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.

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.

blog 6

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.

Blog 5

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.
Blog 3

Blog 2

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