A New Way To Aid The Poor: Ask Them To Pay

Friday, July 1, 2011

In the last three years, a largely unnoticed foreign aid project has delivered sanitation to 5.4 million people around the world, helping prevent thousands dying from cholera, dysentery and other diseases. And it achieved all of this without paying for a single toilet.

The Global Scaling-Up Sanitation Initiative, a marriage of Madison Avenue marketing and Main Street self-reliance, aims to drastically decrease the number of people without access to basic sanitation in the developing world, estimated at 2.5 billion people by the United Nations.

Rejecting the approach of most aid efforts, it has focused almost exclusively on building new attitudes–not new infrastructure–in countries from Tanzania to Indonesia. The key is convincing communities about the dangers of open sewage through marketing and education, sometimes employing stunts such as recruiting kids to scatter bright yellow curry powder on feces in villages, thereby creating a demand (and business model) for sanitation projects. Although the program offers technical assistance and token government plaudits, usually in the form of certificates or (in India) busts of Mahatma Gandhi, local communities design, build and fund their own latrines for about $20 to $30 each.

So far, this new strategy is posting some impressive results: 40 million reached through mass media campaigns and millions contacted directly. If successful, the initiative may roll out worldwide. Researchers are analyzing a host of metrics (at least a quarter of the budget is dedicated to monitoring alone) that should be available for review once the initiative wraps up November 2011.

Source: Fast Company (link opens in a new window)