Sunday, July 21, 2013

Toilet as social enterprise

I would not normally think of a toilet as a public enterprise.  But that’s exactly what African Enterprise did. One of their key strategies is to help the local people, typically women, to form self-help cooperatives of 20 members each.  Each cooperative would decide to develop businesses matching their skills and local needs.  Our job is to learn about the businesses, interview the members of the cooperatives, take photographs and videos, and publicize their stories through their web site, promotional materials, and our own channels.

One such business is a fee-charging public latrine at the corner of a bus station / car park.  Water is in short supply all over Rwanda, and particularly in the mountains.  They have to pay to have pipes installed to deliver water to the latrine. Each person is charged 100 Rwanda franc, which is roughly US 15 cents, or HK$ 1.22.  It is not cheap by Rwandan standards.  But there seems to be sufficient demand at the bus station to make it profitable.  And by making water available, it is actually helping to improve the general hygiene in the area.  It really is a great social enterprise and a public good.

The lady manager speaks with confidence and authority.  She employees a man who collects the fees and does the chores around the place.  I was told that in the past, women usually stay home and do not work outside; hence they do not enjoy a lot of economic power.  Now a lot more women work gainfully, and enjoy a lot more independence and higher status in society.  I was also told that there is a practical reason why the members of the cooperatives are generally women - women tend to be more loyal members!

I find it all very encouraging and amusing.


Anonymous said...

Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and microfinance pioneer, also said that in Bangladesh, money going to the family through women brought more benefits than the same amount of money going through men. Now, 97% of the borrowers are women.

StephenC said...

Yes. Microfinance is also quite visible in Rwanda. However, I do not know whether it is also dominated by women over there.