Humanitarian Aid

The Community Enterprise That's Creating New Possibilities in the DRC

How Asili is laying the foundation of a new DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been beset by decades of war, deep poverty, and an underdeveloped infrastructure for international development projects. Yet Asili — a community-run business delivering essential services in the Kabare region — is flourishing, thanks to the pride, strength, and ingenuity of the Kabare locals. 

Asili is an exciting business that offers clean water, agricultural services, and a health clinic to area communities. Designed by Alight (formerly the American Refugee Committee), IDEO​.org, and the people of Kabare themselves, Asili has distributed millions of liters of water, seen local farmers’ incomes and outputs jump tremendously, and had thousands of patients at its three health clinics since they were established in 2014.

While Asili is on a path to serving 40,000 people, 25,000 individuals have already received clean water for the first time, and the team just broke ground on a third zone in Mudaka December 2016.

Perhaps what’s most important, especially in a landscape of failed international development projects, is that Asili was born from–and is run by–the people of Kabare.

In 2013, Alight approached IDEO​.org with a bold challenge: How might we build a community-owned, for-profit business in eastern DRC to support better health and improved livelihoods?

Over the past four years, we began to explore this question with Alight and the myriad of others it opened up. In a place marred by a broken aid system, where free and low-quality services are the norm, could a new business survive? What would it take to drum up customers? What do people want? What would they pay for? How can we design world-class services? And what would it take for the evolution of Asili to come from the community, not from us and Alight?

Three Asili zones are now up and running.

The early results have been truly remarkable. Since Asili was launched, 60 kilometers of pipeline have brought 5.3 million liters of clean water to previously overlooked villages, and this influx has helped cultivate a new local agriculture ecosystem. In addition, world-class healthcare has been delivered to over 3,000 people in some of the most vulnerable communities on earth. A new Asili location in Mudaka serving a higher-income market of hotels and other not-for-profit organizations has helped cross-subsidize these efforts in more rural areas; this growing demand only serves to generate more potential for the business to have even more impact in the future. And in January 2017, Asili saw its first profitable month.

This prototype offered sample cups of Asili water outside a Sunday church service.

The Asili team have totally embraced human-centered design, and Congolese staff are hard at work building prototypes, iterating on what’s working, and using a design approach to build the next steps for this remarkable organization.

The Asili team in Bukavu hired a local muralist to highlight the service offerings.

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