Access to Safe Drinking Water, the Sustainable Way

PepsiCo Foundation has awarded two grants, totaling $76 million, to sustainable water and sanitation efforts by WaterPartners and Safe Water Network. The PR release describes each program. WaterPartners will use the award to implement their WaterCredit program:

The WaterCredit program in India has two main components: first, to provide traditional grant funding directly to local non-government organizations to install pipes, faucets and storage cellars in impoverished communities, reaching some 60, 000 people. The second component is to establish a loan fund that will empower communities to expand access to safe water for an additional 60, 000 people over the course of the three-year project. This model produces a “multiplier effect” for impact based on a single source of funding and is the first time PepsiCo Foundation has applied micro finance as a strategic vehicle to advance water and sanitation improvements.

The idea of building community-based water supply projects through a combination of grants and loans is new to the water sector. Until now, nearly all water projects facilitated by other organizations have been funded entirely by grants, even when the individuals served by the project have the means to share costs.

Bridging microfinance and water is a topic that NextBillion.net covered earlier this year, so this is a connection that is working well in some regions and with the support of different organizations, such as ACCESS Development Services and Hindustan Unilever Limited. The vision behind this is that communities may not be able to afford methods that purify water and make it safe for drinking, but using microfinance models allows them to collectively take a loan and repay until they eventually purchase the system. Continue reading

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Project Shakti: Strengthening Women’s Livelihoods

A few months ago, I discussed the idea of social intrapreneurs based on a SustainAbility case study that featured Hindustan Unilever’s Project Shakti. This month, the World Bank Institute’s publication titled Development Outreach focuses on business and poverty, with an article written by those involved with the same project. The authors describe the project not as a CSR initiative, but as “a business initiative with social benefits.”

Initially, the project was created as a response to Unilever’s desire to tap into new markets within India. Unable to reach most small villages due to poor transport and supply chain infrastructure, along with challenges of selling products to a population with little or no disposable income, Unilever saw the need to innovate.

Connecting with existing women’s self-help groups, Project Shakti allows women to start generating a annual income of US$150 after receiving training and a loan to get off the ground.

The company decided to set up a direct-to-consumer retail operation by creating a network of entrepreneurs to sell its products door-to-door, and to produce a range of affordable products in small sizes to meet the needs and pockets of low-income consumers. These are mostly single-use sachets selling for as little as 50 paise (half a rupee) each.

As a female member of a low-income family, imagine earning an amount that would almost double the family’s household income. The impact on the woman as an individual, along with the ripple effect on the family and surrounding community, is probably unmeasurable.

Now, Project Shakti also consists of public awareness programs focusing on health and hygiene, as well as an i-Shakti initiative that allows villagers to access information through kiosks.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the authors’ description is their take on lessons and challenges. Managing partnerships and balancing interests lies at the heart of these challenges, and the authors note:

Whatever the primary purpose and objectives of each partner, whether developmental or commercial, creating convergence between different activities is the key to progress. A big part of the solution to development lies in working together and using infrastructure, whether developed by the public or private sector, for the benefit of all.

Clearly, this is no easy undertaking, yet Project Shakti provides a powerful example of a business that profits while improving the livelihoods and quality of life for its customers. Originally driven by the need to diversify their customer base and increase profit, the program now reaches over 3 million households in India. When business and social good align, the collaboration can have a wide-reaching impact.

Social Intrapreneurs

SustainAbility’s new publication, “The Social Intrapreneuers: A Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers,” features a case study on Hindustan Unilever’s Shakti project.  SustainAbility defines the social intrapreneur as:

Social intrapreneur, n. 1 Someone who works inside major corporations or organizations to develop and promote practical solutions to social or environmental challenges where progress is currently stalled by market failures.

2 Someone who applies the principles of social entrepreneurship inside a major organization

3 One characterized by an ‘insider-outsider.’

The guide uses Shakti as a “base-of-the-pyramid” case study, with intrapreneur Vijay Sharma:

Hindustan Unilever sought to increase its market share in rural villages with smaller populations, but discovered that no retail distribution network really existed and infrastructure for transport was poor. Responding to these challenges, Shakti was created to provide women with training in selling, commercial knowledge and bookkeeping. Women can then choose to set up their own businesses or become Shakti distributors. These women, in turn, become role models in their communities, catalysts for mobilizing rural development.

At the end of the guide, SustainAbility notes that business cannot solve major challenges on their own and encourages government to develop the necessary policies, and for the citizen sector to create more connections with intrapreneurial organizations.  They are working with the Skoll Foundation and the International Business Leaders Forum to expore the interaction between social entrepreneurs and social intrapreneurs.

Midday Newsfeed

Saturday afternoon news:

  • Social welfare: The Government of Himachal Pradesh is planning to issue separate ration cards to single widows in the state to enable them draw benefits under various state social welfare programmes. (Source: iGovernment)
  • Health research: Using supercomputing simulations and lab experiments, an IBM research team plans to accelerate the design of drugs that inhibit infections caused by the HIV virus. In other news, US based Global Healthcare Investments & Solutions (GHIC) plans to invest $500 million in the Indian healthcare sector. The fund is expected to operate for a period of 2 years.
  • CSR: Hindustan Unilever celebrated 75 years in India by announcing the expansion of its social initiatives, including sourcing agricultural raw materials from primary producers, women’s empowerment, and a 25 percent reduction of carbon dioxide from its manufacturing by 2012.
  • Clean Energy: A Green Investor Summit will take place in New Delhi on April 9 to bring together Cleantech investors and SMEs and to discuss how to make India a hub for clean technologies.
  • Business: At the Government Leaders Forum in Miami yesterday, Bill Gates urged businesses to “see serving the poor as part of their mission,” which he had earlier termed “creative capitalism.” Topics of discussed included microfinance, insurance, savings, technology, and education  (namely one laptop per child).

ACCESS to PureIt

A joint effort by ACCESS Development Services, an Indian microfinance technical services non-profit organization, and Hindustan Unilever is providing water purifiers to poor families. Unilever’s PureIt does not require any electricity or running water and so is perfect for rural use.  Nextbillion.net highlights the benefits of such a partnership through an anecdote.

Yakalakshmi lives in Nekkunda village, part of the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, with her husband and two children. Though she has water piped to her house by the village panchayat, her entire family fell ill for a month last monsoon season by drinking water directly from the tap. “We all got high fever and severe diarrhea,” and as a result, “we had to spend around Rs. 4000 ($100) on health care, which was very difficult for us.” So, when Yakalakshmi got the opportunity this past January to buy an effective water purifier through her Self Help Group (SHG) on an installment basis, she was one of the first to sign up.

The venture also shows two points. One that simply making people aware of a problem will not address the situation unless they can afford to do something about it. And two, that such an effort can be done on in a sustainable fashion.

Based on a public-private partnership model, this exciting tie-up is financially sustainable. The project has already been extended to 11 of ACCESS’s partner MFIs in Andhra Pradesh. HUL and ACCESS are now looking at expanding the initiative countrywide through the ACCESS Microfinance Alliance, which has a 110 partner MFIs across India, potentially bringing safe drinking water to a large proportion of the 2.4 million clients served by these MFIs.