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Empowering - not just Handing Out

"India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, made a bold statement: India, he said, would eliminate open defecation by October 2019. To accomplish this enormous goal, the Indian government aspires to build 120 million toilets in rural India. The budget for the massive public INR 200,000 crores ($29 billion)...The solution, though, is not as simple as just handing out free toilets."

Who among us have faced anything like the massive challenge that confronts a nation like India as it works to eliminate the widespread sanitation problem of open defecation that, in turn, causes widespread disease? To achieve impact in India, the various agents of change do not think in terms of hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of people. In India, one has to think in terms of hundreds of thousands and millions of human beings.

They also have to deal with entrenched cultural barriers that have made the supposedly simple top-down, handout model fail. "Asad Umar is the senior program officer for health at the Agha Khan Foundation and responsible for this extensive project. He has seen charitable organizations dole out toilets in the past. As he says, “Clearly, building toilets works only when people use them, and usage is only possible when communities are involved in the planning, construction, and maintenance of toilet facilities.”"

A trio of articles from Stanford Social Innovation Review's Impact India (listed at the end of this blog) beautifully illustrates the breakthrough impact of employing innovative approaches to engaging and empowering people.

Instead of traditional top-down methods, these non-profits have "returned to the basics" enhanced with some new twists that taken together engage people in solving their own problems. Their approaches include starting from raw materials (instead of pre-built toilets), thinking in terms of "sanitation ecosystems" rather than handing out toilets, training a cadre of local artisans, funding each family's toilet installation through micro-finance, and much more.

Please share your personal experiences with "empowering, not just handing out." Speak out!

SOURCES: Engaging Citizens to Improve Sanitation -; Fixing India's Sewage Problem -;and, Fostering Sustainable Sanitation -

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