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

How You Can Help: The Nepal Earthquake

On Saturday, April 25th, an earthquake with magnitude 7.8 shook the country of Nepal, as well as parts of northern India. Hitting south of Kathmandu, the earthquake killed more than 3,800 people and injured more than 7,100 as of Monday morning. It is the worst to hit the region in 80 years, and aftershocks and tremors continued to rock the country over the past 48 hours. [Read More]

Welcoming Naeem Zamindar as Acumen’s new Pakistan Director

We are pleased to announce Naeem Zamindar as Acumen’s new Pakistan Country Director. Naeem’s 25-year career combines experience in venture capital with multiple high-level operational and leadership roles. Naeem worked at Intel Capital in Silicon Valley, helping build companies in the digital, new media and wireless broadband space. In Pakistan, he was CEO of Wateen Telecom, where he restructured the publicly listed company, turned around the business and repositioned it for growth, to take the company from losing $2 million per month to generating $1 million in positive cash flow over a matter of three years. He was also a founding member of Pakistan’s leading telecom company Mobilink and, as a part of its senior leadership team, built a nationwide fiber-optic network through the acquisition of four companies that now form Mobilink’s broadband division. [Read More]

Catalyzing the Growth of Social Enterprises with SAP

To accelerate the growth of our social enterprises in East Africa and India, we have joined forces with global business software leader SAP. Leveraging SAP’s technology and global business expertise, this unique collaboration will bring together Acumen entrepreneurs working in different sectors and countries to deepen their business capabilities and expand access to solutions to help them address global poverty. [Read More]

Dispatch from Pakistan: Hope in Place of Fear

There is fear in the streets of Pakistan. I sit in traffic, just a few hundred feet from my hotel where my next meeting is scheduled. I could arrive at my destination in five minutes if I walked, but it is not advised to walk. On the right side of my car, four men pointing automatic weapons stand in the back of a police van. Just in front is a black SUV with four commandos in the back, each with AK-47s, I think, though I’m no expert in guns. Let’s just say they are very big and look very menacing. A few cars to the left is another gun-filled vehicle pushing other cars out of its way, presumably to join the caravan of the armed. Sirens are wailing. [Read More]

ANNOUNCING A NEW INVESTMENT, FIRST ACCESS

Acumen announces its new investment in First Access, a data analytics company improving access to formal financial services for low-income East African communities. In East Africa, only 22 percent of the population has access to formal financial services with the region’s poor having even less at 10 percent. First Access presents an opportunity to increase the ability of these low-income communities to save, manage risk responsibility, invest in such critical services as education, and ultimately rise out of poverty. [Read More]

ANNOUNCING THE 2015 PAKISTAN FELLOWS

Acumen is proud to announce the selection of our third cohort of Pakistan Fellows. After a competitive application process, we’ve chosen a diverse group of 20 leaders working in provinces across the country. This year’s Fellows are fighting poverty and changing lives across Pakistan through unique initiatives that range from advocating for vulnerable prisoners’ rights, to creating solutions to address low-quality education, to developing branchless banking channels for low-income customers, and more. Read more about each Fellow and their inspiring work below. [Read More]

Lean Data Goes Deeper

One of the most interesting questions we’re grappling with right now on the Impact team at Acumen is how to develop a more robust, rigorous, and transparent form of quantifying the social value our companies create. While I don’t believe we will ever fully understand all the social value created – and while there will always be room for debate and interpretation – I do think today we have the tools to get a lot closer to customers and hear how they value products. [Read More]