Push­ing the en­ve­lope

It is im­per­a­tive to reimag­ine the role of the cor­po­rate be­yond fund­ing and in­fra­struc­ture cre­ation to achieve a sus­tain­able san­i­ta­tion ecosys­tem


In­dia's cor­po­rates need to look be­yond fi­nanc­ing and in­fra­struc­ture vis-a-vis san­i­ta­tion

TO­DAY, THERE is an un­prece­dented buzz and en­ergy around which cor­po­rates have been called to ac­tion in the san­i­ta­tion sec­tor. The Swachh Bharat Mis­sion (sbm) has pro­vided In­dia Inc with an op­por­tu­nity to spend on a spe­cific cause with high vis­i­bil­ity. It there­fore comes as no sur­prise that to­day many cor­po­rates are re­spond­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to this call to ac­tion, with a ma­jor­ity lever­ag­ing Sec­tion 135 of the Com­pa­nies Act, 2013. How­ever, cor­po­rates should not be mere fun­ders, for we as a coun­try, would lose out on an op­por­tu­nity to lever­age the value ad­di­tions that this sec­tor can of­fer, par­tic­u­larly in the realms of in­no­va­tion in tech­nol­ogy, project man­age­ment and scal­a­bil­ity.

It has be­come crit­i­cal to re­flect on the cur­rent trends around cor­po­rate en­gage­ment in the sec­tor, the gaps in the san­i­ta­tion ecosys­tem and the po­ten­tial role that cor­po­rates can play. Ul­ti­mately, it is es­sen­tial that we view the cor­po­rate not merely as a source of fund­ing or for in­fra­struc­ture cre­ation, but as a part­ner in In­dia’s jour­ney to­wards sus­tain­able san­i­ta­tion.

Open chal­lenge

San­i­ta­tion is one of In­dia’s great­est un­met chal­lenges. In­ad­e­quate san­i­ta­tion has dire con­se­quences for pub­lic health, chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion and growth, women’s safety and the fight against poverty.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (who) and the United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (Unicef ), over 50 per cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion still defe­cates in the open. Fur­ther, many house­holds re­main un­con­nected to the sewage sys­tem, with over 0.13 mil­lion tonnes of hu­man waste be­ing gen­er­ated ev­ery day, and this num­ber is only go­ing to in­crease.

Given that san­i­ta­tion in the In­dian con­text is mul­ti­fac­eted, lay­ered in be­havioural, so­cial and cul­tural com­plex­i­ties, there is a wide dis­par­ity. While 85.9 per cent peo­ple in Odisha and 82.4 per cent in Bi­har do not have ac­cess to toi­lets, a state like Sikkim was re­cently de­clared 100 per cent open defe­ca­tion-free (odf). With the mam­moth task at hand, the gov­ern­ment’s tar­get to make In­dia odf by 2019 ne­ces­si­tates the in­volve­ment and col­lab­o­ra­tion amongst mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the cor­po­rate sec­tor.

In let­ter and spirit, it is im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that the call to ac­tion to cor­po­rates, par­tic­u­larly from the gov­ern­ment, en­vis­ages sup­port be­yond just the fund­ing or con­struc­tion of toi­lets. The re­cent guide­lines of the Min­istry of Drink­ing Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion (mdws) say: “The cre­ativ­ity and ef­fi­ciency of the cor­po­rate sec­tor, and their man­age­ment and fi­nan­cial re­sources can help in achiev­ing the vi­sion of a Swachh Bharat.” Thus, the modal­i­ties of this sup­port may be in the form of fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, by way of the Swachh Bharat Kosh, or get­ting in­volved through tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise, mar­ket­ing ex­cel­lence and outreach sup­port.

The gov­ern­ment would like cor­po­rates to en­gage through a con­struc­tive value-driven ap­proach. Fur­ther, by us­ing the man­date of the Com­pa­nies Act, 2013, the gov­ern­ment is look­ing for ways to bring about a more ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient ap­proach to achieve the goals of san­i­ta­tion through con­ver­gence with cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity (csr).

With the aim to cap­ture csr trends in the sec­tor, the In­dia San­i­ta­tion Coali­tion (isc) re­cently re­leased a re­port, CSR in WASH: What are In­dia’s top com­pa­nies up to?, an­chored by Samhita So­cial Ser­vices, a part­ner of the coali­tion, analysing the top 100 com­pa­nies with the largest csr bud­gets. The re­port found that 90 per cent of the com­pa­nies have at least one csr pro­gramme in Wa­ter, San­i­ta­tion and Hy­giene (wash). How­ever, the find­ings demon­strated that 75 per cent of the com­pa­nies were sup­port­ing pro­grammes re­lated to in­fra­struc­ture cre­ation—con­struc­tion of toi­lets and wa­ter fa­cil­i­ties, with lim­ited at­ten­tion on be­hav­iour change pro­grammes. It was only a hand­ful of com­pa­nies that were en­gag­ing across the value chain of san­i­ta­tion that in­cludes all the com­po­nents of Build, Use, Main­tain and Treat (bumt).

Some com­pa­nies are also im­ple­ment­ing op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance pro­grammes. Ad­di­tion­ally, it was also found that in­dus­tries with a strate­gic in­ter­est—like Heavy En­gi­neer­ing & Man­u­fac­tur­ing and fast mov­ing con­sumer goods com­pa­nies (fmcg)—were more likely to sup­port wash pro­grammes than other in­dus­tries and that most of these wash pro­grammes were con­cen­trated in ru­ral ar­eas. Also, while the call to ac­tion en­vis­aged a role for cor­po­rates be­yond fund­ing and in­fra­struc­ture cre­ation, the data showed that a ma­jor­ity were in­clined to stay only with fund­ing, rather than drive the san­i­ta­tion pro­gramme.

Be­yond com­pli­ance

To reimag­ine the cor­po­rate as a part­ner, it is im­por­tant to first un­der­stand why many have fallen into this com­pli­ance, num­ber­driven ap­proach. The pri­mary rea­son is that they have not been in­te­grated into the broader san­i­ta­tion ecosys­tem. Thus, many cor­po­rate-funded projects with­out the right part­ners and guid­ance run the risk of solely fo­cus­ing on sup­ply side tar­gets. Ini­tially, the ap­proach of the gov­ern­ment led many cor­po­rates to view the sbm goals as a “toi­let-build­ing” pro­gramme. How­ever, this num­ber-driven and dis­con­nected ap­proach can be dis­rup­tive to the broader ob­jec­tive to end open defe­ca­tion. There­fore, the lack of a sup­port­ive ecosys­tem re­mains a hin­drance for cor­po­rates to move to­wards the role of a part­ner, even though some may be will­ing and able to do so.

Many de­vel­op­ment part­ners also con­ven­tion­ally fol­low cer­tain part­ner­ship stereo­types see­ing cor­po­rates as mere fund­ing pipes for projects. To move for­ward, cor­po­rates must be in­te­grated into the san­i­ta­tion ecosys­tem to en­able part­ner­ships, knowl­edge shar­ing, ca­pac­ity build­ing ini­tia­tives and a plat­form for com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ex­change. This in­cludes in­cor­po­rat­ing small and medium en­ter­prises into the mix, and in turn, en­cour­ag­ing pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship mod­els that en­cour­age in­no­va­tion of af­ford­able, yet as­pi­ra­tional prod­ucts. En­trepreneur­ship across the san­i­ta­tion value chain will play a crit­i­cal role in cre­at­ing the ser­vice in­fra­struc­ture for safe san­i­ta­tion.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties for cor­po­rate en­gage­ment in the sec­tor are vast. The re­quired cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture for the sbm pro­gramme alone is es­ti­mated to be 255,240 crore for ru­ral and 131,137 crore for ur­ban. How­ever, we must now cre­ate a sup­port­ive and en­abling ecosys­tem that can help sen­si­tise cor­po­rates to­wards san­i­ta­tion, fa­cil­i­tate im­pact­ful part­ner­ships, and lever­age their strengths. Even though san­i­ta­tion may not be a cor­po­rate’s busi­ness fo­cus, pro­vid­ing sup­port both through csr funds and vol­un­teer­ing would go a long way in bring­ing about odf.

Sim­i­larly, cor­po­rates al­ready en­gaged in re­lated sec­tors like ed­u­ca­tion and health can also seam­lessly move into the san­i­ta­tion space with the right sup­port. To achieve sus­tain­able san­i­ta­tion, it is im­per­a­tive that we re-imag­ine the role of the cor­po­rate be­yond fund­ing and in­fra­struc­ture cre­ation, to that of a part­ner. To­gether, through col­lec­tive ef­forts, we can achieve a clean In­dia.

En­trepreneur­ship across the san­i­ta­tion value chain will play a crit­i­cal role in con­vert­ing those who defe­cate in the open to prac­tice safe san­i­ta­tion. Sim­i­larly, cor­po­rates al­ready en­gaged in re­lated sec­tors like ed­u­ca­tion and health can also seam­lessly move into the san­i­ta­tion space with the right sup­port

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