EarthEnable started with a dream to improve health outcomes through simple and affordable solutions. Traveling to Rwanda with the Stanford class “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability,” in 2013, four Stanford students were tasked with the challenge to design a product or a service that would make homes and communities healthier. While seeking to understand how suboptimal homes affected physical and emotional health outcomes, they were shocked to discover the significant health problems that dirt floors cause — eliminating a dirt floor from the home results in dramatic reductions in childhood asthma, diarrhea, malnutrition, and parasitic infestations.
70% of Rwandans and Ugandans and billions of people worldwide live in homes with dirt floors, which are dusty, unsanitary, and fertile breeding grounds for parasites and germs. While replacing a dirt floor with concrete (which is usually the only alternative) has significant health benefits, it is unaffordable for many who need it. EarthEnable addresses this pressing problem by selling high-quality, earthen floors that are 75% cheaper than concrete, with 90% less embedded energy. Earthen floors are made by compacting different layers of natural materials including gravel, sand, clay, and laterite, and sealing them off to make them waterproof using a layer of oil-based varnish. EarthEnable trains and hires local masons to install these floors. Earthen floors are becoming more and more popular, because they are natural, great for the environment, easy to clean and maintain and can be truly gorgeous, helping to transform a home.
DKM partnered with EarthEnable to design and develop additional housing products beyond a floor. EarthEnable began by taking a human-centered design approach to researching the communities they serve. Household surveys were conducted in different districts all over Rwanda to determine what issues rural families have with their housing and determine how much interest there is for various affordable and sustainable housing products.
EarthEnable’s research demonstrated that rural homeowners were extremely interested in new housing products to upgrade their homes. As a result, they have started to develop wall plasters and improved adobe bricks (made of mud) that can be used to construct structurally sound homes. EarthEnable has also formed a Think Tank in collaboration with key government and research institutions to develop standards for building with locally available earthen materials.
By 2030 EarthEnable anticipates employing 7,500 masons and sales representatives across rural Africa, to build healthy and affordable housing products for 2 million families. They believe that one company cannot solve the problem of sub-standard housing alone but jump-starting an entire industry can.