Acumen Blog

P6160055

Grassroots Solutions To Tackle India’s Sanitation Problem

Nagaraja Prakasam is an Acumen India Partner and an independent Director at GUARDIAN. He is also a full-time angel investor and recently founded the Impact arm of the Indian Angel Network. 

New data released by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) earlier this year has once again underlined the woeful state of sanitation in India, especially in rural areas where two-thirds of our population lives. According to the NSSO, less than 32% of rural Indians have their own toilets and only 9% more have some form of access through communal arrangements. These abysmal numbers make India an outlier when it comes to sanitation issues even among developing countries. Of the estimated billion people who defecate in the open, more than half reside in India.

As an independent director at Gramalaya Urban and Rural Development Initiatives and Network (GUARDIAN), the world’s first MFI to give microloans for acquiring household water and sanitation assets, I spend a significant amount of my time travelling through rural Tamil Nadu to better understand how access to water and sanitation facilities can be enhanced in these areas. My most recent visit took me to a small village in the Tiruchi district which is where Gramalaya, the non-profit parent organization of GUARDIAN, set up the Center of Technology and Training more than two decades ago.

P6160055

Nalini, who showed me around the Center has been working there as a researcher for the past 15 years despite having little formal education. She explained that the ventilation pipes connected to leach-pit toilets kill the anaerobic bacteria needed to convert the feces into compost, so you need a drainage truck to empty the tank once it’s full. I was most fascinated to learn about eco-friendly toilet design though, one of which consists of an airtight model with double pits. The toilet can be connected to the second pit once the first one is full, allowing the first pit to naturally let the anaerobic bacteria grow over a period of 6 or so months. By the time the second pit is full, the compost from the first can be emptied and used in the farmers’ fields. Speaking to Nalini helped me realize that we often over-complicate things by not letting nature take its natural course.

twinpit1

The Center serves as a one-stop knowledge base for the design and construction of different models of toilets for visitors, including masons, villagers from nearby communities, NGO representatives and government officials. The models on display vary based on several factors including affordability, availability of space and water, geographical conditions, cultural habits, and access to skilled manpower. In addition to waterless toilets, the center even showcases the design of zero-budget toilets that can be built using locally available materials such as banana leaves, bamboo sticks and gunny bags.

By empowering individuals to construct their own low-cost, location specific and culturally appropriate toilets backed by GUARDIAN’s loans when needed, Gramalaya provides rural low-income households the choice and means to improve their lives resulting in better health outcomes and increased productivity. India can thus find the inspiration to solve its sanitation crisis in individuals like Nalini who are effectively bringing accessible and affordable solutions to the last mile.

Comments

Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]

DE-BUNKING THE BURDEN MYTH: IMPACT DATA GOES LEAN

Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

Questions for Aspiring Leaders

Bavidra Mohan, Acumen’s India Fellows Manager, attended this years Aspen IDEAS festival as a Scholar. The Scholarship program was established to invite guests from around the world to bring a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives to the rich conversations that take place at the IDEAS festival each year. [Read More]

Give Impact Investing Time and Space to Develop

Impact investing has captured the world’s imagination. Just six years after the Rockefeller Foundation coined the term, the sector is booming. An estimated 250 funds are actively raising capital in a market that the Global Impact Investing Network estimates at $25 billion. Giving Pledge members described impact investing as the “hottest topic” at their May 2012 meeting, and Prime Minister David Cameron extolled the potential of the sector at the most recent G8 summit.  Sir Ronald Cohen and HBS Professor William A. Sahlman describe impact investing as the new venture capital, implying that it will, in the next 5 to 10 years, make its way into mainstream financial portfolios, unlocking billions or trillions of dollars in new capital. [Read More]

10 Books We’re Reading This Summer

What are you reading? It is a common question here at Acumen, an organization full of avid readers constantly trading favorite book titles that discuss leadership, impact, development and branding. Here are 10 stellar books we’re reading this summer. These books and others provide a framework of thinking, a spark of new ideas, a platform for debate. So, what are you reading? [Read More]

How Acumen Brought Back my Fire

Eda is an East Africa Regional Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya and is the Founder and Director of Halisi Trust, an organization that seeks to challenge the vices that plague society and encourage transformational development in Kenya’s youth. When Eda applied for the East Africa Fellows Program, she felt disillusioned and stuck. Below, Eda discusses how Acumen’s Regional Fellowship Program brought back her fire. Now, Eda has engaged nearly 6,000 people through outreach events and the Mkenya Halisi movement continues to grow. Acumen is currently accepting applications for the next class of East Africa Fellows. APPLY TODAY! [Read More]

Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]