By Bernard Elegbe, Director of Hygiene, Sanitation and Child Survival, ABMS
Having a high quality toilet can give families access to better health and safety as well as a feeling of pride and dignity. However, in Benin, purchasing and installing a toilet has historically been expensive and difficult. The work of small enterprises, started and run by people like Aimée, is changing the landscape, making it easier and more affordable than ever for families to buy a toilet for their home.
Aimée is a 29-year-old sanitation micro-entrepreneur, who has been living in Houéyogbé, Benin for more than twenty years. With a background and basic training in computer science, Aimée’s ultimate goal before becoming a micro-entrepreneur was to become a maintenance worker. Due to a lack of money and available resources however, Aimée could not continue with her studies and realize this dream. Before embarking on the path to becoming a micro-entrepreneur, she was working as a community sales agent for a toilet entrepreneur to raise awareness about toilet options and help families purchase toilets.
Aimée switched her sights to a new career goal almost a year ago, after becoming more familiar with the brand WC Mimin one day when a micro-entrepreneur, André, was conducting business as usual—going door-to-door to households in Benin to sell latrines. WC Mimin is a modern, pour-flush latrine brand that requires very little water. When André introduced himself to Aimée, she was impressed by the scope of work that he was doing and wanted to learn more about running her own WC Mimin business, including how to build latrines. After gaining insight into consumers’ needs and demands firsthand, she decided that she wanted to take the next step and become a micro-entrepreneur herself.
André agreed to counsel Aimée and helped to connect her with the Association Béninoise pour le Marketing Social (AMBS), PSI Benin’s network member, before proceeding to train Aimée on the ins and outs of the WC Mimin business and the scope of work as a sanitation micro-entrepreneur in the field. PSI Benin then connected Aimée with private sector financing to jumpstart her business of toilet manufacturing, while André showed Aimée the basics of this service model, including how to build and install latrines. Thanks to André’s mentorship, Aimée swiftly learned the trade and is now independently manufacturing concrete slabs and installing toilets in the city of Aplahoué.
Aimée was quick to observe that working as a WC Mimin micro-entrepreneur could be a lucrative profession for her, rather than continuing to work as a community sales agent. “The project brought me a lot in terms of income. I was able to cover my daughter’s school fees and take care of myself,” Aimée remarked. With the income she has earned from selling WC Mimin toilets, Aimée has been able to buy a motorbike, which she uses to travel to canvass clients at their homes, thus pulling in even more business and increasing her sales. Within eight months of becoming a sanitation entrepreneur, Aimée has built and installed more than 50 toilets. Over the next three years, Aimée hopes to own her own sanitation production site and several WC Mimin sales outlets.
Aimée is one of 40 micro-entrepreneurs in Benin now making a living selling WC Mimin toilets as a result of support from USAID’s Sanitation Service Delivery (SSD) project, implemented by PSI/ABMS. Aimée is now a part of the Union Nationale des Entrepreneurs de l’Assainissement Mimin (UNEAM-Benin), which is the growing WC Mimin association comprised of trained, professional micro-entrepreneurs with a mission of promoting high-quality, affordable sanitation products. UNEAM-Benin members are also playing a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic by selling and installing handwashing stations for their customers. With access to finance and support from the government, made possible through facilitation and capacity building from SSD, association members like Aimée are showing the power of small businesses to solve the sanitation crisis faced by so many families across Benin.