Partnerships are key to scaling sustainable sanitation solutions – Highlights from The Global Sanitation Economy Summit 2019

The Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities team, represented by Radhika Sarin, was in Pune to attend the Global Sanitation Economy Summit last month. The Summit brought together 400 participants including sanitation businesses, investors, development agencies, government and leaders in this space to share global best practices for improving access to sanitation services. The Summit showcased innovative business models for stakeholders to invest in the future.

Expanding on some of the challenges faced by sanitation service providers and barriers to scale discussed in GSMA’s World Toilet Day blog series, there was emphasis on the importance of public private partnerships in achieving SDG 6. The Toilet Board Coalition also took us on a tour of Pune’s Smart City Operations Centre, demonstrating the role of digital solutions in managing cities. This blog shares some of our takeaways from the event and how technology can play a role in accelerating the process.

Government as a catalyst for private sector engagement

In October 2019, India was declared ‘open defecation free’. The success of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is evidence of how government can lead transformation to improve the lives of millions. The SBM is a government-led cleanliness campaign aimed at making India open defecation free through the provision of sanitation infrastructure and country-wide behaviour change initiatives. Parameswaran Iyer, Secretary for the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, highlighted the intrinsic linkages between water and sanitation service delivery and the need for integrated interventions. He also emphasised the four P’s for successful implementation of any policy: Political leadership, Public financing, Partnerships and People’s Participation.

The government is now moving beyond providing toilets to further focus on toilet usage, waste management and water sustainability. The Government of India launched the Jal Jeevan Mission (Water is Life Mission) in August 2019 which aims to drive household piped water connections from 18 per cent to 100 per cent coverage in five years. The Secretary also stressed the role of emerging digital water and sanitation services in meeting the SDG targets and declared that the government should take the lead and be the ‘first adopter of digital solutions’.

Parameswaran Iyer, Secretary – Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, sharing best practices from the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Pune Municipal Corporation – India’s first Smart Sanitation City

A field-visit to the Pune Smart City Operations Centre demonstrated how technology can transform the way municipalities operate. Under the Smart City initiative, Pune has developed a suite of digital tools including an e-governance tool, a public emergency system, a flood monitoring system, and an intelligent traffic database. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) also uses digital tracking to run a network of Mobile Toilets, called Ti Bus, which are toilets in a movable bus that are exclusively for women in densely populated areas of the city. The PMC uses sensors to monitor the footfall in these toilets across various sites, allowing them to plan the routes of these buses better and ensure maximum utilisation. The sensors also monitor the humidity and light in the toilets to ensure customers have access to clean toilets at all times.

The PMC’s Ti Bus giving participants a demo

Investing in the Sanitation Economy

The Sanitation Economy is a robust marketplace of products and services, renewable resource flows, data and information that could transform future cities, communities, and businesses. The Toilet Board Coalition estimates the Sanitation Economy to be a $62 billion market opportunity in India alone by 2021. While the market opportunity is significant, investments in this sector have been slow. This is largely because of the risks associated with sanitation businesses – payment delays, poor credit history and regulations. So, what can sanitation entrepreneurs do to raise capital? Impact investors such as Water Equity, Response Ability, Aavishkaar and Grameen Capital unanimously agreed on the importance of pitching a good story and demonstrating the ability to ‘execute well’ as what they look for in investees.

There was a strong emphasis on blended finance solutions, results-based or policy-based loans, loan portfolio guarantees and development funds in unlocking commercial finance for sanitation service providers. Blended finance will be required in the short-term to enable the investment needed in capital costs to build sanitation infrastructure. Financing the Sanitation Economy also extends to end-users. Maria Angelica Sotomayor, from the World Bank Water Global Practice, drew parallels on how the sanitation sector can learn from the mobile industry who have managed to provide customers with the financing needed to purchase a phone and use mobile services successfully.

Exploring the sanitation marketplace

The Summit brought together sanitation service providers from all over the world. There were some interesting solutions for contexts lacking sewerage networks, including some past GSMA M4D Utilities grantees and others:

Sanergy – Sanergy designs, manufactures and distributes low-cost, high-quality sanitation facilities, called Fresh Life Toilets, in Kenya. This is a container-based solution where the waste is collected hygienically in safe containers and then transported for treatment and recycling. Read our blog highlighting how Sanergy has leveraged mobile solutions to achieve scale.

Loowatt – provides access to waterless flush toilets in developing markets. In May 2015, Loowatt received a grant from the GSMA M4D Utilities Innovation Fund to develop a mobile app to track its waste collection processes, collect payments with mobile money and communicate better with its customers. In May 2018, Loowatt received a second grant, as part of the Container Based Sanitation Alliance (CBSA), to help expand and improve its mobile app and web-based platform to support the efficient delivery of household sanitation services. Watch our video case study on Loowatt to learn more.

Sanivation – Sanivation is converting the human waste from toilets into clean-burning briquettes. They are also a part of the Container-Based Sanitation Alliance, which is supported by M4D Utilities.

Tiger Toilets – a vermifiltration-based sewage treatment technology that can treat sewage and faecal waste on-site, effectively and completely. Vermifiltration is a liquid state vermin-conversion process to treat sludge and domestic and industrial wastewater by the introduction of earthworms.

Gather – uses location intelligence to help municipal decision makers identify where to prioritise investment in sanitation for low-income communities.

David Auerbach, Co-founder,Sanergy presenting the solution for cities and the need for public-private partnerships.

We would like to thank the Toilet Board Coalition for successfully convening stakeholders across the global sanitation ecosystem and facilitate sharing best practices.

The GSMA Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), USAID as part of its commitment to Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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