What you need to know:
- M-taka provides training, protective gear, medical insurance and fair compensation, thereby elevating the socioeconomic status of the workers.
- M-taka agents collect recyclable waste from users, rewarding them with redeemable points to continue engaging in the recycling programme.
The need to convert waste into useful and valuable products continues to spark creativity across the country, creating employment for dozens of people.
One such innovation is M-taka, founded by Benson Abila, 28, and Primafacie Mutua, 24.
The duo brings a wealth of expertise to the table, where Mr Abila is a civil engineer renowned for his proficiency in project management, innovation, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.
Mr Abila is a 2022 fellow of the US government-sponsored Mandela Washington Fellowship and has an extensive background in waste management, recycling, and circular economy principles.
On the other hand, Ms Mutua serves as the chief operating officer, leveraging her expertise in urban and regional planning, technology, data analytics, sustainability, and the green industry.
M-taka is a tech-integrated social enterprise specifically addressing the waste mismanagement issues in Western Kenya, with a focus on Kisumu County.
According to Ms Abila, their main focus is to educate communities on better waste management practices, connect people in the waste value chain and improve the livelihoods of waste actors. They do this while fostering a circular economy, and creating green dignified jobs for waste workers.
“M-Taka utilises a mobile application, the M-taka app, backed by USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) codes, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and data analytics to engage communities, streamline recyclables collection, and optimise recycling efforts,” he says.
The platform actively involves households, businesses, and institutions in sustainable waste practices, encouraging behaviour change through a unique social incentives programme.
M-taka works with waste workers, majority of whom are women. The company provides training, protective gear, medical insurance and fair compensation, thereby elevating the socioeconomic status of the workers.
“The goal is to build sustainable zero waste circular economy communities,” Abila says.
He says M-taka was inspired by the urgent need to address the severe waste mismanagement challenges in Kisumu, Western Kenya, and the broader African context.
“We were motivated by the adverse environmental impact of unregulated waste disposal, particularly in the Western region, which contributes to climate change and endangers ecosystems, notably Lake Victoria. Additionally, we recognised the critical role of waste workers, often marginalised and facing harsh conditions, and aimed to create green dignified jobs for them,” he adds.
Mr Abila says M-taka’s innovation was also driven by a commitment to solve environmental issues, empower communities, and foster sustainable waste management practices.
“M-taka revolutionises waste management and recycling with a user-centric approach. Individuals, from households to institutions, download the app or use USSD codes for connectivity limitations,” he says.
Ms Mutua says the onboarding process for new users is seamless, as it is guided by trained and verified M-taka agents.
“After registration, users receive guidelines, bags, and bins for responsible waste disposal. They segregate waste at the source, emphasising recyclable separation,” she adds.
M-taka agents collect recyclable waste from users, rewarding them with redeemable points to continue engaging in the recycling programme.
The unique social incentives programme gamifies recycling, fostering community and recognition.
AI and data analytics provide personalised insights, while M-taka Social Corners, associations among the members, promote community building.
The recyclables are transported to the material recovery facility for sorting and value addition.
“M-taka actively empowers waste workers as M-taka agents, through training, gear, and insurance, contributing to green dignified jobs and socio-economic empowerment. The integrated platform ensures a holistic, user-centric approach to sustainable waste management,” Ms Mutua notes.
“M-taka's groundbreaking solution transcends waste management, emerging as a catalyst for dignifying waste work and generating green dignified jobs. The platform transforms waste workers into M-taka agents, deliberately integrating women to challenge societal perceptions,” says Abila.
He notes that the material recovery facility, with value addition machinery, sustains social incentives, creating a model benefiting agents, the community, and the environment.
“Social corners cultivate a supportive community, motivating consistent participation in responsible waste disposal. M-taka’s commitment to dignifying waste work is evident in protective gear, medical insurance, and challenging societal stigmas, fostering a positive perception of waste workers,” says the engineer.
He also notes the platform’s data-driven approach influences policy, contributing to global sustainability goals and shaping impactful regulations like the Sustainable Waste Management Act of 2022 in Kenya.
M-taka's multifaceted approach, integrating technology, social incentives, AI, and data analytics, redefines waste management, contributing to a cleaner, more inclusive, and environmentally conscious future.
M-taka operates with a team of five full-time employees, each playing a crucial role in various aspects of the business.
The roles include leadership, operations management, technology development, marketing, and partnerships.
“In addition to the core team, M-taka has fostered a broader network of support within the community. Over 25 team members are actively involved in the collection, sorting, and processing of recyclables,” he says, adding that the individuals contribute significantly to the value-addition process, turning waste into valuable resources.
Abila says since its launch, M-taka has engaged over 4,000 community members.
“Through the empowerment of more than 200 waste agents and champions, M-taka has not only created green jobs but also played a pivotal role in transforming the perception of waste,” he says.
The initiative has extended its impact to the younger generation, engaging with over 300 children and fostering environmental awareness from an early age.
Impressively, M-taka has successfully collected and recycled more than 500 tonnes of recyclables, contributing to a substantial reduction of 1,500 metric tons of carbondioxide (CO2) emissions.
Beyond these environmental achievements, M-taka has established three social corners, providing spaces for community interaction and education.
The implementation of two material recovery facilities, with one being the first county-built MRF operated by M-taka in collaboration with the Kisumu Waste Actors Network, reflects the platform's strategic partnerships and commitment to local governance mandates.
The establishment of a buy-back center further is one of the company’s efforts to close the loop in the circular economy.
This has seen the innovation bag recognitions among them finalist in the Afriplastics Challenge 2023 by Challenge Works supported by Global Affairs Canada, along with being a runner-up in the Green Entrepreneurship Awards by Circular Economy Catalyst supported by IKEA Foundation.
M-taka was awarded top innovator in Kisumu County under the Presidential Innovation Awards in 2023.
Abila points out that the programme adopts an innovative approach by not imposing direct charges on users, waste workers, and businesses for its services.
“The strategy is rooted in the broader goal of fostering inclusivity and promoting widespread participation in sustainable waste management practices,” he says.
“Instead of burdening individual users with fees, M-taka sustains its operations through sale of value added recyclables,” he adds.
This unique funding model ensures that the benefits of M-taka's platform are accessible to a diverse range of stakeholders, aligning with its mission to create a positive impact on the environment and the community.
M-taka has established impactful partnerships to amplify its mission. Collaborating with the Homeless of Kisumu, to provide psychosocial support to waste workers, recognising the often overlooked aspect of their well-being.
Additionally, in collaboration with the US Embassy, Homeless of Kisumu and the Start Up Bug, it has expanded its impact by providing training and support to women waste-preneurs (entrepreneurs in the waste sector) in Kisumu, Kakamega and Maseno.
They envisions a future marked by continued growth and sustainable impact.
“M-taka also plans to establish additional Material Recovery Facilities and Buy Back centres initially across the western region and eventually nationwide, contributing to the circular economy and waste reduction efforts,” says Abila.
At the policy level, M-taka seeks to continue influencing national and global agendas by providing insights and data to policymakers, contributing to the development of impactful regulations and sustainability goals.