A Collaborative Approach to Creating Thriving Sanitation Business in Ethiopia
By Mekdim Hailu, Project Communication Manager, PSI Ethiopia
Since 2017, USAID Transform WASH has been on a mission to improve WASH outcomes by providing affordable and sustainable sanitation products and services in Ethiopia. Using a market-based approach, the activity is not only increasing access to improved sanitation but also creating economic opportunities for communities. Transform WASH’s impact doesn’t stop there, it’s also dedicated to sharing its knowledge and expertise on market-based sanitation with other organizations to build their capacity.
As part of this effort, Transform WASH has recently formed a partnership with the Strengthen Productive Safety Net Program Institutions and Resilience (SPIR-II) project, a consortium of World Vision and CARE Ethiopia, to provide technical capacity-building in sanitation, slab manufacturing, and sustainable business development models. The training aimed to equip entrepreneurs, government employees, and SPIR-II staff with the knowledge and skills to expand their business and create an enabling environment through the addition of WASH products and services.
Safiya Ahmed, a recent accounting graduate, is one of the beneficiaries of the training. Living in the heart of Gar Muleta, a small town nestled in the Oromia region, Safiya never imagined working on sanitation. Despite a lack of employment opportunities, Safiya refused to remain idle and joined forces with other unemployed youth to start a masonry business. Safiya’s determination motivated her to pursue her dreams, ultimately leading her to participate in the training.
During the two-part training held in Chiro and Dire Dawa towns, Safiya and 63 other individuals received valuable training on WASH technologies introduced by the Transform WASH (T/WASH) team. Ephrem Tibebu, a 30-year-old mason with experience in toilet construction, was one of the participants. He found the training to be an eye-opening experience that expanded his knowledge and skills.
“I didn’t know about SATO pan,” he said. “In the past, we just built the floor and blocks around the pit, which was difficult to clean and caused an odor.” Having grown up in rural areas, Ephrem is aware of the consequences of poor sanitation and hygiene in communities. “When I saw the poster for this training, I knew this would be a great opportunity for me,” he added.
The training covered a wide range of topics, including technical WASH manufacturing and business development. Trainees took part in classroom teaching, which included group work, and had the opportunity to test their knowledge with hands-on field work.
According to Wube Taye, WASH and infrastructure advisor at CARE Ethiopia, the training covered everything from basic manufacturing of WASH products to financial literacy for sanitation entrepreneurs. “The trainees learned about different WASH business models, how to manage sales, and create a business plan. To create an enabling environment to support WASH entrepreneurs, we involved government staff from TVET, job creation bureaus, and health offices at both zonal and woreda levels in the training,” he said.
Hudeyda Ahmed, Chiro Woreda Job Creation Bureau team leader, participated in the training and explained that her team was involved in selecting the trainees from her woreda. “We put up a call for microenterprises to submit proposals for the opportunity to join this training. We considered various criteria, support letters from their kebele, having a business license, previous experience in the construction business, and the like. We prioritized businesses with no market linkages, as they need the opportunity to grow in the sector the most,” she stated.
The selected microenterprises were provided with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the business of providing sanitation products and services. Hudeyda said the training was also useful for the government staff. “Now that we understand the business in detail, it will help us support in demand creation and facilitate a smooth working environment with other government offices,” she added.
With its broad range of topics, from technical skills in manufacturing WASH products to business development skills, the training is designed to help small businesses grow and generate more income. Through the support of government officials at various levels, the training establishes a favorable environment for small businesses to thrive and contribute to the progress of their communities.
Mesfin Habtemariam, Technical Engineering Manager for T/WASH and one of the trainers, said, “T/WASH provided technical support for the SPIR-II project and introduced the trainees to various sanitation products, especially floor solutions for new and existing latrines that utilize SATO pan. We will connect the trainees with our established T/WASH business partners to enable them to purchase SATO pan. Ultimately, the goal of the training was to provide trainees with basic skills to thrive in the sanitation business, which will lead to a reduction in diarrheal diseases.” Mesfin emphasized the importance of T/WASH’s support for the SPIRII project and the potential impact that improved sanitation can have on public health.
Like their peers, Safiya and Ephrem are optimistic about their future. “I have always dreamed of expanding my business and helping people with disabilities,” says Ephrem. “I see them being deprived of job opportunities because of misconceptions in the community. But I believe that with the right support, they can achieve anything they set their minds on. Through this training, I will be able to increase my capital and hire people with disabilities in demand generation, finance, or other appropriate positions.”
Safiya agreed, “I know a lot more now than I did before. I can already see our business booming because of the knowledge I gained here. I am sure that our capital will increase, and I will be able to support not only myself but also my family. I hope to create more job opportunities for other unemployed youth. They deserve an opportunity just like me.”
Although Safiya and Ephrem face gender stereotypes and limited employment opportunities, their unwavering desire to learn and advance is a testament to the power of capacity building to support individuals and communities. T/WASH’s technical assistance to the SPIR-II project and efforts to teach trainees sanitation solutions will help address the problem of inadequate sanitation and reduce the incidence of diarrheal disease in Ethiopia. Transform WASH’s contribution is an important step towards a healthier and safer environment for all.
about transform wash
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 PSI in collaboration with SNV, 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.