Humanizing the country’s health, starting with providing toilets

Humanizing the country’s health, starting with providing toilets

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Vasudevrao M Deshpande

Group Project Manager, Infosys
Program Manager, Parishudh Initiative

Vasudevrao M Deshpande is an Engineering Graduate from Gulbarga University and MBA from University of Massachusetts, USA. He is with Infosys since 2003 and has worked with various clients.

Corporates today adopt various CSR initiatives that are core to operations. Be it best practices, Sustainability, reducing carbon footprints or giving back to the environment-CSR activities form an integral part of most organizations and will help build a healthy corporate India.

The Infosys CSR team for its part has regularly contributed to the cause of CSR keeping in mind that the initiative touches upon various aspects of society- green buildings, energy efficiency, renewable energy, reducing pollution and emissions, natural resource management, waste management, neighborhood regeneration, health, public safety, education and workforce, housing community development and mobile technologies.

The Infosys CSR team, under Parishudh Initiative, proposed a project to educate over 100,000 families on hygiene and sanitation, build 10,000 toilets, make 40 localities free of open defecation in Karnataka, influence policy changes, build supply chain efficiency and build repeatable practices. The project was started with a funding of Rs.10 Crores from Infosys Foundation.

The idea finds its genesis in the year 2009, when the Infosys team built 2,200 houses for the families affected by floods in North Karnataka in the month of October in the same year. Upon travelling to flood affected areas, the team realized the severe lack of sanitation facilities not only in the areas that were affected by the floods but also in other areas. People were using road sides, open drains, bushes for defecation. The Infosys team invested in research to understand the health issues caused by open defecation. Causes of diarrhea, malaria, typhoid, malnutrition, lack of adequate development as well as children dropping out of schools — all seemed to find their roots in the lack of toilets and unhygienic practices.

The team also found that that open defecation caused by lack of toilets is indeed a humongous problem in India today. Over 60% families do not have access to toilets. Every year, over a million children under the age of five die due to diarrhea, malaria and typhoid or suffer severe malnutrition caused by unhygienic conditions and mixing of fecal matter into drinking water. Many rivers, lakes and ponds are getting polluted as people use them for open defecation. Hundreds of women die due to snake bites while going for open defecation in the wooded areas. Lack of toilets causes a GDP loss of over $60 billion per year in India as researched by a World Bank study.

To address this problem, Infosys Foundation, with the help of over 50 small and newly established community organizations lead by Parishudh Society and Sri Kottala Basaveshwara Bharateeya Shikshana Samithi and other NGOs, embarked on Parishudh Initiative aiming to help at least 10,000 families build a toilet, educate around 100,000 families, build a replicable model, influence policy decisions and increase supply chain efficiency. Five North Karnataka districts were chosen for this initiative considering the severity of the problem in these districts.

In a period of eighteen months between October 2011 and March 2013, awareness sessions were conducted in over 400 villages and localities reaching over 300,000 families in North East Karnataka. Infosys volunteers spent over 1,000 person days on educating people in over 20 localities. An innovative practice of multi stakeholder involvement with local influential leaders, politicians, elders etc was adopted to convince these families.

Parishudh Initiative used the best practices and innovative methodologies to achieve the desired results. It interacted with various other organizations like Arghyam, UNICEF and Gramalaya to understand the established best practices. It tied up with local NGOs to increase the reach. It worked with local heads, politicians, and religious heads, influential leaders to reach families. It also trained government employees, conducted door to door education campaigns, evening mass meetings, one to one talks, exhibitions, Toilet fairs, delivery events and competitions for children to understand the need for sanitation facilities. It used the latest communication techniques such as You Tube, Facebook, emails, mass phone calls, SMS follow ups, to reach many beneficiaries and volunteers.

It partnered with various entrepreneurs to increase the supply chain efficiency while helping them increase their strength. It tied up with local masons to create employment at local levels. Over 1,000 unskilled laborers were trained as skilled laborers and making their own living as construction workers. It encouraged various banks and financial institutes to give loans to families for construction of toilets. Precast toilet manufacturers were given bulk orders to increase their capacity while meeting demand in a certain locality. It used Information Technology extensively to ensure traceability for every major activity conducted. It implemented a application, provided pro-bono under its community improvement program, to track and manage the flow of 32,000 applications to build 10,000 toilets. Every toilet being built was mapped on GIS coordinates using state-of-the-art software provided by Axxonnet, a Bangalore based startup. It submitted various policy recommendations to the government bodies. Over 25 ministries under Government of India were approached with necessary policy changes and implementation of the policies already formed pertaining to their ministry.

In addition, the effort of community working together on improving their local hygiene and sanitation conditions brought them together. Many localities formed Nirmal Gram Samithis or Local hygiene Committees’ which ensured steps to improve the hygiene situation. Local communities also took additional steps of planting thousands of trees within the community space, building biogas plants to make best use of cattle dung for energy generation. A few people also pooled together efforts to start solar housing projects. As an extension to this project, training classes were started in the education space for the students up to 10th grade.

As a result of this effort, over 32,000 families registered to build toilets before the date announced for registration. Over 10,000 of these are funded by Infosys Foundation. Majority of the construction was done between April of 2012 and March 2013. Establishing ‘Community hygiene committees’ helped increase sanitation levels in these communities as well as create a ripple effect leading to an overall healthier lifestyle. This initiative also helped build a repeatable model and confidence in the local NGOs. These NGOs are now focused at building at least 100,000 toilets in next 12 months and are working towards raising necessary funds.

On the financial front, to build these 10,000 toilets, Infosys Foundation contributed Rs.10 Crores. Each toilet, expected to last for next 30 years, cost anywhere between Rs.12,000 and Rs.20,000. Families put in the rest of the money. The Government contributed amount of Rs.4,700 per toilet to each eligible beneficiary under Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan. Infosys Foundation ensured that all funds collected for the project are utilized in the core activity. For this, existing office space of the NGOs was used, community centers served as locations for conducting education sessions, volunteers were engaged. The program tied up with many government departments to use their existing infrastructure and human resources. Tracking progress electronically eliminated printing papers to keep track of the status at each village. contributed to this program by offering its application pro-bono. Over 85% of the amount was spent on direct construction of toilets, 10% was spent on awareness campaigns, exhibition material, conducting programs in villages and localities and research and development on toilets. Less than 5% was spent on basic administrative efforts. Infosys Ltd. allocated a program manager for this work.

Implementing Parishudh project in the communities has helped bring the local communities together. What started as an exercise to improve hygiene and sanitation conditions in North Karnataka districts is now transpiring into a ‘movement for community led growth’. So, development is being seen in the areas of education, health, entrepreneurship, livelihood etc. The Nirmal Samithis established are playing a pivotal role.

A few students from Stanford University, USA have enrolled in a new elective titled ‘Improving sanitation conditions in India” and have taken Parishudh as a case study. Professors from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore visited the villages to bring in the best practices of low cost construction to the villages. Scientists from TERI, New Delhi advised these villages on rural solar electrification. An MoU is signed with Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore (ISEC) where in ISEC would study the impact of the project on households and publish findings.

The focus put by the project has helped to bring the issue of lack of proper sanitation get greater attention at the national level. Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development and then also the Minister for Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation of Government of India visited the project sites to highlight the significance of addressing this issue. Dignitaries including Smt. Sudha Murty, Trustee of Infosys Foundation and senior officials Government of Karnataka visited the places of toilet construction. As Parishudh 1.0 comes to a close on achieving it’s goal of building 10,000 toilets, many more families have started building toilets by themselves on their own, increasing the impact manifold. The team hopes, it will create an avalanche of sanitation improvement movement.

About the author

CSR VISION is India's (probably World's) first monthly magazine in print devoted to CSR and Sustainable Development for bringing together all stakeholders of SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT at a global and local levels and act as a platform for promoting strategic CSR and sustainable development practices through dissemination of information and knowledge.