The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been beset by decades of war, deep poverty, and a rickety-at-best infrastructure of international development projects. Which is why the Kabare region of the country has to be among the last places you’d expect a new community-run business that delivers essential services to flower. But that’s because no one has bet on the pride, strength, and ingenuity of the people of Kabare quite like Asili has.
Asili is an exciting new business that offers clean water, agricultural services, and a health clinic to communities. Designed by the American Refugee Committee (ARC), 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 two health clinics since launch in 2014.
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, the American Refugee Committee (ARC) 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 three years, we began to explore this question with ARC 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 ARC?
The early results from Asili have been truly remarkable. The Asili team, which is based in the city of Bukavu, has secured 30 kilometers of pipeline, bringing clean water to previously overlooked villages, cultivated a new local agriculture ecosystem, and delivered world class health care to some of the most vulnerable communities on earth.
Perhaps more importantly, Asili has become a source of local pride. Asili has launched two business zones, each of which is staffed by residents of Kabare, a group whose sense of local pride has become a rallying cry for advancing and evolving the business.
The Asili team in Bukavu has totally embraced human-centered design, and Congolese staff are hard at work building prototypes, iterating on what’s working, and using our approach to creative problem solving to design the future of Asili.