Editor's Note: In this post, Georges Mikhael, Head of Sanitation at Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), explores the importance of government buy-in for improving sanitation.
I think I may have recently witnessed a real toilet revolution! As Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor’s (WSUP’s) Head of Sanitation, a general poop enthusiast, and having been born on World Toilet Day, I hope you can understand how exciting this is for me.
I recently visited Visakhapatnam (‘Vizag’ for short) for the second time to support the WSUP Advisory India team in their implementation of a USAID project supporting the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC). Vizag is the largest city in Andhra Pradesh state, found on India’s eastern coast.
The project aims to improve sanitation across the whole city – eliminating open defecation and making sure that all residents have access to a toilet.
Since my first visit, I found an unmistakable urgency and energy in the way sanitation is being tackled in India by different institutions as a result of Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a national campaign to clean up India in time for Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday on October 2, 2019.
I had heard reports from my Indian colleagues about the speed at which authorities are making decisions on sanitation issues, and I had seen maps showing the rapid progress being made on the ground - a lot of toilet building!
But this urgency only really hit me once I got out to the Bnr Nagar community in Vizag. Everywhere I looked, literally every few steps I took, there was a toilet at a different stage of construction. I wasn’t taken to this community because it represented a standout example of progress on construction of toilets – there are plenty of other communities just like it around the city.
Of course, constructing toilets is just one part of improving sanitation, but GVMC, supported by WSUP, is already looking at the next steps, including how to deal with the challenge of emptying toilets on the hillsides around Vizag.
At WSUP, we always talk about this so called ‘enabling environment’, and how important it is to making progress in sanitation. It is core to our theory of change; it’s in all of our national business plans. But it can be hard to grasp what it actually is, and how to make it more effective.
It was obvious to me during this trip that an important part of the enabling environment is without a doubt government spending: the Government of India’s 2016 budget for the Swachh Bharat was US$ 1.3 billion. That’s about $1 per person across the country in just one year. As WaterAid’s recent study of East Asian countries has shown, it is obvious that commitment by political leadership is a major factor for improving access to safe sanitation.
What could be done in Maputo if $1 per resident per year were spent on sanitation by the municipal authority? Lusaka? Freetown? Without a doubt, we could make much more rapid progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6 if this level of government buy-in were replicated around the world.
So if you’re curious what a real toilet revolution looks like, if you want some inspiration, consider a trip to Vizag. Maybe bring an aspiring politician with you.
Announced on World Water Day, the grant will enable Water.org to significantly scale its WaterCredit program, which helps families secure small, affordable loans that are then used to access safe water and sanitation facilities. To that end, Water.org partners with microfinance institutions, which provide loans to individuals or families so they can install a water connection or toilet and then makes additional loans with the repaid funds. As of June 2015, the program had helped more than 2.6 million people in nine countries gain access to safe water and sanitation. The IKEA Foundation launched its partnership with Water.org in 2013 in Bangladesh.
"By supporting the development of game-changing approaches like WaterCredit, the IKEA Foundation is helping drive the critical innovation needed to end the water and sanitation crisis," said Water.org co-founder and CEO Gary White.
"IKEA Foundation believes that every child deserves a healthy start in life," said IKEA Foundation CEO Per Heggenes, "so we are supporting Water.org's innovative program to help families in Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia access safe water and better sanitation facilities, giving them improved health and a life of dignity."
"IKEA Foundation Announces New Grant to Water.org on World Water Day." IKEA Foundation Press Release 03/22/2016.
"IKEA Foundation Commits $13.9M to Expand WaterCredit." Water.org Press Release03/22/2016.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog post was authored by Alix Lebec, Director of Strategic Alliances at Water.org. Alix writes about the potential for impact investing to help address the global water crisis, which currently attracts far less funding than the WHO estimates is needed. She describes how Water.org has adopted this approach to leverage philanthropic capital and scale up their WaterCredit model in India.
Impact investing is gaining momentum worldwide. Seen as the future of double bottom-line investing – which seeks to measure investment performance in term of positive social impact, as well as fiscal performance, many believe this approach has the potential to leverage trillions in private capital to address social causes. Wealth holders are increasingly looking for ways to direct their resources and business acumen toward initiatives that generate financial returns and a positive impact at the same time, what we call “doing well by doing good.”
And while impact investing is still an evolving field, social entrepreneurial organizations such as Root Capital and Acumen Fund are paving the way with innovative finance models to accelerate progress toward alleviating poverty. We know there will never be enough philanthropy to tackle pervasive challenges such as the global water crisis that continue to cripple poor communities economically. The World Health Organization estimates that it will cost $200 billion in capital annually to solve the global water crisis over five years, and maintain the infrastructure. Currently, annual investments combined amount to roughly $9 billion, far short of what is needed to solve this crisis. Combining innovative financing, such as impact investing, with smart philanthropy presents one of the greatest opportunities to optimize social returns per philanthropic dollar invested, and scale solutions.
Today, there is a $12 billion demand globally among families at the base of the economic pyramid (BOP) for access to microfinance to meet their water supply and sanitation (WSS) needs. This is a huge market waiting to be discovered. Water.org’s WaterCredit model strives to tap into this demand, and enable local microfinance institutions (MFIs) to provide small and affordable loans to families at the BOP for WSS needs. To date, Water.org has directed $10.9 million in philanthropic capital toward its 51 MFI partners to help them jumpstart WaterCredit loan portfolios. As a result, these MFIs have attracted more than $100 million in commercial and social investment capital to provide WaterCredit loans. That’s $100 million Water.org did not need to fundraise from philanthropic supporters.
The impact? At a macro-level, this means this model leverages philanthropic resources to attract much larger pools of investment capital to address WSS needs at the BOP. At the household level, this means a family living in an urban slum in India, for instance, can participate as a customer, and pay for the construction of a toilet or water connection at home. Globally, Water.org has reached 2 million people through WaterCredit.
While this progress is encouraging, ongoing investment capital constraints for WSS lending at the BOP in key markets such as India still represent a significant barrier for scale. Our local MFI partners repeatedly emphasize how much more they could accomplish if they had access to greater and more reliable sources of social investment capital to meet the growing demand for WaterCredit. In its quest to continue attracting more capital to the water sector, Water.org saw this challenge as a unique opportunity to develop and launch the WaterCredit Investment Fund.
Building on the achievements of WaterCredit, this new $12 million Fund will connect, for the first time, social impact investors in the US and Europe directly with WSS needs at the BOP in India. Supporting Water.org’s highest performing MFI partners in this country, this Fund will provide a targeted, annual pre-tax return to investors of 2 percent. And while this is a modest financial return, the potential for social impact returns is tremendous, particularly as the Fund will help scale a proven model – WaterCredit.
Moreover, Water.org has identified $36 million in demand among just a handful of MFI partners in India alone for access to lower cost capital to scale their WaterCredit loan portfolios. Just imagine how much larger that demand becomes when looking at capital needs for WSS lending across India, and around the globe. Water.org plans to build on the lessons learned and achievements of its pilot WaterCredit Investment Fund to address these larger capital needs.
How is Water.org bringing this effort to life? By continuing to garner the support of leading strategic funding partners that have a strong appetite for innovation and embrace risk, and see the role catalytic philanthropy and impact investing can – together – play in achieving systemic change that works for the poor. Over the past few years, Water.org has secured $40 million in commitments from a growing community of change-makers and visionaries such as the IKEA Foundation, PepsiCo Foundation, The MasterCard Foundation and Caterpillar Foundation for its WaterCredit programs.
And while impact investing is still a new “tool in the toolbox” that needs time to develop, it is one that presents a great potential for creating a win-win-win situation – for the investors, the implementers and the recipients of impact. What better reason for Water.org to venture into this field in pursuit of scaling what already works?
Editor’s Note: This post is authored by Cor Dietvorst, Programme Officer at IRC. In his piece, Cor discusses the monitoring requirements surrounding India’s Swachh Bharat program, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched in October 2014 with the aim of ending open defecation in the country by 2019. He compares India’s sanitation monitoring initiative with other large-scale monitoring efforts with which IRC has been involved in Bangladesh and Indonesia. This post originally appeared here on the IRC blog.
According to some media the Indian government has unleashed “toilet police” or “toilet gestapo” into the country.1 In fact, the central government has instructed local officials to take photographs of new toilets to prove that they have not only been constructed but are also being used. If states don’t upload photos by February 2015, the water and sanitation ministry has threatened to withhold funding from a new national sanitation programme.2
Open defecation free by 2019
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission on 2 October 2014. His aim is to attain a 100 percent open defecation free India by 2019. Since the launch, over half a million household toilets have been constructed.3
By implementing “real time monitoring” the government hopes it can correct past mistakes caused by ineffective monitoring and wasted investment in sanitation. The 2011 census revealed that 43% of government funded toilets were either “missing” or non-functional.4 Now the government wants to show that its investments in sanitation are delivering lasting results.
The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is appointing around two dozen additional staff including two joint secretaries and four directors to strengthen the implementation and monitoring of the Swachh Bharat Mission. An Expert Committee for innovative sanitation technologies and a national telephone helpline for rural water supply and sanitation are other new initiatives that will support the Mission.5
Local officials charged with monitoring toilet construction and use need to download an app on a mobile device. The app allows them to upload photos as well as the personal data and geo-coordinates of the beneficiaries to a public website. Progress is slow though: as of 14 January 2015, data of less than half a percent (2,383) of the newly constructed toilets has been recorded. Data collected before 2015 does not include toilet use.
How do other countries carry out large-scale monitoring?
Compared to examples of large-scale sanitation monitoring in Bangladesh and Indonesia, the toilet use indicators collected in India -- is the toilet in use, is it clean and is water available -- are rather limited.
The BRAC WASH programme in Bangladesh uses benchmark indicators developed by IRC for questions like: do all household members use toilets, do they use them at all times, and are there provisions for handwashing and pit emptying.6
In Indonesia IRC has helped design a monitoring system for the SHAW (Sanitation, Hygiene and Water) programme, where every three months 20,000 community volunteers visit more than 300,000 households. For SHAW monitoring is not merely an accountability tool as it is in India, but a way to motivate and encourage people to improve their sanitation facilities and hygiene behaviour.7
India's decision to track toilet use as part of its new monitoring initiative is a major step forward. From its neighbours, India can draw valuable lessons on how to monitor sanitation as a sustainable service that benefits all.
2 Letter to Principal Secretary/Secretaries in charge of Rural Sanitation all States and UTs. Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, 05 Dec 2014
3 Unused rural toilets to face public scrutiny, The Hindu, 01 Jan 2015
4 Tiwari, R. The case of the missing toilets. India Today, 02 Oct 2014. See also: Hueso, A. & Bell, B., 2013. An untold story of policy failure : the Total Sanitation Campaign in India. Water policy ; 15 (6), pp.1001–1017. DOI: 10.2166/wp.2013.032. and Hueso, A., 2014. The untold story of India's sanitation failure, Addendum. Community-Led Total Sanitation.org, 11 Mar 2014
5 Nationwide monitoring of use of toilets will be launched from January, 2015, PIB, 31 Dec 2014
6 IRC - Monitoring at scale in BRAC WASH
7 Baetings, E., 2014. How are you and how is your loo?
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Leith Greenslade, Vice-Chair at the MDG Health Alliance, a special initiative of the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals. To coincide with the Global Day of Action for Child Survival, Leith writes about the relationship between toilets and childhood stunting, describing the scope of the problem and discussing the potential for improved sanitation through public-private partnerships. The original version of this post appeared here.
October 16th is Global Day of Action for Child Survival and I’m thinking about my mother…
“Don’t ever, ever eat in the toilet!” When I grew up I imagined every mother in the world admonished her children with this warning. If you’ve grown up hearing this message, as so many children in middle and high income countries have, you simply cannot think of food and toilets in the same sentence without some discomfort. And yet it turns out the relationship between food and toilets is much more positive than our mothers ever led us to believe.
Quite simply, children who grow up in communities who use toilets are less likely to be malnourished and children who grow up in communities that defecate openly are much more likely to become what is called “stunted”, a horrible word that means much more than just being too short for your age and describes a condition that slows mental as well as physical development preventing children from reaching their full potentials.
How does the relationship between toilets and stunting work? The evidence is rolling in. Children who grow up surrounded by feces -- animal and human -- ingest it constantly which can trigger a disorder of the small intestine called “environmental enteropathy”. The intestinal walls of children who have this condition constantly "leak" bacteria into the blood stream causing chronic low-grade infections that consume vast amounts of energy to fight, leaving less nutrients available for growth.
Small problem?…Not exactly. An estimated 1 billion people practice open defecation globally and 165 million children are stunted, with the greatest concentrations of both in countries like India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Nepal, China, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Cambodia. In these countries, open defecation and childhood stunting have enormous health and economic costs. Globally, they are major contributors to the 6.3 million child deaths that occur each year, most from infectious diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea, cost hundreds of billions of dollars in medical treatment for those who get sick, and significantly depress economic growth and development.
India is the eye of the storm with the world’s highest concentrations of open defecation (600 million), stunted children (62 million) and child deaths (1.3 million). To accelerate investments in reducing open defecation and improving child nutrition in India, the United Nations Foundation, the MDG Health Alliance and WASH Advocates co-hosted a discussion in September with leading experts to explore how public-private partnerships could tackle the sanitation/nutrition challenge in a more integrated way.
Participants included the Public Health Foundation of India’s Ramanan Laxminarayan, UNICEF’s Sanjay Wijesekera, Jean Humphrey from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Analia Mendez of Unilever, Lucy Sullivan from the 1000 Days Initiative, and Gardiner Harris from the New York Times, whose scathing article on the lack of access to toilets in India inspired the conversation. The discussion was in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child movement.
The panel acknowledged that food interventions alone can close only about a third of the average growth deficit of Asian and African children and that the global development community has substantially underestimated the contribution of sanitation and hygiene to childhood growth. Although there was agreement that increasing access to locally designed, manufactured and marketed toilets in participation with the private sector is a critical part of the solution (with Jim McHale from American Standard sharing details of their success in Bangladesh with the SaTo toilet and Analia Mendez outlining Unilever’s new Uniloo project), the panel argued for a big push to increase demand for toilets.
Gardiner Harris cited the recent SQUAT survey that revealed a strong preference for open defecation among older males in India and the work of the Rice Institute’s Dean Spears which shows that Hindus are 40% more likely than Muslims to practice open defecation, a factor that accounts for the large (18%) child mortality gap between Hindus and Muslims. Experts agreed education efforts and incentives to encourage toilet use should target the sub-populations most resistant to change.
Despite barriers on both the demand and supply sides, panelists acknowledged that political commitment for ending open defecation has never been stronger. At the global level the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, is leading the End Open Defecation campaign and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced the Swachh Bharat Mission with the goal of ending open defecation in India by 2019, to coincide with Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday. There is now an opportunity for other stakeholders, especially the private sector, to fully engage with these public partners to drive down open defecation rates and simultaneously invest in child nutrition interventions. By delivering sanitation and nutrition investments together to the largest populations of children living in the open defecation communities, the deaths of many more children could be prevented and the lifelong impacts of stunting dramatically reduced.
Almost fifteen years ago the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out to halve child hunger, reduce child deaths by two thirds and double access to toilets. With just 450 days left until the MDG deadline, the world has managed to reduce childhood stunting by 35%, child mortality by 50%, and those without basic sanitation by 30% -- impressive, but not enough to achieve the targets. In the time remaining, we need to pull out all stops to build new public-private partnerships to invest aggressively in integrated sanitation and nutrition solutions prioritizing the largest populations of children who grow up constantly exposed to feces.
If you have ideas for a new sanitation/nutrition public-private partnership in any of the countries listed above please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send an email to email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: This post is authored by Sanjay Banka, Director at Banka BioLoo, an Indian company that manufactures and promotes biodigester toilets for use in parts of the country where the lack of infrastructure prevents the use of more conventional sanitation facilities. In the piece, Sanjay discusses the development of the biotechnology used in the toilets and describes the successes and challenges that the company has experienced while working to improve sanitation in India.
Sanitation facilities in India are alarmingly poor with over 600 million people (half of India's population) having no access to toilets. This lack of access, coupled with other inadequacies in waste disposal, such as the Indian Railways’s open-chute toilet system wherein human waste drops on the rail tracks, poses health hazards, raises environmental concerns, and leads to water contamination.
To address India’s sanitation problems, the government, NGOs, non-profit organizations, donor agencies, development bodies, and the private sector have been working in their own way, often with very little concerted effort. The partnership between India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Banka BioLoo, however, provides one example of how cross-sector collaboration can work to provide sanitation solutions. Using technology developed and licensed by the DRDO, the R&D arm of the Indian Ministry of Defence, Banka BioLoo is working to meet the need for basic, easy-to-install and hygienic human waste disposal mechanisms in areas without sewerage and other sanitation infrastructure.
The DRDO had been grappling with the challenge of managing and treating the fecal matter of its defence personnel. After several years of research, the Organization developed a set of bacteria that “eat away” at human waste. Having successfully used these bacteria to treat the night soil of soldiers guarding the Indian borders, in 2010, the DRDO decided to extend the benefits of the technology to the civilian population by licensing the bio-technology to commercial firms. A host of businesses, including Banka BioLoo, signed the transfer of technology. Since then, Banka BioLoo has developed the necessary infrastructure to inoculate the bacteria and has built a business model that positions bio-toilets as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly sanitation solution.
Bio-digester technology treats human waste at the source. A collection of anaerobic bacteria that has been adapted to work at temperatures as low as -5°C and as high as 50°C act as inocula (seed material) to the bio-digesters and convert the organic human waste into water, methane, and carbon-dioxide. The anaerobic process inactivates the pathogens responsible for water-borne diseases and treats the fecal matter without the use of an external energy source.
The only by-products of the waste treatment process are pathogen-free water, which is good for gardening, and biogas, which can be used for cooking. Bio-toilets do not require sewage connectivity and because the process is self-contained, bio-toilets are also maintenance-free. While we explain the functioning of the system to users, no specific training is required.
Banka BioLoo employs a for-profit model in distributing its bio-toilets. This approach is consistent with the thinking that came up in discussion recently at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum in Amsterdam, where it was recognized that many households are able and willing to pay for good quality sanitation services. Unfortunately, many are being offered cheap and possibly sub-standard systems. As solution providers, we need to be wary of poor quality “solutions” and instead appeal to the aesthetic and aspirational needs of society. While affordability is certainly an issue, it should not come at the cost of developing a sub-par product.
While we strongly believe in the for-profit model to help ensure sustainability, we are also looking for alternate financing options for households that are unable to pay for the toilet outright. We are in discussion with government agencies and microfinance institutions to develop programs that would provide subsidies or microloans to consumers.
Banka BioLoo has also worked with charities and other development organizations to provide bio-toilets in underserved areas. In March 2013, some members of the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), studying in Gitam University, decided to undertake a project to help provide sanitation facilities in Rudraram village, at the outskirts of Hyderabad in southern India. Using a combination of student efforts, input from family members, sponsored funds, and contributions from user families, Banka BioLoo, in partnership with EWB, installed five bio-toilets. In 2014, the project provided bio-toilets to 20 additional families. The student community is keen to develop a 10-kilometer radius around the university as an open defecation free area.
One remaining challenge in promoting the use of the toilets involves the perception among some Indians that sanitation is not worth paying for. Many are comfortable with defecating in the open. In promoting the bio-toilets, we explain the negative effects on the health and well-being of society -- particularly women and children -- that are associated with open defecation. As this understanding continues to develop in India, the demand for sanitation products, such as the bio-toilets, will grow. We are actively working in this direction, trying to provide economical and eco-friendly sanitation systems for all -- from the most marginalized populations to large institutions and corporations across various states in India -- while building up the good reputation of the latrine.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and India's Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council have announced the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: India.
Six organizations were awarded grants totaling $2 million to develop innovative "next-generation toilets" that can deliver safe, affordable, and sustainable sanitation solutions in India. A collaboration between the Gates Foundation, BIRAC, and the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology, the competition is funded by investments of $1 million each from the Gates Foundation and the ministry's Department of Biotechnology.
Announced at the "Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India" in New Delhi, the grant recipients are Eram Scientific Solutions, which, in partnership with the University of South Florida, will field test a solar-powered modular electronic toilet that is integrated with a mixed-waste processing unit; the Amrita School of Biotechnology, which will test the use of viral agents to kill pathogens and odor-producing bacteria in fecal waste; Pradin Technologies, which will test the viability of using ultrasound to reduce water use in toilets; the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, which, in partnership with Fresh Rooms Life Sciences, will develop a single-household container that uses human feces to incubate black soldier fly larvae, which can be processed into marketable products; the Institute of Chemical Technology, which will evaluate the concept of using fine sand-like material and an air blower to create a water-free toilet interface free of odor and flies; and BITS Pilani K.K. Birla Goa Campus, which, in partnership with Ghent University and Sustainable Biosolutions, will design a septic tank that uses electrochemistry to reduce organic pollutants and improve the quality of discharged effluent.
"Effective and comprehensive sanitation seems an impossible dream for India," said BIRAC chair K. Vijay Raghavan. "Yet today we see a congruence of new and applicable science and technology, its affordability, and sustainable implementation. This congruence is a great opportunity, which we cannot afford to let slip. By implementing effective solutions in each kind of social context, big problems can be dealt with in small units and be catalysts for scaling up."
The Gates Foundation also announced a partnership with South Africa's Department of Science and Technology to field test technologies developed as part of the global Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The foundation and DST will invest $1 million and approximately $2.76 million (30 million rand), respectively, in the effort.
"By applying creative thinking and new approaches to sanitation challenges, we can improve people's lives. And we have no doubt that these new partnerships with India and South Africa will help us achieve this," said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Gates Foundation. "We believe that with governmental leadership, new business models, and innovation, we can dramatically increase the progress made in tackling this global sanitation crisis."
"Indian Researchers Selected to Develop Next Generation Toilets." Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Press Release 03/22/2014.
To that end, Water For People and One Drop will invest $5.8 million and $5 million, respectively, over five years to increase the scale and impact of their work. Those efforts, which are expected to reach more than 650,000 people by 2018, will leverage One Drop's expertise in sustainable program delivery with Water For People's local connections and experience in providing market-based solutions, comprehensive hygiene education, and district-wide water coverage.
"We share the belief that sustainability and economic empowerment are the foundation of international development," said One Drop CEO Catherine B. Bachand. "This partnership will demonstrate ways the water sector can collaborate to increase the return on investment of funding and, ultimately, achieve the mutual goal of delivering sustainable solutions at scale."
"ONE DROP and Water for People Join Forces to Develop Sustainable Programming to End Water and Sanitation Poverty." One Drop Press Release 02/27/2014.
Editor’s Note: This guest blog is authored by Chitra Choudhury, Manager for Natural Resources at Gram Vikas, an NGO based in India that works on a variety of development issues, including water and sanitation. In the piece, Chitra describes Gram Vikas’ model for WASH, which depends on 100% community participation, irrespective of caste or gender, and discusses how this approach is key to the sustainability of the organization’s programs.
The detrimental effects of poor water quality and hygiene practices not only on people’s health, but also on their productivity and economic life are undeniable. Designing and implementing sustainable WASH solutions has thus formed one of our main focuses here at Gram Vikas. Our organisation predominantly operates in the eastern Indian state of Orissa and since its inception in 1979, we have continuously refined our approach, taking into account the experiences made and lessons learned in the field to ensure that our interventions address the basic needs of the community in an adequate, sustainable and people-centred manner.
The result of these accumulated experiences is our ‘MANTRA’ model (Movement and Action Network for Transformation of Rural Areas), an integrated development model that is based on the core principles of inclusion and social equity. We typically use water and sanitation concerns as an entry point before we branch out our development efforts to other areas, such as education, health, livelihoods and infrastructure. Strengthening and empowering the communities we work with to ensure long-term sustainability and maximum community involvement is also integral to MANTRA.
In India, caste-based discrimination remains a sad reality for many and accumulates in a strictly hierarchical society, where individual rights become subject to class, caste and gender affiliation. Access to water in particular is used as a means of reinforcing the caste system and perpetuating social exclusion. Members of lower castes are not allowed to use the same water as higher caste people, and often have to settle for distant water sources of poorer quality. As a result of such century-old oppression, these marginalised groups have internalised fatalistic worldviews and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness prevail among them. Even though caste discrimination is legally prohibited in India, it remains widely practised, especially among rural populations. Development efforts therefore easily get fragmented, reaching those of higher social status while the poorest of the poor – as so often in their lives – are left out.
It was under these considerations, that Gram Vikas conceived the 100% inclusion policy as a core aspect of the MANTRA programme. The principle is simple: we only begin our work in a village once all its members have agreed on certain prerequisites. Firstly, every household has to be covered – irrespective of caste, gender and economic status – and receive the same quality of service: a toilet, a bathing room and 24-hour piped water through three taps – one in the toilet, bathroom, and one in the kitchen. The water comes from a single common water tank, for which water is transported either through a gravity-flow water system or from open dug wells, depending on the local surroundings.
Additionally, all community members have to be represented at the village governance level. For the purpose of overseeing the construction process and implementation of the programme, a Village Executive Committee, comprising 50% women and representing all castes and economic classes proportionally, is elected. Inclusive of all voices in the community, this body becomes the democratic platform for joint village decision-making and endures even after Gram Vikas withdraws.
All community members further contribute towards the cost of the programme via monetary contributions to a village corpus fund and active participation in the construction works. For instance, 60% of the cost of the sanitation infrastructure is covered by the villagers, while the accumulated interest gained from the common village fund is used to link future households to the established WASH network as well as for the maintenance of the facilities.
In light of the deeply-engrained caste mentality, the process of getting everyone to overcome their differences and agree to these inclusive conditions is not always easy or fast; indeed, it once took Gram Vikas 13 years to achieve full village agreement.
Nevertheless, the strategy of using water and sanitation as an entry point and mechanism to unify the villagers, thus challenging the established social hierarchies, has paid off.
Since the inception of our water and sanitation programme, the incidence of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea and scabies, has reduced by 85%. School attendance has increased, particularly among girls. Women, who often had to spend hours fetching water from distant sources, are now able to invest their time in more productive activities. The positive impact of self-government and inclusive institutions at the local village level can also be felt: women and lower-caste members have often taken up positions of key responsibilities and leadership roles in the Village Committees; and through the process of experiential learning, villagers have realised the benefits and potential of their collective action, encouraging them to extend their efforts and continue to assert their rights.
Importantly, we feel that understanding the local context and incorporating insights gained by our staff in the field has been key to this success; and it will continue to play a fundamental role in the extension of the Gram Vikas initiative and our design of future WASH solutions.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has announced a search for a senior program officer for its International Program/Safe Water Initiative. The person selected for this position will provide leadership in international grantmaking activities and projects and will have primary responsibility for the Foundation’s Safe Water initiative. This person is a key member of the international program team and reports to the director, International Programs.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation works to improve the well-being of the ultra poor in targeted developing countries by supporting sustainable access to safe water. The Foundation focuses its grantmaking on the rural poor in regions of Africa, Mexico, and India with low water access and high incidence of water-related diseases. Over the past two decades the Foundation has delivered more than $90 million in grant funds to provide more than 2 million people with WASH services in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and water-stressed regions of India and Mexico.
Candidate requirements include:
- graduate degree in public health, public policy, social welfare, or a related field;
- demonstrated expertise and work experience in international water-related issues at program, research, and public policy levels;
- familiarity with water, sanitation, and hygiene policy at global, federal, state, and local levels;
- experience in strategic planning and implementation, and in coordinating public/private efforts for long-term, systemic social impact; and
- a minimum of 10 years of relevant experience in grantmaking and/or program development/management.
A passion for, and a commitment to, the Foundation's mission and international program priority areas are essential. Candidates must be legally authorized to work in the United States.