The scale of unmet need for sanitation in India is huge and access to sanitation infrastructure remains abysmal. An estimated 55% of all Indians, or close to 600 million people, still do not have access to any kind of toilet. Among those who make up this appalling total, Indians who live in urban slums and rural environments are affected the most. In rural areas, the scale of the problem is particularly daunting, as 74% of the rural population still defecates in the open. In these environments, cash income is very low and the idea of building a facility for defecation in or near the house may not seem natural. And where facilities exist, they are often inadequate. Lack of sanitation facilities results in very adverse health impacts. Poor sanitation is responsible for the spread of a number of communicable diseases, resulting in lost productivity, reduced quality of life, and impoverishment. Sanitation is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve public health.
Stone India Pvt. Ltd. and its objective
Stone India Pvt. Ltd. is a multi-product engineering company located in Kolkata. It has developed sustainable, innovative & cost effective sanitation solutions to address the challenges of sanitation among marginalized sections of society in India and aims to make the world open-defecation free. Through its non-profit social enterprise arm Green Sanitation Foundation (GSF), its endeavor is to install, maintain and service thousands of bio toilets in rural and urban slum areas, improving health and hygiene amongst the underserved and help enhance GDP through improved productivity and employment opportunities. GSF also conducts exhaustive training programs in rural areas on toilet etiquette, perils of open defecation, proper health and sanitation, stopping manual scavenging, and conservation of water.
The R&D team at Stone India Pvt. Ltd. developed Biological Toilets that convert human waste into non toxic, non contaminating water compatible with environmental standards, through application of multi strain bacteria culture, using both aerobic and anaerobic forms of bacteria. Bacteria culture feeds on human waste in a globally patented multi chamber bio digester tank, which controls the flow of waste to ultimately discharge as disinfected water, after passing through a chlorination tank.
Samhita Social Ventures, a leading social-sector consulting firm has helped forge a strategic partnership between Stone India Pvt. Ltd. and APM Terminals – Inland Services (APMT-IS).
APM Terminals (APMT) operates a global terminal network in 68 countries with interests in 71 port and terminal facilities and the Inland Services division APMT-IS, provides services like equipment repairs, cargo handling and storage and equipment leasing. While the company is committed to meeting the evolving demands of the international trade community and the shipping industry that it serves, it is also dedicated to conduct business at the highest ethical, environmental and socially responsible standards.
Samhita conducted a community needs assessment around APMT-IS facilities and identified lack of sanitation infrastructure as the major issue affecting the local community. Consequently, APMT-IS adopted addressing the issue of sanitation under its CSR policy. In pursuance of this policy and after due diligence conducted by Samhita, Stone India Pvt. Ltd. and its social arm GSF were selected as implementation partners to build environment friendly bio-toilets in the affected community and promote awareness among local people on the benefits of better sanitation and hygiene practices.
However, before the project could take off catastrophic floods and landslides in Uttarakhand killed and displaced thousands of people. APMT-IS pledged to help the victims by encouraging employees to come forward and committing one day’s salary, which was equally matched by APM Terminals India Pvt. Ltd. Samhita facilitated leveraging the ongoing talks between APMT and Stone India to utilize these funds for setting-up compostable bio-toilets in disaster affected areas where the need for them was imminent.
Samhita together with a local NGO identified the critically affected villages in Uttarakhand which were left with very little sanitation facility post floods, and faced an imminent threat of epidemic outbreak. A team from Stone India visited the villages to assess and select the exact locations which would be suitable for setting up bio-toilets; taking into consideration various technical factors such as availability of a sewage and electricity line etc. The construction of the toilets has already started. In the meantime, the local NGO partner is being trained for maintenance of bio-toilets and entrusted with the responsibility of sensitizing local people on the importance of using proper sanitation facilities. The cost of these bio-toilets is fully borne by APMT-IS and its employees.
In the next phase of this partnership, APMT-IS has plans to set-up bio-toilets in their facilities in Nhava Sheva and Panvel (Mumbai region), in order to address the open defecation problem amongst the truckers who are involved in transportation of freight containers and thus are important stakeholder for the company. The health and hygiene of these truckers and their families is a top concern for APMT-IS. Stone India would be providing both the toilet infrastructure as well as sensitization training programs for this initiative too.
Benefits for the social enterprise
Upscale and Expansion
The partnership has provided a big business opportunity to the social enterprise to expand its operations in different regions across India. Before the partnership materialized, Stone India had no operations in Uttarakhand region and was inexperienced in constructing toilets in hilly and difficult terrains. As the construction costs were being borne by the company, Stone India felt confident enough to undertake the challenge and thus expanded its operations to the state of Uttarakhand.
The social enterprise in this partnership also acted as a vendor/supplier of eco-friendly products to the company. As the company is looking to set-up bio-toilets throughout the country to tackle the problem of sanitation, it will provide a great amount of business to Stone India and GSF thus helping them remain sustainable.
In addition to the above benefits, the partnership with such a reputed company will provide Stone India with more visibility throughout the country. It will increase the confidence and credibility of the social enterprise to approach other conglomerates for similar partnerships and undertake big projects.
Benefits for the corporate partner
An effective CSR program
Having identified a coherent CSR cause (sanitation), APMT-IS was able to put the CSR funds to an effective and strategic use, instead of conventional way of just writing a cheque for charity. The company was looking for a partner to design and implement community interventions to tackle the open defecation problem and thus partnership with Stone India helped APMT-IS to realise its CSR program.
The same holds true in case of the Uttarakhand floods, while other companies were arbitrarily making donations to government schemes, APMT-IS was quick to respond in a strategic and impactful way where the intervention actually translated into long-term physical infrastructure.
During initial need assessment it was identified that the truckers who used to transport freight containers for APMT-IS, were practicing open defecation due to lack of awareness among them about its adverse affects. This was leading to, among other problems, detrimental health outcomes among the local community as well as the truckers themselves. As part of the partnerships, the social enterprise partner will be setting up bio-toilets for these truckers and would also deliver sensitization campaigns highlighting importance of using toilets.
Increased reputation among community
As APMT-IS is committed to fight the cause of sanitation in its local community, it is playing the role of socially responsible company. An effective intervention undertaken by the company will help it to mitigate any negative externality resulting from its operations and develop strong relation with the communities it operates in, thus strengthening its sustainability efforts of taking society and environment together along with the normal business activities.
Sector intermediaries straddle a unique space between companies and social enterprises, balancing and synergizing the needs and requirements of both the parties so as to maximize social impact. It can sometimes offer distinctive advantage to both parties – for companies it can bring in the knowledge to recommend the most suited and effective social interventions and establish the link with the implementing agency. For the social enterprise, it can throw open unexplored markets such as corporate clients and ease out teething problems.
The case study serves as an apt example of coming together of various entities such as companies, social enterprises and social intermediaries to foster partnerships that leverage and benefit each of these – a well designed CSR intervention for the corporate, increased sales and scale and ratification of its vision for the social enterprise and creation of social impact for the intermediary.
- Acknowledgement : We thank Mr. Vikas Kharbanda of APM Terminals and Mr. Sudip Sen of Stone India for their time and inputs.