Last year, in the Advice and Comment section of the FT, was an article entitled “Are you too proud to be toilet roll philanthropist?”. The focus, sadly, was not on the lack of WCs in the world, a major focus for philanthropists and foundations working in Asia, but the toilet roll donor was being used to illustrate a point on restricted vs unrestricted funding for charities.
As a non-profit, AVPN is in agreement on the value of unrestricted funding but the idea of a donor funding toilet rolls in London museums and art galleries gave me pause. The lack of toilets in the developing world is a global sanitation crisis with dire consequences: 1 billion people (15% of the world’s population) defecate in the open and 1,000 children die every day from diarrhoeal diseases. Sanitation is a basic human right yet a lack of progress in improving conditions leaves billions prone to illness, poverty and abuse.
Implementing effective social investment is difficult under any circumstances but the barriers to achieving success in improving an issue like sanitation in Asia are daunting, extensively inter-connected with other livelihood challenges such as lack of access to healthcare, food and shelter and blighted by poor infrastructure.
There are approximately 4 billion people living in South, East and South-East Asia. The Asia Development Bank has defined the extreme poverty level in Asia as a person living on less than $1.51 per day. By including food insecurity and national disasters, they estimate that 1 in every 2 people in Asia live under this subsistence level. Although sanitation is the absolute key to improved health which, at a minimum, allows adults to earn money to provide for their families and children to go to school, the $1.51 will go towards food.
Education on the simple and cost-effective ways to improve sanitation such as washing hands before cooking, eating and feeding children would be a first step. However, in Asia, there are 2,195 different dialects and languages still being spoken in the region. Mono-linguism cobined with extremely high illiteracy levels makes communication and the sharing of knowledge and experience difficult. Explaining the basics of sanitation becomes a village by village education program across 20 million square kilometres.
Goal 6 in the Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure access to water and and sanitation for all. As girls reach puberty, many will drop out of school and miss out on their education just because of the lack of clean and safe toilets.
Many of our members have embarked on innovative initiatives that will have more far-reaching effects than toilet paper in museums.
Just as one example, Kimberly Clark has embraced a large-sacle, cross-sector, multinational approach through their Toliets Change Lives Program. In India, the company has entered into a partnership with CAF India to fund programs that allow for improved sanitation facilities in schools and early child development centres. Water.org provides innovative, market-based solutions like their WaterCredit program which partners with microfinance institiutions to provide loans to a person or family in need of water connections or toilets.
It seems that toilets can provide an excellent way to frame a discussion on philanthropy and innovative projects in social innovation.