Introducing our First RISE Fellow: Obichi Obiajunwa
We are so excited to introduce our community to our first fellow: Obichi Obiajunwa, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., who is based in: Lagos, Nigeria
We had the opportunity to sit down with Obichi to discuss his background, passions, and current project, called Alterfold: a toilet made out of 100% recycled plastic that generates bio-waste for female farmers and uses 50% less water than traditional toilets.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a doctor from Imo State, Nigeria and I also run a platform called Young Innovation Leaders (YIL), which encourages young leaders to be change-makers in their own communities. I went to Tel Aviv University to get my MBA and MPH. When I was there I felt inspired by how many Israeli’s were committed to solving problems at home. It truly is a powerhouse for startups - I wanted to bring that spirit of innovation back to Nigeria. YIL helps encourage young professionals to take a risk and embrace entrepreneurship.
Why is water, sanitation and hygiene important to you?
When I returned to Nigeria I saw that we have so many public health issues that are keeping our country behind. The foremost that I’ve witnessed is open defecation - as of last year Nigeria leads the world with the highest number of people that defecate in public. According to the World Health Organization, 47 million Nigerians, which is 1 out of over 4 people here, defecate in public and less than half of Nigerian households have their own toilets. Open defecation brings significant health risks, including diarrhea, cholera and typhoid.
This public health crisis led me to create Alterfold - the innovation that RISE is supporting through their social innovation fund.
Tell us more about your innovation.
We have created the first environmentally friendly, economically and socially sustainable toilet in Nigeria. The toilet is made out of recycled plastic that we source from waste dumps in Lagos. The toilet system is a bio-digester, so we can use the waste as organic manure to give to women farmers. The entire system is a zero waste model and it uses 50% less water than a traditional toilet, as the water used for washing hands is saved and used a second time to flush the toilet.
The Alterforld toilet is for public use and can be sold to local and state governments, as well as public and private NGOs. It is cheaper to build than a traditional toilet, since it is made out of recycled materials. It provides manure for farmers. It’s really a win-win solution for everyone involved.
Obichi (last row, center) poses with his innovation team in Nigeria.
Over and above tackling hygiene issues, what other problem does your innovation address?
Sexual abuse of women is common in Nigeria - and one of the most at risk environments for these women is when they walk to the bushes at night to go to the bathroom. When safe and hygienic toilets are available in public spaces, this will significantly decrease the sexual assault against women.
What advice would you give to others who are looking to break into socially sustainable entrepreneurship?
We are living in a time with so many problems in the world that it can be overwhelming. Narrow your focus. Select one that feels big enough to you and seems urgent - it will give you the motivation to succeed. Realize that this journey is a process - it’s not just about getting to the end. Appreciate the opportunities to grow and learn and connect with good people along the way.