Viability of urban community-based sanitation enterprises

Live & Learn’s support to community-based sanitation enterprises in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, PNG and Fiji, has entered its final year. The program is testing the effectiveness of a contextualised sanitation marketing approach in Pacific Island Countries, and the potential for this approach to be replicated in other Pacific Island Countries. The approach uses a combination of market based mechanisms (small businesses) and behaviour change techniques to address the sanitation challenge. The project is the first attempt to pilot the use of sanitation marketing in peri-urban settlements in Pacific Island Countries.

The main motivator for piloting the sanitation marketing approach is the acknowledgement that many previous attempts to improve sanitation in the Pacific region have failed to create local ownership of the issue and solution. Positive sanitation improvement outcomes have been achieved by projects, but results were often not sustained due to sanitation infrastructure not being maintained, with the most significant factor being lack of ownership. Using market based mechanisms can help to increase local ownership and rapidly scale-up the reach of activities to improve sanitation in a shorter period of time with efficient use of financial resources.

Live & Learn established eight Community-Based Sanitation Enterprises (CBSEs) in urban and peri-urban informal settlements to improve sanitation within these communities. Live & Learn also worked with government departments and private sector agents to create an enabling environment for these enterprises to succeed and thrive.

An external review found that the CBSEs are demonstrating potential for long- term financial viability. A significant improvement in CBSE performance (sales, marketing activity, staff motivation and confidence) has been observed during in the first half of 2017 across all project sites. The eight CBSEs are currently actively trading and their businesses have products, construction capacity, prices, marketing tools, business plans and staff with sufficient knowledge and confidence to operate the business.

Sanitation marketing is the application of relevant social and commercial marketing practices to change behaviour and increase the demand and supply for improved sanitation facilities.  It includes raising community demand for improved sanitation facilities. This community demand is then met through the products and services sold by the sanitation enterprises.

Significant progress has been made by the eight CBSEs since their inception, with sales of sanitation and hygiene products and services increasing in each of the locations. Diversification of products and services to meet market demand is one of the areas the businesses are looking at to enhance their longer-term sustainability.

The review found that all CBSEs have scope to diversify their product and service offering and have already diversified their product mix with both sanitation and non-sanitation products, and hygiene consumables.

Product diversification has been in four main categories:

  1. New products produced by the CBSE that leverage their existing construction skills
  2. Reselling WASH and hardware products
  3. Reselling hygiene consumable products
  4. New services – Leveraging construction skills, sales skills or reputation

CBSEs have to function as a business, but they also provide social benefits to the communities where they are based, including:

  • employment opportunities
  • improved sanitation facilities
  • improved hygiene and sanitation knowledge
  • a range of skills training for community members

As customer safety and requirements, and sanitation facility practicality and affordability are key considerations for the enterprises, the businesses offer a standard set of toilet designs which can be adjusted to meet customer cost and design needs.  Discussions with potential customers also consider access and use by people living with a disability, safety of women and children, and consideration of hazards and environmental issues in toilet location.

Live & Learn staff work closely to help increase the capacity of CBSE management and staff through action-oriented training and mentoring linked to actual business activities the CBSEs are undertaking. Through this mentoring the CBSE personnel are gradually gaining the confidence to use their new knowledge and skills with less and less support from Live & Learn staff.

This model of sanitation marketing in peri-urban locations is a new approach in the South Pacific and has been developed from experiences of similar programs in other locations, with due consideration to contextual differences, and lessons learnt. This article is an introduction to a series of blog posts that Live & Learn will share over the final months of the project that highlight the lessons learned in our approach to sanitation marketing captured through monitoring and evaluation reports.

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