The Practitioner Hub: The Next Generation of Sanitation Businesses
by Simon Brossard
In the past few years, governments and the development community have seriously stepped up their efforts to tackle the sanitation crisis. Two emblematic initiatives are the launch of the Clean India mission (‘Swachh Bharat’) by Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2014 – which aims to provide 560 million people with a toilet by 2019 – and the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started in 2011, which led to key technology innovations in the sanitation and waste management space.
Yet, are these efforts sufficient? The 2015 sanitation target of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals was missed by nearly 700 million people – the largest gap among all MDG targets – and there are still a staggering 2.4 billion people globally who do not have access to improved sanitation, with dramatic consequences on health, life expectancy, educational opportunities, environmental quality, and economic growth.
One piece in particular that has been critically missing is the lack of profitable business models for developing countries. These could make a significant difference by ensuring sustainable growth of sanitation markets, attracting investments to the sector, and ensuring a better match between products and demand. A number of pioneers have started to develop innovative market-based solutions. Hystra has mapped and reviewed over 100 of these efforts, and visited 12 of the most promising initiatives. We are sharing some insights of this research here.
In dense urban areas, practitioners agree that sewer networks are the desirable long-term solution. However, the reality is that municipalities are not managing to cope with fast-paced urbanization. The toilet options for slum dwellers are often limited to poorly maintained collective toilets, or open defecation in the gutter. In 2013, a team of innovators – from the design firm IDEO, the UK non-profit WSUP and Unilever –designed a new ‘portable toilet’ solution for dense urban areas. The latter consists of a modern-looking home toilet with a sealed container, which needs to be emptied every two to three days by a dedicated service team. A social enterprise, Clean Team, was launched to promote and run this service in Kumasi, Ghana. Similar projects emerged in Peru (X-Runner) and Haiti (SOIL), and all came up with the same finding: families are ready to pay high fees (up to $10 per month) for the service, which therefore has the potential to be turned into a profitable business opportunity.
Other Recent SOIL Coverage