Written by our fellow, Kurt Herzog who is working closely with our field partner GUARDIAN & GMF in Trichy, Tamil Nadu.I couldn’t have asked for a more thorough introduction to sanitation in India than I received from last week’s Regional Workshop on Microfinance for Sanitation: New Trends and Emerging Opportunities, a three-day workshop in Trichy sponsored by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Government of India, UNICEF, Water.org, and Gramalaya. Although I had little idea of what to anticipate before the workshop began, the presentations and dialogue shattered my expectations. I heard the terms fund constraint, client retention, operational costs, and income enhancing solution, and realized that I was sitting in a business workshop, and not a charity event.
Milaap's Bhaivari adds her two cents to the workshop
Admittedly, sitting in a room with accomplished CEOs and experienced representatives from organizations that are tackling the world’s largest sanitation and water problems overwhelmed and intimidated me. However, these feelings dissipated as I began to understand the role that micro-financing institutions, NGOs, and the Indian government play in the sanitation sector. Although there were only two familiar faces on Wednesday morning, I had many new contacts and friends by the end of the day on Friday. During every break in the presentations someone would introduce themselves to me, peppering me with questions about my interests, career plans, how I like India so far, and of course, my marital status. One of my new acquaintances told me that he liked me even before the met me, simply because of my hair.
The benefits of toilets
The workshop culminated on Friday with a field visit that allowed me to see the real-world application of some of the concepts that I had spent two days learning about. Meeting beneficiaries of sanitation loans and seeing the toilets that their loans paid for reminded the workshop participants of why we had spent two days discussing the intricacies of sanitation finance: to give people the tools and the opportunity to substantially enhance their standard of living.
The view from behind the house of a toilet loan beneficiary
Overall, I emerged from the workshop with an understanding of the current state of sanitation microfinance in India, including the strides that have been made over the last few years as well as the challenges facing the industry today. “You can choose to look at sanitation as a s#%t business,” said Nagaraja Prakasan, an Angel Investor, “or you can look at it as a primary preventive healthcare business."You can also be part of this larger picture in changing the sanitation scenario in India. All you have to do is lend a little to change a lot.