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Build a smart investment in sanitation software

The response of India Inc. to the clarion call of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to make India "Swacch Bharat" is praiseworthy. Most of the renowned Corporate Houses have committed investments to support the construction of toilets in households and schools.

Major companies like TCS, Bharti, HUL, Aditya Birla Group, ITC, Adani and Dabur have announced big CSR spends or promised to upgrade existing programmes for building sanitation facilities.

While such announcements and promises look substantial, and the in-built Commitment to Invest in Sanitation is welcome the moot question is how can we make the proposed investment a "smart" investment?

A quick analysis of the commitments made by different corporates reveal that the focus is on hardware i.e. construction of toilets. Studies have shown that infrastructure creation without commensurate investment on demand generation and behaviour change has not been sustainable. Importantly, beneficiaries of hardware subsidies don’t usually change their behaviour towards sanitation and hygiene, and have little incentive to maintain the toilets.

A recent study by RICE Institute in five North Indian States found that people in households with working toilets continue to defecate in the open, and that toilets provided by the state are especially unlikely to be used. The study cites, "Merely providing latrine access without promoting latrine use is unlikely to importantly reduce open defecation."

Another Formative Research on Sanitation and Hygiene supported by the Global Sanitation Fund in 2013 confirms that the money for toilets will not be well spent unless adequate investment is made on promoting and achieving collective behaviour change.

The suggested approach under Swacch Bharat Mission is "to adopt the Community Led and Community Saturation approaches focusing heavily on collective behavioural change." Emphasis is placed on awareness generation, and triggering behaviour change and demand generation for sanitary facilities in houses, schools, anganwadis, and places of community congregation, and for Solid and Liquid Waste Management activities. Focus will be on Inter Personal Communication (IPC), especially in the triggering of demand and use of toilets through social and behavioural change communication and house-to-house interventions.

It is equally important that once people move on the sanitation ladder and start using the toilets, that trajectory of change must be maintained and enhanced. If communities revert to a a situation where they have to rely on unimproved sanitation services or resort to open defecation, then investment is effectively wasted. Incidentally in India there is a "slippage" reported in the sanitation sector, and more than a crore of toilets are defunct and not in use.

Unfortunately, the resources committed for behaviour change approaches are few and not explicitly earmarked. What is conspicuous is the absence of funds for triggering communities for collective behaviour change.

Conscious of these limitations, NRMC India promotes, and implements, a software approach to sanitation financing through the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF). The GSF supported programme in India finances community-level interventions aimed to enabling access to and effective use of improved sanitation facilities and hygiene promotion at scale in select locations in Bihar, Assam and Jharkhand. This is being achieved through demand-driven approaches that emphasize awareness creation and demand generation aimed at changing behaviour. This is supplemented by capacity building efforts of various actors and institutions, effective use of media to promote behaviour change, and sanitation marketing to strengthen the supply chain related to sanitation products and services.

Corporates interesting in investing in sanitation must include funding interventions at the community level that sensitize households about the correlation between sanitation and health, hygiene and human dignity. They, sooner than later, need to consider collaborative funding initiatives that strengthen the efficacy of investments for construction of toilets. To make their investment more effective over time, Corporates could consider setting up a "Pooled Fund" that finances the following:

  • Designing effective behaviour change interventions: Funding consumer surveys and research to understand motivations behind changing behaviour of different social groups as well as the bottlenecks in behaviour change. Research outputs will help develop appropriate media vehicles/campaigns to reach out to people and promote positive behaviours.

  • Capacity building of workforce at local level: Funding local capacity to work with households and communities facilitates people's participation through informed choices and generates community collective action for making village environments free from open defecation.

  • Funding learning and emulation: Documentation and dissemination of inspiring and exemplary evidences of collective and individual action motivates others to follow suit.

  • Promoting stakeholder coalition building: Sector alliances encompassing health and education practitioners, as well as alliances with private service providers can lead to meaningful contributions.

Corporates need to develop and adopt an accepted protocol on behaviour change financing for sanitation and hygiene based on proof and cost analysis. They must demonstrate to governments and other stakeholders with clear and concrete evidence that software approaches are no longer a soft option for dealing with the Indian sanitation crisis!

About NRMC

NR Management Consultants (NRMC) is a leading development advisory consultancy that offers evidence based strategies, methods and tools to achieve inclusive, equitable and sustainable solutions for development challenges at local, national and international levels. NRMC works with national and state government agencies, bilateral and multilateral agencies, NGOs and research agencies to strengthen delivery of services for the poor and marginalized at scale; support sectoral engagement and policy advocacy; augment the capacity of sectoral partners; build knowledge base and products; and enhance efficiency of investment.

About GSF

Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) is a pooled global fund of the Geneva based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council that helps people to access sustainable sanitation services and facilities and adopt good hygiene practices. GSF is working in India from 2010-2015 in select districts in the states of Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand. The programme strategy is to support and strengthen the national sanitation programme – the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) and its goal of achieving Open Defecation Free status for all Gram Panchayats by 2019. NRMC is the Executing Agency of Global Sanitation Fund in India.