BECOMING A FEMALE SANITATION ENTREPRENEUR AGAINST ALL ODDS
Have you even wondered why an elephant, a massive, powerful animal, can fall prey to a lion whose size is a tiny fraction of the elephant’s? That is the power of the lion’s attitude and determination. The following story is also a clear demonstration of the power of total commitment.
SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME A SANITATION ENTREPRENEUR
Assefash Tadesse, 32-years-old, is an 8th grade dropout and a mother of five children. In her community, like many other Ethiopian communities, she has seen children getting sick and dying from diarrhea diseases. She knows that her family members and neighbors openly defecate in the surrounding forests, and rarely prioritize investing in a household toilet. With much green space surrounding her village, the need for capturing waste is not always understood by her neighbors, who are used to using the outdoors to relieve themselves.
She often heard people chatting and complaining about their lack of money, the limited supply of good quality and affordable products, and their lack of knowledge about construction as the key reasons why they failed to construct private and safe latrines. Though she was not a Health Extension Worker(HEW) and lacked any formal training, she had an entrepreneurial spirit. Where her neighbors saw barriers, she saw an opportunity. With training provided by the USAID Transform WASH project on sanitation marketing and business development at Yirgalem town in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, she started manufacturing concrete slabs and fitting them with the low-cost, low-water requirement plastic toilet pan called the “Sato Pan”. She started her business in September 2019 after receiving a loan from the Omo Microfinance Institution with the support of project staff. She knew that embedding the Sato Pan in the slab would increase its price and that her potential customers were farmers who often lacked much disposable income. However, Assefash was not deterred after observing some households fixing Sato Pans on their mud floor and struggling to clean them. Therefore, despite the higher cost, she always encouraged families to upgrade their toilet to a SATO Pan in a slab because of the following key benefits:
- Reduces odors from pits,
- Prevents flies from entering or exiting the pits,
- Is easy to clean.
VILLAGE SAVING AND LOAN ASSOCIATION
She also was aware of a savings and loan group being set up in her community. These were being organized by Plan International as part of the USAID Transform WASH project to help community members access affordable credit so they could invest in an improved sanitation facility. The Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA) is a community-based platform where 15–25 household heads/members come together and save a little amount of money ranging from 5–20 birr as per their bylaws. The group is managed by a volunteer leader and get support from VSLAs facilitators who are responsible for screening, supporting the leaders, and linking members to local manufacturers. Even though all the VSLAs are established to provide easy access to loans for their members, the interest rate, payment period and loan sizes vary based on their bylaws.
A TRUSTWORTHY PERSON
Assefash volunteered to become the facilitator of the VSLA in her neighborhood, closely working with the group leaders and others to ensure better recordkeeping and planning. The leader and members recognized her commitment and members approved a loan to her in form of advance payment. This direct provision of individual member’s loan money greatly minimized possibilities for loan diversion. Once she received the advance payment from the VSLA, she started working on producing latrine slabs and delivering them to her customers who had ordered them and paid in advance. She stive to deliver them on time and provide the installation service herself. She only accepts full payment when the household was satisfied with both the quality of the product and her installation work.
Now nearly all the community members know Assefash and trust the quality of the products and services she provides. In just two months, Assefash sold 239 slabs embedded with Sato Pans. She has hired two employees (including her husband) to help keep up with the demand from households. She works with project-trained Sales Agents who promote her products (they receive a 30 Ethiopian Birr commission per sale — about 0.56 USD). Even though she has no written business plan, she intends to sell and install products in 4 kebeles (villages) during 2020 and wants to expand her business to other nearby Woredas (districts) in the coming years. She also wants to diversify her range of products to include both latrine superstructures and substructures.
When asked if there was a potential conflict of interest by being both a sanitation business owner and the VSLA Facilitator (who benefits from the VSLA providing loans to households in order to purchase her products), she replied that, “…the VSLA was …organized to ensure improved toilets were installed in the community. I am trying to deliver on that promise. If the quality of the products had been poor, the customers would have rejected them. I am their neighbor and am always accessible to anyone.”
As both the lion and Assefash demonstrate, with drive, passion and commitment, what may seem impossible can actually be achieved!
USAID Transform WASH aims to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing market access to and sustained use of a broader spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a substantial focus on sanitation. Transform WASH achieves this by transforming the market for low-cost quality WASH products and services: stimulating demand at the community level, strengthening supply chains, and improving the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.
USAID Transform WASH is a USAID-funded activity implemented by Population Services International in collaboration with SNV, Plan International, and IRC WASH. The consortium is working closely with government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, the One WASH National Program, and regional and sub-regional governments.