn around and sell it to a Nairobi resident for $400. At 6 cents a visit, Sanergy projects the new small business owner – essentially a franchisee – can make back his or her investment in about four months.

Then What?

But that’s just the start of the business model.

“You build a toilet and then what? It fills up, and then what? Right? There’s no way to actually treat and dispose of the waste,” said Vallabhaneni “You actually need to build out the entire sanitation value chain to effectively tackle this problem.”

It’s that phrase—“the sanitation value chain”—that perhaps sums up the inspiration behind the new company. Where others see a problem, the students behind Sanergy see a resource.

The company will charge the franchisee, $6.25 a month to take the waste to a processing facility.

“Which then leads to the third part, which is conversion,” said Stradley. “So converting that waste into electricity and fertilizer that we can sell and generate the revenue for the business as a whole.”

And this is where the company believes there’s real money to be made.

Part of the waste can be converted into biogas – essentially methane – which can then be burned to generate electricity, a practice that’s currently done in parts of Europe. Some of the waste can also be converted into fertilizer. Both are badly needed resources in this part of the world.

What I find amazing about all this is that there’s not a hint of irony. No one finds it vile that rather than actually just give the people free sanitation, they tie their perceived morals to a profit incentive.

That’s just how it is with capitalism. One can’t just give people toilets, or expect sanitation to be a right—you have to privatize the toilets, charge third-worlders for their use and resell their shit at a profit.

“We didn’t give the prize because these guys are doing something great for the world, or better for the world, than the other guys,” said Tim Rowe, a judge this year. He founded the Cambridge Innovation Center, a business incubator, across the street from MIT.

“That wasn’t our challenge as judges. Our challenge was to look at each of these as a stand-alone business and say: ‘What has the biggest chance of significant success?’ The fact that they are making money at this is what makes it likely to succeed,” said Rowe.

In a way, I feel almost bad for these privileged MBA students for being so immersed in capitalist ideology that they are unable to see that they are up to their necks in shit.