Gender inequality- The unfortunate reality for developing communities.

 

When people say “we’ve already beaten gender inequality” this list of gender issues immediately comes to mind…

Domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, lack of access to education, arranged marriage, anti-abortion laws, rape culture, media sexualisation, gender roles, the glass ceiling, parental leave policies, sex trafficking, under representation in politics, breastfeeding in public, sexual harassment, women in sport, women in tech, body image, restricted freedom, honor killings.

An uncomfortable list, yet we clearly need to start somewhere. For many women in sub-Saharan Africa, the reality is that they must overcome barriers to education before they can aim for equality in other important realms. Nelson Mandela wishfully philosophised that

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

But globally, 65 million girls are not in school (Unicef 2013). So something has to change. We need people in communities to help break down the barriers preventing girls from the opportunity of education.

Menstruation prevents many girls from attending school. A girl who misses school due to menstruation for four days each month loses 156 learning days throughout four years of high school. Health advancements to support girls with menstruation could give them back 24 weeks of education. This would give them a more equal chance at education as their male peers.

Petal pads

‘Petal’ is one of three enterprises in the WSV portfolio. The micro-enterprise trains small groups of local people to become entrepreneurs and empower themselves and their communities by running a Petal franchise where they supply their communities with re-usable sanitary towels. As well as this, they educate their community on menstruation for free, as ‘87% of girls are completely unaware about menstruation and have no knowledge regarding its purpose as a biological process.’ (Unicef, 2012). This education breaks down the stigma and barriers that menstruation has historically caused for girls across the world.

When we provide a solution to one problem, such as menstruation stigma, we often provide solutions to multiple other gender issues. In the case of ‘Petal’, local women, and where possible men, are included in the process and are empowered to start a business together. This may address traditional gender roles in their communities, putting women on a more equal footing with the men. Furthermore, breaking down the stigma surrounding menstruation by educating the community will benefit not only school aged girls. It will benefit adult women too; freeing them from judgement and potential discrimination.

We are still a long way from achieving real gender equality. But the good news is that social enterprise ‘Petal’ is effective and ready to be franchised out to charities.

Sanitation is more logistics than health and safety

Most of us take toilets for granted, and sewage systems are something we don’t even think about! Yet, 2.4 billion people around the world lack access to a hygienic toilet.
The most common solution is a pit latrine. A hole in the ground with a cover and, sometimes, a structure built around it. Pit latrines are extremely smelly and unhygienic, and play a huge part in contaminating water sources and soil. They simply aren’t sustainable. Many collapse or fill quickly, meaning new toilets have to be dug or old ones emptied.
This sanitation crisis is one of the main reasons for girls dropping out of school, the lack of privacy and discretion; particularly where there are no facilities at all. This is also why we spent 4 years in the Enactus Southampton SanEco project finding a business solution to this problem. And so Roots was born.
Roots entrepreneurs build EcoSan toilets in local schools, allowing them to separate, collect and convert human waste into highly effective, 100% natural, liquid and solid fertilisers. The sale of the fertilisers helps to fund the construction of more toilets as the business grows.

This implementation in Uganda marks the start of the Million, Million, Million plan where Roots businesses will provide 1 million school children with advanced sanitation.

Building a sanitation and fertiliser business

 

Making human waste fertiliser was a new skill for our new partners (International Refugee Trust (IRT) & Organisation for Community Acton (OCA). Though they were clear on one thing… the accessible market was enormous.

OCA are experts in the daily life and struggle of a subsistence farmer. With the 132 topics covered in their Step Up programme, they leave the farmers self-sufficient and resilient within 6 years. Their knowledge of both the land and needs of the farmers is second to none. Needless to say, OCA, the farmers and the schools were excited by the potential.

 

Many people mistakenly assume waste disposal businesses are businesses of construction or chemistry, prioritising the conversion process above all. That is the easy part. Waste disposal businesses are logistics businesses. The one question is always: “How can we get more waste to our site; faster, easier and cheaper?”

The team quickly came to realise this, and when they did you could see the cogs in their brains turning as they considered and discussed everything. Geography, physical exertion, distance, time, conversion locations, transport methods, number of entrepreneurs, agreements with schools, the list goes on.

 

The result, one Roots business with 4 entrepreneurs, 2 toilets in 2 schools (with schools paying half the construction costs), removing 30 tonnes of human waste every year, and providing clean, permanent facilities to over 500 students while supplying highly effective fertilisers to feed thousands.

Little known fact: 10% of the world’s population eats food grown from human waste fertilisers – W.H.O.

The begining of the end of menstrual stigma in Lira

We take having 4 weeks in a month for granted. But, imagine getting to 12 years old and all of a sudden there are only 3 weeks in a month.

In too many communities, menstruation is a taboo subject. There is little to no advice available for girls and no access to affordable sanitary pads; forcing many to use rags or leaves which can cause the contraction of menstrual diseases. The lack of understanding results in girls feeling like they have to stay at home, missing out on as much as 25% of their education or dropping out altogether.

From Enactus’ phenomenal SanEco sanitary towel project, Petal was born. Creating entrepreneurs who make and sell reusable sanitary towels and deliver menstrual health education to everyone in the community.

Using the learnings from 4 years of implementation, we are now in Uganda training 3 organisations how to set up Petal businesses in their communities. The start of the Million, Million, Million plan where Petal businesses with support 1 million women and girls.

So the Petal training begins

The start of the day was a bit of a mad rush, preparing the sewing machines and conducting the morning Introduction to Petal session.
We had a beautiful overlock machine just back from refurbishing… and it doesn’t work. After an hour of fighting with it I jump in a jeep and set off to see the expert, expecting for a quick 10min fix, tightening or fixing some nuts. An hour later and the machine is in parts on the table in front of us… but we get it all working!

I returning to the team in full flow, adapting the Petal business to the local culture. The excitement in the room is tangible, everyone is talking about each little improvement to the business and the impact that it will create.

The second half of the day ended with the menstrual health education. It was shocking to hear some of the stigmas and stories that affect the community: Women on their menstrual cycle not allowed to carry other people’s babies… Sitting in a hole in the ground to contain the blood… and girls at school being bullied when they start menstruating; “The cow has given birth” the boys say.

Despite this, we left feeling inspired by the amazing positivity in the reaction of the men in the team and the drive to not only educate the other men but to recruit men as entrepreneurs to work alongside the women.

The result: One Petal business with 5 mixed sex entrepreneurs who will provide over 2000 women and girls with sanitary towels in its first year.

Tomorrow, we design the final enterprise in Lira. Our Roots social franchise addressing sanitation and fertiliser access.

We stand before an eager, excited crowd

Imagine…A lamp producing horrible flickering light, which produces a dark acrid smoke. You cough, but you have to finish your work, knowing that a knock of the elbow could mean the end of your home… you never use the mosquito net the local government and charities gave you from fear it will catch fire. You lived with this for years and now have dermatitis, respiratory infections and the slightest thing irritates you.

6 years ago a group of Enactus students at the University of Southampton, UK, learned that over 1 billion people in the world without access to electricity used kerosene, paraffin and other fuels for light. Kerosene is jet fuel. A Jet fuel that even the airline industry is moving away from because it is too toxic, and that’s 30,000ft up let alone in your windowless home.

This is why Right Light was born.

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Fast forward 6 years, from failure to learning, Right Light evolved. A solar lamp rental businesses undercutting the price of kerosene and providing access to solar lighting for even those living in extreme poverty (under $1.25). The Right Light final evolution created 98 entrepreneurs, most with no prior business experience, with over 1500 lamps in circulation.

Now we are here in Uganda starting the Million, Million, Million Plan with Right Light, Petal and Roots. Where Right Light businesses will provide 1 million people with clean lighting in the next 5 years.

The first day of training – Right Light

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We are in Uganda training International Refugee Trust and Organisation for Community Action on our three social enterprise models. 7 days of intense training where we will design each business.

The team were so excited for the training, it filled us with humility. They are the real experts on their community, we are here to support their work and leave sustainable, independent businesses behind.

The training went amazingly well. It worried us slightly when nobody would break from one of the activities to eat lunch. Come on guys, its 36 degrees, we have 5 hours of training left today… eat!

The day was very good fun and the result was two Right Light businesses each with 35 initial lamps with added mobile phone charging capability. This means over 460 people with access to clean lighting and over 400 people with improved and cheaper connectivity.

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Tomorrow, we design the Petal business. Which means, we make sanitary towels. It will be incredibly fun, particularly for the men… trust me.

A dive into the community.

What a sunrise! The sun rises over the savanna to great us for our first full day in Lira.

sunset

The morning started with us meeting the OCA team. The team are like a family and show so much passion and excitement for the Step Up programme they run and for the beginning of the WSV training programme. A properly awesome group of people!

With introductions done, we are loaded into an old UN 4×4 and set off to the field:

The school toilets

Our first stop a secondary school highlighted by OCA for the one of the first Roots toilets. This school with 400 boarding students, only had 4 cubicles each for boys and girls! The toilets filled up so quickly that the school has to empty them once a term, costing 1,000,000 UGX each time (for context, the average community wage is 44,000 UGX per month).

It was amazing to see the excitement as they began to understand the impact of the Roots toilets. It would mean they would have permanent, more hygienic toilets that would no longer have to empty.

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The second school we visited, showed the massive lack of communication between government and schools when they do support the building of toilets. Each cubicle had a massive metal door on the front. This not only proved to be a waste of money but also posed a potential security risk for students, in particular young girls.
This school was even more excited and is taking the Roots toilet designs to their management team this week.

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The Step Up programme

Following our visit to the local schools, we had the opportunity to meet some of the people on this amazing Step Up programme.

Step Up takes a holistic approach to development; working with subsistence farmers to empower them to realise for themselves the issues with current behaviours and supporting them to tackle fundamental issues. From sanitation and gender issues to navigating the legal system and everything in between; in total this 6 year programme has 132 topics!

The sustainability and impact of this programme is something all charities should be learning from! Self-sufficience and resilience should always be the aim of development.
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It’s about time we started talking about periods

Imagine if, for five days every month you were banished from your house and forced to go and live in a shed. You weren’t allowed to enter your house, touch another person and you even felt ashamed to attend school. It sounds barbaric doesn’t it?

Every month young girls and women all over the world are forced to separate themselves and some, live in inhumane conditions, just because they are menstruating. Cultural beliefs, poverty and social factors often prevent women from having equal, and fair treatment during their period. In certain countries periods are a taboo subject and women are often seen as dirty, diseased and unfit to carry out certain tasks. In some countries in Africa people even see menstruation as a curse! All of these social stigmas have a massive effect on the livelihoods, education and confidence of these women.

school-1007067_960_720Nina from Nepal has struggled with social restrictions surrounding her period and at just 14 years old, she is banished from her house and forced to live in a shed during her period. Nina’s family practices chhaupadi, a Nepalese tradition promoting these unhealthy values. The tradition believes; when girls are menstruating, they bring bad luck and disease into the house. They are unclean. For years during their periods Nina and her mother have been forced to live in squalid conditions and this has often led to sickness and depression.

Social factors are only part of the problem. For some women, living in poor communities across the world, sanitary products are often expensive and hard to source. Instead of using hygienic methods, some have to resort to using pieces of cut up cloth or leaves to manage their menstruation. These methods are unclean and unreliable, leading to sickness and girls being embarrassed to attend school. According to the Girl Effect, 30% of girls living in Nepal skip school during their period. This is simply, not ok.

Enactus Southampton have created a sustainable solution to help eradicate some of these issues. ‘Petal’ (formerly SanEco Pads), are a new collection of reusable sanitary towels. The pads will enable women to regain their lives during menstruation and the discrete protection will help girls and women to feel more confident about dealing with their period in a hygienic way. We aim for girls to feel more assured about attending school and happy to carry out their day-to-day lives, knowing they have full protection. The enterprises are run by, and for people in communities making this a truly sustainable solution. The pads are designed to last for years and are less than 10% the price of alternative conventional pads.

Alongside the reusable sanitary pads Petal entrepreneurs also provide free education to women and where possible, men in the hope to educate communities about menstrual hygiene and remove any social stigmas surrounding menstruation.

pads widescrean

It’s crazy to think that we still tackling these issues in 2016, but period stigma still exists! Although girls are now able to access more of the resources they need, there’s no doubt we have a long way to go until everyone has access to clean menstrual sanitation. Education is helping rid the social problems surrounding periods, and during their periods girls are feeling more valued and respected than ever before. There are however numerous countries women are still treated differently on their periods.

Lets spread the word and together end period problems!

 

By Emma Taylor

Right Light’s Big Step Into The Future

 

It is safe to say Right Light has achieved incredible success since its inception back in 2010. It was born out of the selflessness of individuals, with the sole purpose of doing good and helping to make the world a better place.

Sustainability has always been at the very core of Right Light and in all our operations, along with our social entrepreneurship values. We have created a business that is not only sustainable, but has had huge social impact in East Africa.

To this day we have created a network of over 200 entrepreneurs renting out over 1000 solar lamps every single day. This has greatly reduced the amount of kerosene used in the areas we work in, eliminating the serious threat it poses to everyone’s health.

Keldon

Given the size of our operations, we are starting to face challenges that are not necessarily beyond our capacities as students, but certainly require full-time dedication. This dedication will see the project scale up to become a fully-fledged business operating as its own entity.

I am therefore very happy to say that the project is being handed over to Wessex Social Ventures (WSV) – a social impact accelerator that specializes in building ideas and projects into sustainable social businesses. WSV brings together expertise from various social organisations, corporates and their experienced advisory team. This collaboration forms a network committed to using individual skills to accelerate businesses that create significant social benefit.

I would thus like to take this opportunity as the last Project Leader of this fantastic project, to thank all previous team leaders and team members for their hard work and incredible dedication that has gotten the project to where it is today! Nothing would have been possible without any of you, and don’t take this statement lightly! I would like you all to join me in wishing WSV good luck with Right Light, and keep a close eye on this project, as I am certain it will grow to achieve great things!

Andreas Ostrovsky
Right Light Project Leader
Enactus Southampton

A community solution to sanitation

With the launch of the SDGs, a far more ambitious and complete set of goals than the MDGs, we must think beyond designing bespoke solutions to address a single issue.

The world is a complex network of causes and effects, where any ‘cause’ can create multiple ‘effects’ across multiple systems. Society is constructed in this causal way. This is why the SDGs greatly impact one another, therefore in order to solve the SDGs in the most effective way, we need to implement solutions which tackle one SDG by solving another.

The problem of inadequate sanitation plagues 2.4 billion people around the world. It is an issue where a solution that can scale and be sustainable in communities living on less than $3 a day, has been elusive. Or so people have thought. In actual fact the solution has existed for years in one form or another, and it took a group of enterprising students from Enactus Southampton to piece the puzzle together.

The solution is simple, solve the need of an individual and thus incentivise them to solve the needs of their community.

After piloting this solution for 3 years, myself and my co-founder have forgone the traditional employment routes to set up Wessex Social Ventures (WSV) a vehicle to scale this and other social solutions.

How our solution works

A large proportion of communities facing this challenge are rural communities, where developing infrastructure is incredibly difficult and costly, thus the poor sanitation leads to the contamination of nearby water sources, agricultural land and livestock. However these communities being rural means they have an increased dependence on subsistence lifestyles. Our solution uses the local farming industry and the challenges it faces to create a sustainable solution.

Roots micro-enterprises build bespoke EcoSan toilets which replace pit latrines in accessibility, cleanliness and longevity. The toilets allow the collection and conversion of human waste into 100% natural fertilizer. The fertiliser is distributed to local farmers and can be used for everything from small crops to fish farming.

The entrepreneurs work together in cooperatives allowing them to specialise, they are then provided with a micro-finance loan to start the business. Working with local labourers they construct our multi-cubicle design in schools, providing permanent and hygienic facilities, which are proven to enhance learning environments. This is especially pertinent for young girls. One of the primary reasons for girls dropping out of school is a lack of privacy and discretion, particularly when there are no toilet facilities at all.

Additionally, many governments are imposing higher standards on schools. Many schools without the funding or support required to meet the standards are put at risk of being shut down, something we have seen in both Kenya and Zambia. The EcoSan toilets offer a sustainable solution that prevents school closure and delivers permanent sanitation at a fraction of the cost to governments and schools who fund pit latrine construction.

The solution is simple, build a hygienic toilet that allows waste to be collected and thus prevent environmental contamination, however it is the business that sustains and grows the impact. The revenue from selling fertiliser lifts the entrepreneurs above the local living wage. This means the entrepreneurs are dedicated to the delivery of the solution and provides a tangible incentive for maintaining and improving the hygiene and quality of the toilets.

The sale of the fertiliser not only provides an incentive, but also the capital required to maintain the toilets and to invest into the construction of new toilets to grow the entrepreneurs business whilst simultaneously improving the communities sanitation.

This solution has been piloted and continuously adapted for the past 3 years in 3 Kenyan communities. During which the fertiliser was as low as 20% the cost of artificial or animal alternatives and resulted in a 3x increase in crop yield on land previously using artificial fertilisers, which were expensive and too often fake. The entrepreneurs themselves were able to afford their children’s school fees and supply textbooks. To add context many schools have a textbook to student ratio of 1:5 or higher.

Replicating the success

After these incredible results the next challenge was how to replicate this micro-enterprise solution in more communities. For this we kept the same reasoning that birthed the solution. What need can we solve that will result in the replication of the solution and that can sustain a workforce?

We also identified the most important aspect of replicating these solutions was the relationship and understanding with the local community, something which takes years to build.

With these two issues in mind the answer became clear, social franchising to NGOs who already have the established relationships with communities and knowledge of local culture.

Raising donations is becoming increasingly difficult, sustainability of operations and solutions is a real industry need. Moreover, many NGOs employ hand-outs as a form of aid, this is not only expensive but unsustainable and creates the adverse effect of forming dependency cultures in communities, who become accustomed to the free products/services. To solve this need, we provide NGOs with training, ongoing support and a complete set of packs which detail everything required to set up these enterprises.  This change from hand outs to micro-enterprise creation significantly increases the impact of an investment, particularly as it is returned to the NGO through micro finance loan repayments.

“At WSV we aim to revolutionise the way we provide aid, through communities addressing their own local problems through sustainable businesses supported by a global network.”

For more information on the pilot project view the video presentation here.

Bradley Heslop FRSA
Director
Wessex Social Ventures