Thematic Discussion Series: Innovations in WASH, SuSanA India Chapter

  • steemer
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Re: Thematic Discussion Series: Innovations in WASH, SuSanA India Chapter

I will write a few words from the point of view of the innovator / inventor. I have developed a portable device for personal hygiene in disaster and emergency conditions: a hand-washing tap, a shower and a bidet / shattaf in one device that I named HandyShower. It is designed in accordance with the guidelines of Oxfam and IFRC published on the website in the part: Household Handwashing Device. It is small, easy to use, durable and water-saving. I already have a working prototype and I would like to test them in real conditions. Although I have many contacts to people who deal with this problem on a daily basis (obtained at WoldWaterWeek in Stockholm or Aidex in Brussels), I have a serious problem to persuade someone to test and share their comments. From the point of view of the inventor, the most important thing is the user's assessment. Why it is so difficult to persuade humanitarian organizations to test new products. How to overcome this barrier?
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  • Paramita
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Re: Thematic Discussion Series: Innovations in WASH, SuSanA India Chapter

Thank you all for your insights. I have tried to sum it up:
I understand from the discussion thread that, if innovations in WASH have to be sustained, the innovator has to not only have enough recognition but also some kind of financial gain, though commercialization should not be the main driver; the innovations should take feedback from the users and the behavior change demanded should not be too big and existing beliefs have to be taken into consideration. Process innovation plays a big role in the WASH sector, which is tough due to the fact that various moving parts have to be orchestrated.
Would be happy to get perspectives from those involved in policy making and monitoring implementation on ground.
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  • Nilanjana
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Re: Thematic Discussion Series: Innovations in WASH, SuSanA India Chapter


This is regarding the invitation to inputs sent by you to Dr. Kaustuv Bandyopadhyay (PRIA) regarding your thematic discussion on innovations in WASH. I, Nilanjana Bhattacharjee, will be responding on behalf of PRIA. While I have registered on your website, somehow my login has not been activated. I am therefore, attaching my reply on this email (see below) in the hope that it contributes to the discussion fruitfully.

Nilanjana Bhattacharjee


Dear friends,
The very helpful and insightful introduction to this discussion identifies the main actors of WASH ecosystem to comprise government organisations, donors, private sector, academia, NGOs, social enterprises, innovators and entrepreneurs. I would like to introduce another main actor, a direct stakeholder – the communities. The people.

It was also mentioned in the introduction to the topic that for the expansion of the WASH infrastructure, services and its scale, the support from innovative technology and business solutions was needed. However, all kinds of innovations, especially external in nature such as technology, must be embedded in a community’s social infrastructure to be functional. The community must be ready, aware and able to understand and respond to such innovations. There needs to be a social infrastructure in place for a settlement of any kind to absorb physical as well as technical innovations. Empowering communities to be the partners, if not producers, in innovation and spreading agency, understanding, knowledge and power horizontally would enable sustainable change of any kind.

Borrowing from this belief, PRIA identifies one of the pertinent barriers to WASH related innovations as the missing link of people, of communities in it. The most significant aspect of SBM-U or even the universalisation of sanitation services is the demand from people. So far, however, the approach has been sporadic or unevenly sprawled where government efforts have been dominantly supply driven. For example, Municipalities have asked for applications to supply toilet creation. Even if we go with this simplistic approach of supply to sporadic demand, the campaigns for the same on behalf of the local governments have been more ‘visible’ or present in relatively better off areas in cities. Not enough campaigns have been taken up where sanitation services are acutely lacking, not enough informal settlements have been included in such campaigns. Furthermore, the supply focussed approach has created physical infrastructures such as toilets, many of which are in areas with no drainage/ water connectivity. Such “toilets” are now being used by the homeless of poor communities as shelters for their entire families.

One of the ways PRIA worked with this issue was to adopt the approach of nurturing communities (especially informal settlements) and their organisation in a manner that they not only generate demand but also ensure that utilisation is high. The idea was to carve an approach in which the behaviour change component is inherent and not external. This was done by setting up Settlement Improvement Committees (SICs) across all informal settlements (slums) in Jhansi, Ajmer and Muzaffarpur. Through these SICs of locally recruited leaders, PRIA aimed to facilitate a more holistic approach to the demanding of WASH as well as other types of basic services by socially aware community members themselves. Especially keeping in mind the indispensable need to organise the urban poor, our processes through the SICs were aimed at the formation of local institutions that identify and advocate for the interests and needs of the urban poor. 250 SICs were formed under PRIA’s Engaged Citizens Responsive City project and these SICs are developed as well as managed by the residents of each settlement. Instead of supply driven imposition of behaviour change, the SIC process focussed on indigenous knowledge and solutions of local problems to ensure community ownership of the settlement’s sanitation system and the sustainability of this innovation. There was a conscious effort to involve local residents, youth and women as members of these committees to find solutions through local knowledge, practices and needs by working with other institutions.

SIC members along with local resident enumerators surveyed their respective settlements, applied their generational knowledge for resource mapping, used mobile-based technology to generate authentic data about the current situation of settlements with respect to access to sanitation services. The generation of data by the communities themselves ensured the sustainability of positive changes unlike enumerations conducted by third party institutions which are divorced from the intricacies of contextual realities. It also led to amplified awareness generation.

These local committees or organisations are being strengthened not only through meetings but participatory activities such as Participatory Settlement Enumeration, transect walks and regular validation of current status versus initial benchmark of sanitation services. These organisations, after having generated and analysed their data, are also preparing proposals which articulate their demands to the municipalities and local leaders based on their needs. These processes and follow-ups are a part of a demand based and locally aware citizens of informal settlements – filling a huge gap of the lack of awareness and creating behaviour change out of the simple strategy of change in partnership with the community members themselves. PRIA’s role was limited to facilitation and technical knowledge, but the identification of problems, generation and evaluation of data, and consequent articulation of demands came from the people who decided to be active partners of development instead of passive recipients.

Sanitation and WASH related realities, especially in peri-urban areas are deeply grounded in traditional practices. These are influenced by gender, caste, class which become barriers of such innovations. While it is challenging to address these age-old customs and practices, this is where organising communities by a third party (in this case, PRIA) to create a safe deliberation forum such as SICs, help in detaching the space of discussion from power dynamics just enough, where all are seen as equally knowledgeable while keeping its roots in local realities.

The equal agency of voice given to each SIC from different neighbourhoods ensure the representation of all types of people from all social intersectionalities. The representation translates to equal power when each individual household has a role to play in the data generation and validation process. The inclusive nature of the processes help democratically negotiate sanitation issues among all settlements and come up with solutions together. While technical knowledge and solutions of WASH can be accessed through third party experts, the active association and consideration of the people, who are the direct stakeholders, and their increased interaction with local governments is the only way to ensure the sustainability and future innovations of WASH.

The barrier to any innovation is its scaling- up and sustainability. The social innovation of SICs can be the foundation on which the physical and technical and be formed to secure a functional, sustainable and inclusive sanitation system.
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  • vipul
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Re: Thematic Discussion Series: Innovations in WASH, SuSanA India Chapter

Dear all,

I feel the key problem that WASH innovators face is towards building business models that are not only commercially viable but also inclusive. Most of the revenue models are dependent on user fees or where the customer is also the consumer which limits financial viability considering there is a large segment of the users with limited “ability to pay” which is further compounded by problem around “willingness to pay”. Another factor is this sector has provided services for free, or given subsidies, that makes building a business case that much harder. Take the SBM subsidy of toilets for instance.

Private enterprises should innovate to diversify their revenue model by layering varied revenue streams; however, barriers exist beyond the firm’s business model. These include a limitation on demand/market data and insights, high cost and inefficient last mile distribution, low population density in case of rural areas, limited availability of low-cost capital, ULB approach, and procurement challenges to find and work with innovators and develop viable engagement models etc.

Most of the innovations in WASH at the moment are early stage and there is a limitation on how they can participate in ULBs procurement process. Either the innovations are not proven at a large scale to be attractive to an ULB or they do not have the history, both financially as well as in implementation, to meet the strict procurement guidelines of the ULBs. Also, as stated above, its critical for innovations to have business models that are both commercially viable as well as inclusive for it to align with priorities and commitments of ULBs. In cases, where innovators have come together to work with the ULBs, the efficiency and effectiveness of such partnerships haven’t been very encouraging. The problem companies not working with ULBs to fund innovative a solution through CSR initiatives is a classic chicken and egg problem.

I would like to seek your views on whether the availability of CSR funding attract innovations to work with the ULBs or is it the other way around where the existence of clear and defined engagements of innovators with ULBs attracts CSR funding?
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