How partnerships and lean start-ups could be the answer to improved sanitation

Published on: 11/05/2018




How partnerships and lean start-ups could be the answer to improved sanitation

There has been significant development in improved sanitation access across the globe, yet it remains one of the biggest challenges to sustainable development today. A more effective, efficient and inclusive sanitation market needs to be created to serve the 2.3 billion people globally who lack basic sanitation services.

Most of the underserved live in crowded urban dwellings or in remote rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Increased efforts and funding in these regions, namely through partnerships between private and public entities (PPPs) and lean start-up approaches, are required to help meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 6.

Partnering with the private sector

In Ghana, where just 14% of the population has access to basic sanitation , the development agency USAID has recognised the importance of engaging with the private sector. It leads various projects in the African nation, where it works with local and international development partners.

The USAID West Africa Sanitation Service Delivery Project (SSD) looks to implement business models that focus on on-site household sanitation and faecal sludge management. It partners with the private sector, governments and consumers in Ghana, as well as Benin and the Ivory Coast, to build the capacity of the private sector to produce and market different sanitation technologies.

These PPPs have played a significant role in strengthening the agency’s market-based projects, allowing staff and beneficiaries to leverage considerable financial and technological resources to address the sanitation challenge more effectively.

Part of its five-year WASH for Health initiative, USAID has also piloted an affordable, comfortable, easy-to-install and easy-to-clean plastic latrine in Ghana, called the Digni-Loo. Depending on its success, USAID intends to partner with the private sector to introduce it throughout West Africa.

Meeting the needs of the consumer

Many efforts made by national governments to improve urban sanitation have focused on large infrastructure projects, which do not serve low-income households. Projects like USAID’s employ a lean start-up approach, whose priority is to understand the needs of the final consumer1.

Focusing on an iterative loop, much like design thinking or user research, the process includes market research, identifying opportunities and user profiling, to build and continuously develop a solution that meets the consumer’s needs before taking it to scale2.

Successful sanitation solutions supported by TRANSFORM, such as Sanivation and Sanergy, are user-centric and rely on feedback to ensure the sanitation needs of low-income households are being met.

Lessons to consider

While PPPs and the lean start-up approach provide ways to help improve sanitation access for underserved households, there are some points to bear in mind:

  • The input of low-income communities is critical to develop sanitation options that are both attainable and meet their needs.
  • Shared and subscription latrines are viable alternatives for those living in urban dwellings, where land constraints impede them from investing in sanitation.
  • To build a market for toilets and increase demand for improved sanitation, it is necessary to educate low-income markets on the links between sanitation and health, such as through in-person demonstrations or radio campaigns.
  • Micro-financed mobile money is an effective way to enable low-income populations to afford access to a toilet.
  • How do we make sanitation profitable? One of the key challenges of the sector is to learn about new innovative models for sanitation that generate revenue, and are cost-effective so that business can be the future.

These key aspects could serve as the basis of a successful market-based sanitation solution, and is one of the challenges that TRANSFORM wants to solve. If you have an idea that could meet the needs of underserved markets, please submit your application in our Open Call!

Medium, Seeking new ways to expand sanitation for the urban poor in West Africa:

Startup Geist, The beginner’s guide to lean startups: