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Venugopal Gupta headshot

Three Reasons Corporations Should Care About the Global Sanitation Crisis

If 12 billion vaccine doses can be delivered in 18 months worldwide, providing sanitation facilities for 3.6 billion people this decade should be possible.

Toilet Board Coalition Accelerator graduate Lootel smart toilet café in Indore, India. Image credit: Lootel 2022

In most regions, the two supply chains that are operating at scale are those of governments and multinational corporations. These supply chains are already designed to serve tens and hundreds of millions of people each day. Products and services exchange hands, much like a relay race, with each participant fully aware of their role. These supply chains have evolved over a significant period of time and are quite stable in their operations. A recent result of these two supply chains uniting to produce transformational impact, has been the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. Since the pandemic broke out, in March 2020, more than 12 billion doses of COVID vaccines have been delivered worldwide. 

Surely – if 12 billion vaccine doses can be delivered in 18 months to benefit the global population, providing safely-managed toilet facilities for 3.6 billion people in the next eight years cannot be a stretch too far? 

Currently, hundreds of thousands of people die each year due to inadequate sanitation. This is preventable. Governments and large corporations working together can fix this. In a post-pandemic world, governments are motivated more than ever before to bring hygiene to the farthest reaches of their countries. If corporates can join them in this zeal, universal sanitation, i.e. Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6), can be a reality much ahead of 2030. While governments focus on social impact and worry about public funds, corporations can bring the business case for safe sanitation and unlock private capital. It can be a wonderful partnership. 

But – what do corporations achieve in ensuring everyone, everywhere can access a safe toilet? 

Ensuring resilient communities

Communities that have safe sanitation will have health, economic prosperity and resilience. Whether as partners or customers, individuals in these communities can become active participants in business growth. If half of humanity is not provided with the basic rights and tools to perform at their potential – is sustained business growth possible?

Sanitation and a healthy workforce

Large companies have a decentralized, distributed workforce contributing from multiple regions. This trend is bound to grow. The workforce will need to be further decentralized and present physically in the markets that it operates in. Increasingly, companies prefer to hire from the same communities that they are looking to serve. People from local communities can bring market intelligence quite seamlessly. As companies become more decentralized, their workforce – located in healthy, hygienic and prosperous communities – must be a durable engine of growth.

Recession-proof demand for hygiene

Sanitation is perhaps the only supply chain that meets its customers every day. People cannot ignore their various daily sanitation needs – there is no alternative option, unlike even eating and heating. Therefore, demand for sanitation products and services can be extremely recession-proof. As the product and service portfolio grows, it will require diverse products not just limited to traditional sanitation – innovative digital sensors, software, robots, and machine technology is already being used widely today. 

While governments have a strong social obligation and ambition regarding universal access to safely managed sanitation, corporations have much at stake too, if they want their supply chains to be resilient and sustainable. Ensuring sanitation systems serve all can bring not only a positive impact on health and hygiene, but also human rights, food and water security, as well as climate change mitigation. 

For this reason, we see a growing number of purpose-driven corporates in- and outside of the commercial sanitation space – including Toilet Board Coalition leading members Unilever, Kimberly-Clark and Lixil – joining hands with public sector and non-profit organizations – including USAID, Aqua for All and Asian Development Bank (ADB) – to invest in acceleration of vital sanitation solutions (such as the Lootel Cafe concept, shown above) being developed by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). There are multibillion-dollar market opportunities awaiting businesses with solutions for the billions of people currently under-serviced.

To achieve necessary social, economic and environmental windfalls in the coming years, corporations should collaborate with governments urgently – entering ‘mission mode’ (again!) in order to save and improve lives.

Image credit: Toilet Board Coalition

Venugopal Gupta headshot

New Delhi-based Venugopal Gupta is Managing Director of Acceleration at global sanitation NGO the Toilet Board Coalition, where he leads global Accelerator and Investment programs – helping Sanitation Economy SMEs scale innovative solutions through access to investment and strategic partnerships. With more than 20 years’ experience as an entrepreneur and senior corporate executive, and an MBA from INSEAD, Venugopal has driven critical initiatives across infrastructure, private equity, venture capital and social impact.

Read more stories by Venugopal Gupta