Maji Mamas: Women turning the burden of water collection into the opportunity of a lifetime

Women using social enterprises to transition from water bearer to water provider, launching sustainable water and sanitation businesses.

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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Mama Maji

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $10k - $50k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 5,000 - 10,000

Organization type

  • Social enterprise

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

New Orleans

Location(s) of impact

Kenya: Kamrongo, Kajiado, Kalucy, Awino, Kanjira, Eshiakula, Eremit


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Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Women sacrifice time, education, earnings, and their body to water collection. Where we work it takes 4-8 hours per day. And, one illness from dirty water costs two weeks pay for medicine, and countless hours of her time caring for the sick. Kenyan women are entrepreneurial. With 4 out of 5 women involved in income generating activities. But, to start a business successfully, they need access to time, business training, and culturally acceptable businesses. Sustainable WaSH businesses provide all of these things.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Maji Mamas are social entrepreneurs tackling the water crisis while building sustainable businesses. Each Maji Mama business uses existing, accessible technologies for water management, starting with compressed earth blocks. This technology has been repurposed, utilizing locally-made machines to allow Maji Mamas to build and sell rain tanks and bricks under the Maji Mama brand. Because these blocks are more affordable, with a cost of approximately half that of masonry bricks, Maji Mamas have the ability to provision water, sustainably, for their entire community. As a microfranchise, Maji Mamas receive thorough training in business, leadership, and critical WaSH issues. Through grassroots marketing, Maji Mamas learn to identify decision makers and potential customers, complete a market assessment, and utilize branding to spread awareness. Through business and leadership training, Maji Mamas build financial models and develop a business plan to ground and grow her business.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

To date, Maji Mama’s run public water kiosks, standpipe kiosks, and tank kiosks that serve over 6,000 people. A network of Maji Mamas have held workshops in churches, schools, and local health fairs reaching over 30,000 people. In the community of Kanjira alone, this dropped annual incidence of waterborne disease from three per household to zero, saving each household an estimated 10 weeks of income. Maji Mamas in Chiga founded a water company serving three villages. The Chiga Water Company is now 100% funded through earned income and has expanded from a single tank system to a piped network serving three schools, 25 residential taps, and one orphanage and is set to expand services to other locations. Maji Mamas have gone on to found 52 women’s groups and, after five years of progress, the Kalucy village council elected on of the Maji Mamas as its first ever female village elder. We have 270 Maji Mamas, social entrepreneurs sustainably changing the face of their communities.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

To start, Mama Maji has been funded by grants (42%), crowd-funding (38%), and donations (20%). This funded the Chiga Water Company (CWC), which is fully owned and operated by women in Chiga. CWC reached financial independence within five years and now operates as a growing water provider with residential and agricultural clients. With this business model, Mama Maji has expanded to new communities, creating franchisable businesses for rural areas. Each Maji Mama business is started with an initial investment of 10% which covers an initial pilot tank kiosk, machinery, and training for the local chapter. Maji Mamas expand the business using earned income and training support. The final result is a water network that is 90% funded through revenue with sustainable income for the Maji Mamas.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

To get everyone water, charity isn’t enough. Maji Mamas use lowtech, readily available, solutions repackaged as social enterprises that expand through earned income. Women are the key. They are directly connected to the impact of dirty water, they know their communities challenges and strengths, and are driven to fix the problem. We focus on the intersection of women, water, and business. The Maji Mamas businesses have been designed with women to fit their needs and build on their strengths.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

The first time I attended a community training, I was devastated. We had invited community members to come to a multi-day training as leaders, supporting a water project in the community. The room was filled with 30 people, 20 of whom were women. Despite their overwhelming numbers, the women never spoke. This training was held for a water project requested by the women, and the women had no voice. But on the last day, when I attended the last day the women were the only ones speaking. I didn’t understand what happened, but the truth was extraordinary in its simplicity: water is a women’s issue. Women were chosen to go to the leadership and business training because they were the experts in water and it was clear that they would take ownership of the project and ensure that it thrived. When the training was over, the women in the next village came up to me and I knew I wasn’t done.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

Prospective franchisees are identified predominantly through referral. We provide prospective franchisees with support in market research and securing the first 3-4 contracts to build water tanks in her community. Once contracts have been secured, Maji Mamas receive training in producing interlocking stabilized soil blocks (ISSBs), building water tanks with ISSBs, and the policies and procedures for running a Maji Mama business. She also receives training to become a Water and Health Educator and in connecting her community to microloans for water tanks through our financing partners. Maji Mamas receive approximately 170 hours of initial training over the first two months and these trainings are facilitated by Mama Maji staff and subject matter experts. Maji Mamas complete the first contracts for water tanks with franchisor support. As the franchisor, we also provide weekly support for the first six months to ensure Maji Mamas continue to secure contracts and are compliant with Maji Mama policies and branding. After the first period, Maji Mamas receive further training in building pit latrines to expand their product line. They continue receiving monthly support to ensure their business thrives. All of these activities are carried out primarily in the community where the Maji Mama lives. In the first year the Maji Mamas for a single franchise location are expected to build 50 tanks, three latrines, and train 2,500 community members on water and hygiene issues.

Focus area

  • Water

We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.

Our model focuses on tackling the key issues of water access, water management, economic development and gender equality. In rural communities, built infrastructure is often unviable due to the extremely high cost of connecting disparate families. In areas with good rainfall, rainwater tanks provide the best solution for many communities. But the existing tanks on the market are cost prohibitive. Maji Mama tanks are built using regionally sourced equipment and locally sourced material, providing a durable solution to water access for half the cost. Economically, each Maji Mama doubles her annual income, which improves family nutrition and increases the rate of child enrollment in school. By increasing access to water, this also decreases economic losses for the community, with every typhoid infection costing each family 154 USD per year. The focus on water transforms the women’s role as the water bearer from a burden into a path to economic success and leadership. Through the franchises, each Maji Mama gains access to lucrative work without directly challenging the social norms. They are empowered to become the literal builders of a better future. Through our model we have seen these trends repeated in five communities impacting over 30,000 people. In these communities our Maji Mamas have risen to new positions of leadership, including the first female village elders, starting and leading 52 community based organizations, and providing water to over 6,000 people.

Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

The cycle of shared value is critical to the Maasai tribe today, as the government forces them to transition away from their traditional nomadic lifestyle. To grow their communities, it is vital that they are able to keep wealth circulating within their local economies. Through Maji Mama franchises, women double their annual income while providing access to water for their community. In the community, the tanks she builds save each family 154 USD in economic losses from typhoid while freeing the time of women and girls in the home to pursue work and education, improving economic outcomes overall. Greater access to water also prevents the loss of herd animals, the primary source of wealth for the Maasai. By improving the herd, families are able to afford to build permanent homes using materials purchased from Maji Mamas. Maji Mama franchises are also an entry point for a traditionally unbanked community, allowing families to build credit and access finance for continued growth.

How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?

Each Maji Mama franchise is designed to be a sustainable, profitable, social enterprise. The 5,700USD franchise startup cost is currently provided by 90% grants and 10% local contribution. This is being transitioned to a microleasing model on the equipment with full cost recovery expected at two years. Product sales cover all franchise operation costs and ensure a sustainable profit margin that can be used to expand the business or to pay out dividends to the Maji Mamas. Franchisor costs are currently 100% covered by philanthropy. By receiving the investment capital we need to scale, we anticipate that 30% of franchisor costs will be covered by year three and 60% by year five through annual franchising fees and profit sharing.

How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?

Companies, both for profit and nonprofit, have traditionally approached water and sanitation as an infrastructure problem. The prevailing opinion has been that if a well is dug, a pipeline laid, or a filter placed, the issue is solved. We believe that the water crisis won’t be solved by a pipe; it will be solved by people. With water issues disproportionately impacting women, we believe that with quality support, women will solve the water crisis and change the face of their communities. And with the right business model, they will do this sustainably while bringing wealth into their families. Through this prize, we will leverage public private partnerships and shift the global conversation from investing in pipes to investing in people.

How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?

Nestle’s investment is key to taking our growth from steady to exponential. First, the funds will be leveraged to secure matching funds through Rotary International. Second, this investment will unlock interest free seed loans for franchisees from microfinance partners. At this scale, we will be able to centralize our supply chain and lower startup costs by 28%, increasing franchisee margins and decreasing franchisor costs. These savings will allow us to capitalize on existing partnerships to increase brand awareness and accelerate recruitment of new geographic territories. These public private partnerships will effectively triple Nestle’s investment and within three years we will have full cost recovery, allowing us to continue to scale.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?

Through a regionally focused social franchise model, we will expand to 775 Maji Mamas providing water access to over 600,000 people by 2022. By targeting rural Maasai communities, we will replicate and further refine the transferability of the business model across S. Kenya. Through public private partnerships, we will leverage microfinance to increase market penetration and grow individual business sales both to consumers and to the agricultural cooperative market. Once we have five franchisees in operation, we will be able to centralize our supply chain and decrease startup and operational costs. This will allow us to quickly expand the number of franchisees in S. Kenya with expectation of reaching 80% market penetration of the Maasai community within four years. With a centralized supply chain and refined operational transferability, we will be able to expand into Central Kenyan communities, with the first geographic target of the coffee growing regions around Mount Kenya.

Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?

​Our team has three staff, six board members, and 12 advisory board members. Our projects team has three regional leads supervising contractors and 14 regional training experts. We have 270 Maji Mamas and water educators. Maji Mama franchise operations are overseen by initiative co-founder Michael Sayo. Between staff and regional leads, our team collectively has 50+ years’ experience in social entrepreneurship and rural development. Our Kenyan Advisory board members have been recognized for their work in peri urban water supply by the African Studies Center and the United Nations. The most critical positions to the scaling of this initiative are regional business development and supply chain managers who will coordinate our growing pipeline of potential franchisees.

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

U.S. Embassy Pakistan Entrepreneurship Speaker (2017) StartingBloc Fellowship (2017) Ashoka Emerging Innovator, second co-founder (2016) Aspen IDEAS Scholar (2016) Alvarez Spark Innovation Award (2016) Ashoka Emerging Innovator, first co-founder (2015) CGIU Commitment (2015) Pollination Project Seed Fund (2014)

Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?

Our biggest impact on our field of work has been in our partner communities. By leveraging water as a platform, we have been able to engage women in leadership roles that were inaccessible. In the last three years, the women of Kamrongo organized into the first registered community organization and helped coordinate regional electrification. In Chiga, a Maji Mama hired women to dig the trenches for a new pipeline, something only men were allowed to do the previous year. In Kanjira women have organized to build a health clinic and Kalucy just voted in their first female village elder. After working with us as Maji Mamas, these women tell us that they didn’t know they were capable of so much. These women are empowered. These women are change.

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018

  • Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018


Join the conversation:

Photo of Marco Piñatelli

Maji Mamas is an amazing project which not only provides access to clean water but empowers women to be active and valuable members of their communities.

We work with a type of moss (sphagnum magellanicum) whose properties as antibacterial and heavy metal absorbent transform it into a natural water filter. Right now we’re working on making a model of moss-based water filter to be sold on the retail market and distributed amongst the most vulnerable communities.

We’re interested in knowing how does the filters you’re using right now work.

Best regards,


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