Taking radical hospitality to the streets with Lava Mae

It started with one woman, homeless in San Francisco, lamenting that she would never be clean. Lava Mae founder, Doniece Sandoval, heard her cries. Those words, a desire to help those experiencing homelessness, and a crazy obsession with the mobile food truck movement set in motion what would eventually become Lava Mae.

Lava Mae believes that access to showers and toilets shouldn’t be a luxury, and seeks to serve those who lack access to what should be basic human rights – showers and sanitation. Since June 2014 the team has delivered over 14,000 showers, welcoming them according to Lava Mae’s mantra of ‘radical hospitality.’

In light of the huge need and demand for their work, Lava Mae started thinking about how they could scale their impact. They recognised the potential to positively affect more people experiencing homelessness in other geographies by replicating their model.

At the time of engaging Spring Impact, Lava Mae had countless opportunities both in the US and around the globe, and multiple ideas for scaling up its impact. We have since helped Lava Mae to redefine their strategic direction, concentrate their expansion efforts on two scale-up strategies and are continuing to help the Lava Mae team implement them in a sustainable way.

Challenge

Lava Mae repurposes retired transportation buses into showers and toilets on wheels to deliver hygiene in the hopes of restoring dignity to those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.

After establishing the service in June 2014, Lava Mae launched a second bus in September 2015, and continues to attract the attention of the media, corporate sponsors, and industry partners.

At the time of engaging Spring Impact, Lava Mae had countless opportunities both in the US and around the globe, and multiple ideas for scaling up its impact, including:

  • Creating “Pop Up Care Villages” (bringing a variety of mobile service providers together in the same location to serve a range of needs for those experiencing homelessness)
  • Developing a third party affiliation model (working with other external partners to bring Lava Mae to other locations)
  • Opening new Lava Mae branches throughout California
  • Organizing social marketing campaigns to improve public perceptions of those living on the street
  • Open sourcing their intellectual property and operations via an online toolkit

By focusing on so many great initiatives, however, Lava Mae risked overwhelming its core team, and ultimately, sacrificing its social impact by spreading its resources too thin. As such, Lava Mae was searching for the right set of strategies to systematically scale their impact.

Approach

Approach

Lava Mae’s model and services are widely needed, and thus there were many opportunities to scale up in different ways and locations. However, in light of the huge need in California, Spring Impact helped Lava Mae to concentrate its expansion efforts locally with two specific models.

As a first step, Spring Impact conducted brief primary and secondary research within the homeless sector in San Francisco and surrounding areas, as well as due diligence on Lava Mae’s organizational strategy and operations, including a SWOT analysis of the organisation and the market in which it was operating.

Spring Impact then facilitated a full day scale strategy workshop to help Lava Mae answer the key question: “where should Lava Mae concentrate its efforts in light of the huge need, as well as external pressure to scale up in multiple directions?” During the workshop, Lava Mae and Spring Impact narrowed Lava Mae’s scale focus, explored replication models, [1] and identified initial areas for improvement by going through Spring Impact’s Replication Readiness Test.

Following the scale strategy workshop, Spring Impact has continued to engage with Lava Mae to help develop the replication model by conducting further interviews with key stakeholders and closely collaborating with the Lava Mae staff via workshops.

Spring Impact defines social replication as a specific scale form. Specifically, social replication is the process of taking an organization, program or a set of core principles to other geographic areas or markets, or empowering others to do so.

 

Results

Developed Lava Mae’s scale strategy

Spring Impact and Lava Mae co-developed the following vision, mission, problem definition, and impact goal [1] as part of the strategy workshop to help Lava Mae concentrate their scaling efforts.

  • Vision: a world where people treat each other with dignity
  • Mission: taking radical hospitality to the streets

[1] Spring Impact defines social replication as a specific scale form. Specifically, social replication is the process of taking an organization, program or a set of core principles to other geographic areas or markets, or empowering others to do so.

[2] Lava Mae’s vision, mission, problem definition, and impact goal were developed from the Spring Impact Social Replication Tool Kit. See page 12 for specific details.

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