Champion for Change: One entrepreneur’s mission to transform sanitation in Kakamega County, Kenya


Felix Ywaya owns a hardware store in Kakamega County, Kenya.
Photo credit: Marian Siljeholm/USAID Western Kenya Sanitation Project

Felix Ywaya's entrepreneurial journey began when he took note of the poor sanitation conditions around his home in Kakamega County, Kenya. As it turned out, Felix wasn’t alone. The community was also demanding improvements to widely-used pit latrines. A then-small grocery store owner, Felix was introduced to an opportunity to expand his business and with it, the availability of much-needed, quality sanitation products.

Western Kenya, where Kakamega County is located, is characterized by a lack of access to sanitation facilities, prevalence of open defecation practices, and limited infrastructure in place for fecal sludge management. Climate change further exacerbates this situation. Lack of affordable sanitation solutions combined with the effects of climate change lead to a vicious cycle: when households lack durable, climate-resilient toilets, flooding occurs, soil collapses, and households are forced to replace their sanitation infrastructure. 

Expanding Kakamega’s County’s sanitation sector 

Through the Western Kenya Sanitation Project and a strong partnership with the Kakamega County government, USAID is mobilizing members of the Kakamega community to make lasting changes to the sanitation sector. USAID identifies, trains, and empowers business owners and masons working outside the sanitation sector to expand their businesses to provide affordable sanitation services to their communities. 

As a result, USAID is increasing the availability and use of more durable, safe, and accessible sanitation products and services by tapping into existing systems and structures – like Felix’s grocery store – and incentivizing them to help improve local sanitation services. 

Masons mastered the use of different toilet technologies, learning how to make the structural improvements necessary to retrofit pit latrines with innovative SATO sanitation products that are safer, more affordable, and durable. Business owners benefit from coaching and mentorship sessions on topics such as marketing, record keeping, financial literacy, business plan development, and customer relations.  learn about applicable topics such as raw material selection and inventory management, quality control, cost saving efficiencies, financial management, and more.

Felix displays one of the products for sale at his store.
Photo credit: Marian Siljeholm/USAID Western Kenya Sanitation Project

Catalyzing transformative change

Equipped with new knowledge and skills from the training, Felix expanded his grocery store into a hardware store specializing in the sale of  SATO products, decreasing the distance to point of access for his customers and reaching more people with higher quality, more hygienic and environmentally friendly sanitation solutions.

“There is money in selling sanitation products. I make more for every sanitation product sold and the customer may also buy cement and pipes for installation. This is better than running a grocery store where the fresh produce would sometimes go bad due to low sales and result in huge losses," said Felix.

The addition of sanitation products to Felix’s store inventory has impacted his personal life as well: "My business has enabled me to meet my family's needs. School fees and medical bills that used to be a common challenge are no longer a nightmare,” said Felix.

The expansion of Felix’s store to sell SATO products is also contributing to improved sanitation services throughout Felix’s community.

Felix’s story exemplifies USAID’s approach under the U.S. Global Water Strategy: supporting the growth of rural sanitation markets through locally-owned, led, and sustained solutions. This means understanding local contexts and collaborating with interconnected actors beyond the water and sanitation sectors.

Today, in order to keep up with growing demand for his products, Felix is hiring additional staff and exploring taking out loans from local savings and lending institutions to further expand his business.

Identifying and training individual business owners like Felix to sell sanitation products reaps benefits across his community: increasing household access for his neighbors, catalyzing local economic growth while opening employment opportunities, and improving community health.

Since 2022, USAID’s work in Kakamega county has resulted in an increase in high quality, affordable sanitation facilities for more than 2,500 Kenyans living in Kakamega County. Over the next five years, USAID will continue these efforts, working with partners in Kenya to provide basic or improved sanitation services to one million people

Related resources: 

About The Author

Philip Bill Okaka is the Communications Director for the USAID-funded Western Kenya Sanitation Project. The project, implemented by Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International, aims to create a financially sustainable, transformative, replicable and locally owned sanitation and menstrual hygiene management marketplace, in Western Kenya.

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