A Toilet’s Journey from Market to Household

Bonnie Glick, Deputy Administrator of USAID, recently visited Ethiopia where she had the chance to meet with multiple USAID officials and grantees, including PSI’s Monte Achenbach, Chief of Party for USAID Transform WASH in Ethiopia. Achenbach answered a few questions about her visit, shedding light on the innovative methods of service delivery his team on the ground has put into place.

Why did Bonnie Glick want to see the work that Transform WASH is doing?

Bonnie Glick’s visit to Ethiopia highlighted several USAID activities funded in the country. She has a private sector background and was quite interested to see how market development approaches can achieve sustainable results.  She and her team selected two very different programmatic approaches to visit, both of which address challenges at the industrial and community scale.

Bonnie first visited a textile factory that employs female workers and uses USAID funding to ease their transition into a new industrial working environment. Afterwards, I had a chance to brief her and her team on USAID Transform WASH, a PSI-led project that builds the capacity of small businesses to offer a range of affordable WASH products and services. Through these activities, the project aims to develop the market for sanitation products in Ethiopia. This work addresses market barriers from the manufacturer level to the household level, and I demonstrated it by doing a ‘show and tell’ of a SATO pan. This is a simple, elegant product, but it faces a tough journey making a place for itself in the market.  With her private sector experience, it was clear that Bonnie understood the practical impact of these barriers on doing business and getting the products into the hands of consumers.

What were the main components of your briefing with the deputy administrator?

I wanted to present the SATO pan’s story so that the team could visualize all the obstacles it faces making its way to a household toilet.  I wanted the team to understand how this simple, inexpensive product has difficulty reaching the hands of consumers despite its much-needed ability to solve basic household problems. The difficulties start at the manufacturer level with a range of import and local manufacturing barriers, such as high customs duties, value added tax, bureaucratic red tape, foreign currency shortages, weak intellectual property ownership, onerous joint venture requirements, lack of legal arrangements for licensing and repatriating royalties…the list goes on.  And these difficulties have an impact on communities. It’s the chicken and egg conundrum: very few sanitation products are available to stimulate demand, and limited supply exists because of a lack of demand. Thus supply chains are under-developed, and few businesses have the technical skills required to install the products. I was able to show Bonnie how Transform WASH tackles these barriers and is steadily getting the results to show for it.

What about the approach did she find resonated with USAID’s priorities and future sanitation work?

Right now, the buzzword at USAID is ‘self-reliance,’ or a country’s journey to independence from foreign assistance. I believe the approach that I outlined resonated because everything we’re doing in Transform WASH is designed to build a sustainable market for WASH products and services.  I talked about our business partners’ accelerating increase in sales, which gives us every reason to believe that this market, now that it has been established, will continue to flourish without us.

Yet as I walked through the barriers that exist to introducing such products, she could see how a spark was needed to enable businesses to succeed.  The team could also see how USAID, working with PSI and other partners, plays a key role in advocating for economic policy change in favor of reducing  market barriers.  The self-reliance agenda requires policies that promote sustainability of new markets, and USAID can play an effective role in this space.

What were her impressions and comments on the market-based sanitation work that USAID and PSI are working on in Ethiopia?

Bonnie called the presentation ‘eye opening.’  She commented that it made a real difference to see the journey of a single product, like the SATO pan, and how market barriers can make or break businesses’ ability to offer it  to customers at a profit.  She was especially interested in the numbers. More specifically, are businesses making money doing this?

I went into the presentation armed with a typical revenue and expense model that our business partners can expect to see. They are offered a range of product and service packages to potential customers.  It seemed to me that the whole day made a real impression on her because we used examples of how effective and sustainable market-based approaches can be.

Learn more about the way Transform WASH is tackling the barriers facing sanitation in Ethiopia here.

Banner image courtesy of wikimedia: A SaTo toilet installed in Rwanda. The convex surface of the counter-weighted trap door retains water to ensure an air-tight seal against insects and odors.

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