Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system (Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee)

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Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system (Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee)



Samagra's Mission is to "enable the Urban Poor lead dignified, productive and empowered lives"

Sanitation Issues in India:
Unfortunately, India accounts for 600 million of the nearly 1.1 billion people worldwide who regularly defecate in the open due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. The problem is especially acute in India's dense urban environments and women and children bear a disproportionate burden of the negative effects stemming from poor sanitation.
In urban India, while the percentage of households without toilets decreased to 18.6% in 2011 from 26.3% in 2001, the number of households without toilets increased slightly to 15 million households or roughly 75 million people. Of these individuals, roughly 25 million use public toilets that are dilapidated at best and often unhygienic while an estimated 50 million people in urban India defecate in the open everyday.

Samagra's Approach:

Samagra Sanitation is the first for-profit social enterprise in India that is dedicated to providing access to clean, safe, and reliable community toilet facilities for the urban slum-dwelling poor. What makes the model innovative is the seamless bundling of other value-added services along with the toilet block:
- Financial services (including savings accounts)
- Access to digital goods (mobile phone re-charge, TV subscription services, Bill Payment Services)
- Access to life improving Products and Services (Assisted Ecommerce)

Samagra effectively partners with municipal agencies and leverages existing community toilet infrastructure to create a community center and a “one stop shop” for slum residents. The model has proven its ability to attract and retain users to the toilet facility, promote hygienic behavior, and still achieve profitability.

As it worked to build a proof of concept, Samagra has been supported by grant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Samagra’s Founder and CEO, Swapnil Chaturvedi, was named an Ashoka Fellow in March 2014 and Acumen Fellow in November 2014, for his creativity, determination, and commitment to alleviating India’s most pressing sanitation challenges.

By providing access to community toilet facilities that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – that also double as a center of commerce and other activity – Samagra has proven it can reduce rates of open defecation and effect improved health and security for its members.

Samagra has successfully re-designed and operates 11 community toilet blocks (320 Toilet Seats) in the city of Pune, Maharashtra and currently has over 10,000+ users that are regularly using the facilities. The team now aspires to replicate this model and scale up to total of 50 toilet blocks serving over 50,000 daily users by the mid of 2016.

Why Did Samagra Start?


Platform Business Model: "Monetizing The User Engagement"

The Samagra model at its core focuses on good design and effective management of community toilet blocks. Samagra combines knowledge and expertise from a variety of discipline – human-centered design, toilet block management, personnel training and job placement, and access to value added services - to create community facilities that offer both sanitation services and access to other critical services for local slum-dwelling populations.

Evolution:
Samagra operates in India, where those who handle human waste are considered "untouchables" by society and as such people willing to work on handling the toilet waste are NOT readily available. There are also government laws that prohibit human handling of waste from dry toilets, thus rendering "canister or cartridge" model of toilet-emptying illegal.

Samagra started with a business model of converting toilet waste into biogas and thus generating revenue from the waste, but we soon realized that even discussing about toilet waste is considered taboo, let alone usage of the biogas or fertilizer produced from toilet waste. As such we realized early on that "Monetizing The Shit" business model will be very difficult to scale in India. Although all the waste from our toilet blocks gets treated, we are NOT able to monetize the by-products produced from waste, except for the treated water that is used for flushing and cleaning the toilets.

2-Levels of Behavior Change:
We also found that most Slum dwellers in India consider community toilets to be a free social utility. As such users are unwilling to pay for community toilets and would rather defecate in open. Most often the toilets relying of User Fee for revenues often fail to sustain operations.

We realized that we will have to bring 2-levels of behavior change in order to promote sanitation in urban slum communities while making O&M of community toilets self-sustainable.

1. Converting Non-Users into Users
2. Converting Non-Payers into Payers

Samagra's LooRewards Platform accomplishes this in the following manner:
- The slum dwellers in the service area are free to use Samagra operated community toilet blocks. But ONLY those who pay get access to Samagra's Value Added Services as digital goods, bill payments, banking and e-commerce services etc.
By converting filthy community toilets into well-designed & clean facilities, Samagra motivates non-users to start using the toilets. And by tying REWARDS with GOOD BEHAVIORS of paying for toilet usage, Samagra is able to change social norm into "Community Toilets as a Paid Utility".

As such Open Defecation is reduced and toilet becomes self-sustainable with 6-7 Months of Operations

How Does The Model Work?
Samagra designs and operates community toilet blocks in partnership with the Municipality.
Samagra charges a monthly membership fee per household, which gives members unlimited 24/7 access. Each Block is run by a Samagra trained local entrepreneur "Loo-Preneur" and is cleaned by a cleaning executive who also cleans few other blocks nearby.

- LooRewards & LooKiosks: LooRewards essentially a loyalty program to incentivize usage of toilets by offering only paying toilet users access to services at the LooKiosk. LooKiosks act as access points manned by LooPreneurs who use Samagra's ICT enabled technology to administer the services offered through the kiosk while capturing critical user data.
The kiosk also helps execute the “LooRewards Partners” program where in Samagra ties up with local, national and online retailers to increase accessibility of quality and affordable products to the BoP using the LooKiosk infrastructure, network and resources.

- LooSavings: The model is also supplemented by LooSavings, which provides a savings account for members. This enables paying toilet users to save money in small amounts and thus acts as a buffer against late payments and helps to ensure a smooth revenue stream from the toilet block.





Few Articles About Samagra:
www.thealternative.in/business/how-samag...pune-municipalities/
www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2014/10/17/3...novations-in-health/
www.livemint.com/Leisure/LaRzXngJPb5bpWJ...oo-get-a-reward.html
www.thebetterindia.com/9971/swapnil-poop...toilets-urban-slums/

Results & Impact:
- 11 Community Toilet Blocks (320 Seats)
- 10,000+ Daily Users
- 30-50% Increase in Toilet Usage
- 600% Increase in Users Paying for toilets
- Toilets Start Breaking Even within 6 Months of Operations

Scaling Up Without Screwing Up:
Currently Samagra is adding 3-5 Community toilets blocks every month. This equates to roughly 100 Toilet seats and 5000 daily users every month.
In order to accomplish this level of scale up, we are finding that we need:
- Robust processes for Recruiting and Training the Loo-Preneurs who run these toilets as their business.
- Streamlining Logistics for Cleaning Operations
- Increased coordination with the Municipality so that Toilet Construction gets finished in time (Municipality pays for one time toilet construction and renovation costs)
- Developing Leadership team that can manage scale of operations.
- Implementation of robust financial and operational protocols

Samagra's Vision:
As it expands in 2016 alone, Samagra has the opportunity to put Pune, Maharashtra on the map as a model city for India that has perfected the community toilet block for its citizens, and also to create a “demonstration effect” in other large cities across India.

Samagra's Goal is to scale up to 300 Toilet Blocks serving over 300,000 daily toilet users by end of 2017. Meanwhile, the larger vision is to amplify Samagra's Impact by partnering with other sanitation providers and equip them with our "Toilet Management Processes & Technology" and "user engagement LooRewards Platform" that will enable these partners make their own operations sustainable.

Meanwhile we will keep bringing more and more life improving products and services through our LooRewards Platform, thus "Empowering Transformations" in urban slum communities.

We believe that Sanitation is a Wicked Problem.
Sanitation practices we know have evolved over years. The behavior is a consequence of multiple environmental factors such as infrastructure, education, lifestyles, social norms. The history associated with the problem also leads to multiple beliefs.

As such solution to sanitation lies in the use of Psychology, Technology and Business Models

What do you think?
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Re: Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee: Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system

Hi there,

Thank you for giving us an overview of the great work you are doing in Pune and beyond. The success of your business model (as well as the nomination for the Sarphati Sanitation Award) speaks to your innovative approach.

It would be great to hear a little bit more about your project. Here are some of my thoughts/questions when I read your post:

- Your focus is on community toilet facilities. What was your motivation behind this focus instead of providing toilet facilities at household level for example?

- You write about LooRewards & LooKiosks for paying users. Can you provide some examples of the services that are provided? Are these services that are only provided by the Samagra community toilet blocks? I would assume that some services are also provided elsewhere in the community, hence the question about competition (i.e. other places which offer similar services might be able to provide them for less money considering that they do not have to pay for the maintenance of the toilets – this in turn means that being able to use a toilet facility in addition to the other services provided must be seen as something that is worth paying for – or is my argument completely off?)

- Are you also focusing on hygiene education or is your focus on creating incentives for toilet usage through services not directly related to sanitation?

- In your post you also talk about sanitation as a taboo issue in India. How is this affecting the recruitment process of “Loo-preneurs”, if at all?

These are quite a lot of questions but I’m curious to learn more about your business concept and day-to-day operations. What would you regard as your biggest challenge for Samagra at this point?

Finally, I have to say that I quite like the purple color of the facilities :)

Best,
Katrin

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Re: Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee: Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system

Dear Swapnil,

I am very happy to see you describe your organisation here on the forum. And congratulations on your Sarphati awards nomination!

I have a question on how all your work is funded? I see that you must have some income coming in from the community toilets but it is all self-sustainable already (financially) or are you using external funding as well?

I see in the BMGF grant database that you had two grants from them ( www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quic...Database#q/k=samagra ):

First this one:

Samagra Off-Grid Utilities, Inc.
Date: October 2011
Purpose: to introduce clean sanitation in slums in India through a business that leverages the existing network of local entrepreneurs who exchange rechargeable batteries to also include a business of exchanging waste cartridges.
Amount: $100,000

and then this one:

Samagra Waste Management Private Limited
Date: August 2014
Purpose: to scale up to a successful working model of community toilet block management in the urban slums of India
Amount: $377,644

Could you please explain how these two grants have helped you get this off the ground? Were they instrumental to your success so far? Do you have other sources of donor-type funding as well?

Kind regards,
Elisabeth

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Re: Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee: Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system

Hi Samagra,
Congratulations on your nomination, and thanks for sharing your innovative work. Tying toilet use to other appealing services to 'empower transformation' is a creative approach. I agree with your point about sanitation being a 'wicked problem,' that requires a range of different perspectives.
Do you think that the taboos you mentioned will change over time, such as with younger generations who may see things differently?
Since your approach is quite different from many sanitation models, are there any surprising challenges that you have encountered?

Thanks and good luck!!
Sarah

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Re: Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee: Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system

Katrin,

Thank you for the comments and the interesting questions.
I apologize for the delay in my reply.
Here are the answers to your questions. In case you need more clarity, please do ask more questions:

Q 1. Your focus is on community toilet facilities. What was your motivation behind this focus instead of providing toilet facilities at household level for example?
Answer 1: Samagra focuses on the community toilets because in the slums it is NOT possible for all the residents to have Individual facilities at home. The main factors are:
- Lack of space inside houses: People usually live in 10ftx10ft shanties and do not have enough space for a household latrine.
- Lack of sewerage network or appropriate waste treatment options: People who do have space and are interested in building household toilets cannot do so because the current treatment options like Septic Tanks or Pits do not work in the slums. Due to density and space constraint people in slums find it difficult and many times impossible to get their pits or septic tanks emptied once they are full. As I have stated earlier,due to cultural taboos manual emptying of pits/tanks is NOt allowed. Until appropriate technologies are available at the household level, that enable complete digestion of the waste into harmless byproducts without the need for emptying, household latrines will NOt be viable for many slum homes. Until then, community toilets are the BEST solution.

NOTE: Having said that, Samagra is NOT averse to household latrines at all.
Our mission is to eliminate Open Defecation. Designing and Managing Community toilets is a means to an end. In fact, we are building individual toilets at the homes of out LooSavings members who have saved enough money for a household toilet and have space and sewerage network access.

**********************************************************
Q2. You write about LooRewards & LooKiosks for paying users. Can you provide some examples of the services that are provided? Are these services that are only provided by the Samagra community toilet blocks? I would assume that some services are also provided elsewhere in the community, hence the question about competition (i.e. other places which offer similar services might be able to provide them for less money considering that they do not have to pay for the maintenance of the toilets – this in turn means that being able to use a toilet facility in addition to the other services provided must be seen as something that is worth paying for – or is my argument completely off?)
Answer 2: What makes Samagra model innovative is the seamless bundling of other value-added services along with the toilet block:
- Financial services (including savings accounts)
- Access to digital goods (mobile phone re-charge, TV subscription services, Bill Payment Services)
- Access to life improving Products and Services (Assisted Ecommerce)

Samagra effectively partners with municipal agencies and leverages existing community toilet infrastructure to create a community center and a “one stop shop” for slum residents. The model has proven its ability to attract and retain users to the toilet facility, promote hygienic behavior, and still achieve profitability.

Other shops inside the community do offer some of these services - mobile top ups, television top ups etc. But they are able to cater to only a small fraction of the slum population and as such due to small volumes, their transactions costs are too high. Many of these shops are NOT able to provide offers that LooKiosks are able to. Samagra is able to generate large volumes of transactions through its ICT based platform and as such costs are lower and margins are higher.

As far as Banking and Assisted ecommerce are concerned, none of the local shops have partnerships required to facilitate these services.

**********************************************************
Q3. Are you also focusing on hygiene education or is your focus on creating incentives for toilet usage through services not directly related to sanitation?
Answer 3: Samagra believes that in order to create huge impact, we have to do 3 things:
- Build a Sustainable System
- Change The Environment
- Change The Behavior

As such we focus on hygiene education. But we have realized that only doing one-off events like handwashing workshop, menstrual hygiene workshop etc does NOt work. These events create only short term behavior change. For sustainable behavior change we need to be persistent with messaging content that people pay attention to. Therefore we do continuous education through cleverly designed messages that are delivered through our ICT and Audio based platform

**********************************************************
Q 4. In your post you also talk about sanitation as a taboo issue in India. How is this affecting the recruitment process of “Loo-preneurs”, if at all?
Answer 4: Fighting the taboos associated with toilets has been our biggest challenge. We know that
Attracting and engaging local entrepreneurs to run our looKiosks is key to scale.
We have done several experiments to be able to attract local women as our LooPreneurs because women are better then men with respect to inter-gender negotiations.
we are learning that following are key to fighting taboos and engaging loopreneurs:
- Segregation of different functions - Cleaning, Kiosks Management, Supply Chain etc
- use to "aspirational & appropriate nomenclature"
- use of appropriate technology for toilet cleaning (self cleaning, machine cleaning etc)
- use of cleverly designed communication/branding campaigns to attract loopreneurs.

We are in the early stages of finding answers and there is a lot of work to be done, but we have found several "bright spots" that point to the fact that "breakthrough" in engaging loopreneurs will come very soon.




**********************************************************

These are quite a lot of questions but I’m curious to learn more about your business concept and day-to-day operations. What would you regard as your biggest challenge for Samagra at this point?
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Re: Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee: Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system

Elisabeth,

Thank you for these questions.
My answers are provided below. I apologize for the delay in my reply)

Q 1. I have a question on how all your work is funded? I see that you must have some income coming in from the community toilets but it is all self-sustainable already (financially) or are you using external funding as well?
Answer 1. Samagra's work is funded by following funds:
- Funding provided by promoters: So far, I have invested USD 200,000 of my own money into Samagra
- Grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: As you have mentioned, the support from the BMGF has been critical for us to be able to build our model and get ready for scale.

*****************************************************
Q2: Could you please explain how these two grants have helped you get this off the ground? Were they instrumental to your success so far? Do you have other sources of donor-type funding as well?
Answers 2: BMGF grants have been not only given us critical financial resources to design, test, iterate and build Samagra's LooRewards model. Their strategic support has also been instrumental in getting several doors opened at different levels due to which we were able to establish the partnerships needed to make Samagra's model successful.

As pointed out earlier, we do not have any other funding at this point.

Samagra does generate revenues at UNIT level (toilet level) and our toilets start breaking even within 4-6 months of launch of operations. (We are trying to reduce this to 2-3 months).
But we are NOT generating enough revenue to break-even at company level.
We will start breaking even once we have 100+ toilet blocks (2000 seats) under operations

BUT WE ARE LOOKING TO RAISE OVER USD 500,000 that will enable us to meet the fund requirements until we breakeven
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Re: Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee: Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system

Sarah,

Thank you for your questions.
here are the answers. (I apologize for the delay in my reply)

Q1. Do you think that the taboos you mentioned will change over time, such as with younger generations who may see things differently?
Answers 1: Yes, we do believe that taboos related to toilets will change over time.
We believe that to be able to "render ourselves out of business" we will have to break certain social norms and establish a few new ones.
To highlight this fact, I usually give the example that "In India, its easy to piss in open rather than kiss in open".

As such, we have to follow an approach that is rooted in the understanding of how social norms are formed and how we can work towards individual and community level behavior change so that there comes a time when "using a toilet and paying for usage" becomes the norm and we do not have to be in the business forever.

Many of our Behavior change programming and content is therefore directed towards younger population so that habits start forming earlier in their lives.

[As you might agree, this is easier said than done :-)]

********************************************************************************
Q 2. Since your approach is quite different from many sanitation models, are there any surprising challenges that you have encountered?
Answers 2: Samagra's LooRewards model was developed because we saw several challenges in implementing the "Monetization of Shit" business model in India.
But as pointed out in other replies, we did face several challenges in scaling the LooRewards' "Monetization of Engagement" business model.

Interestingly, what we are finding is that our LooRewards model can be applied to ANY OF THE OTHER SANITATION models as a "Plug-N-Play".
We are developing this model so that LooRewards will enable other sanitation businesses engage their customers betters, generate more revenue, reach financial sustainability sooner and amplify their impact.
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Re: Samagra’s Story – Operating toilet blocks in India with a reward system (Sarphati Sanitation Awards 2015 Nominee)

Dear Swapnil and all,

It was really interesting to read this discussion. I had a few questions, some general and some specific to the Samagra model. My inquiries are more on operation and maintenance and community participation of these toilets.

1. In what ways is the community involved in the process apart from the IEC activities? Are they involved in day to day operations and maintenance of the toilets? Do you think this is important? What has been Samagras’ experience?

2. How important and necessary is the ownership for the toilets from the community? How do you ensure this?

3. Many times in the community toilets stealing of objects and tampering with the toilet infrastructure is observed? Does this happen in Pune too? How do you ensure this does not happen?

4. Are the Samagra toilets open 24 X 7? How big is the team managing one community toilet?

5. Who are “these loo-prenures”? How are they identified? Do they come from the community where the toilet is located?

Thanks and good luck!
Pallavi
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