Giving Vacuum Truck Operators the Business Skills They Need

by Samira Salifu and Serge Seiba, PSI Côte d’Ivoire

“I had a habit of mixing up my personal and business funds,” Adama explains, “…it seemed alright whenever I dipped into my business funds to cater to my personal financial needs.”

For 30 years, Adama Ballo has owned a small business that works to empty septic tanks in the busy suburbs of Abidjan, the capital city of Cote D’Ivoire. But with limited business skills, Adama’s business was slowly failing, and he was finding it increasingly difficult to fend for himself and his family.

Vacuum truck operators (VTOs), such as Adama, play a critical role in improving sanitation in Abidjan. The majority of households with toilets in Abidjan rely on septic tanks or holding tanks, which must be emptied periodically, or they will overflow into the streets and contaminate the environment. Septic tank emptying services are typically provided by informal VTOs. However, these operators often lack basic business and management skills, and as a result are unable to provide a level of service that meets their clients’ needs in terms of price and quality.

Recognizing that the capacity of VTOs must be improved in order for the sanitation system in Abidjan to function properly, PSI’s Sanitation Services Delivery project (SSD), funded by USAID, piloted a two-month capacity building program to address the challenges people like Adama face. The program, implemented in partnership with IECD and supported by the National Office for Sanitation and Drainage in Cote d’Ivoire (ONAD), helps operators improve and formalize their operations through courses that cover basic accounting skills, sales and marketing, management and law. Courses are then complemented with follow-up coaching in the field over a three-month period.

Adama heard about the training through a local awareness session put on by SSD and immediately became interested. At the training, Adama learned how to make better management decisions that would in turn lead to increased profit margins. Adama now categorizes his clients into three zones based on the distance from their home and the designated dumping site, in order to help him quickly determine price and reduce transportation costs through smarter scheduling. His improved efficiency and new door to door customer outreach has greatly increased the number of trips he makes to the dumping site. The training also taught him to separate private funds from business funds, leaving savings from his profits available to maintain his trucks.

“My business is finally in order,” Adama exclaims, “From zero savings, every month, I now save CFA 200,000 to 250,000 (USD 408) every month on my earnings.”

Adama now feels positive about the future and plans to expand his sanitation business soon.

“In the next six months I hope to acquire a third vacuum truck…because I am more confident about the future of my business,” he says proudly.

SSD has trained 16 VTOs like Adama throughout Abidjan and continues to encourage additional VTOs to take the training through IECD. More and more operators, encouraged by the positive results they see with the trained operators, continue to sign-up. With each trained operator, change in Cote D’Ivoire’s sanitation systems occurs.

To learn more about the SSD project, click here.