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How we are helping to address the global sanitation crisis

Charlie Beevor, Unilever’s Global VP of Household Cleaning, recently attended World Water Week in Stockholm. Here he explains why and how we are involved, and the particular focus of our Domestos brand.

Mobilising action

Asian women in traditional dress
Charlie Beevor, Global VP of Household Cleaning
Charlie Beevor

Chairman of the Toilet Board Coalition

Charlie’s recent roles at Unilever have involved launching Lifebuoy and handwashing programmes in Latin America, and Domestos in Brazil, Southern Africa and Iran. He is motivated by finding ways for brands and businesses to grow by helping to tackle societal problems.

This Toilet Board Coalition looks at business-led approaches to provide sanitation to the underserved and the unserved.

It’s sobering to think that, in this progressive, fast-paced, twenty-first century world, billions of people still go through life without their basic needs being met. In fact, 2.3 billion lack access to a clean, safe toilet and at least 1.8 billion use a source of drinking water that is faecally contaminated.

The annual World Water Week summit gathers experts and innovators in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) community to mobilise action to end such alarming statistics. This is an important event for Unilever and our Domestos brand, with its commitment to help 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet by 2020.

The Toilet Board Coalition

This coalition of multinational businesses, government agencies, sanitation experts and entrepreneurs, looks at business-led approaches to provide sanitation to the underserved and the unserved. Unilever was a founding member.

Its work complements donor-funded programmes – from UNICEF, WaterAid and national governments, for example – by helping sanitation businesses reach scale and profitability faster. This also creates jobs and livelihoods so, if donor funding dries up, businesses exist to keep the work going.

Aims of this year's World Water Week

Traditionally, World Water Week has focused on access to clean water, and on government and NGO-led programmes. Sanitation has grown in focus in recent years. This year, the Coalition wanted to increase the attention on the complementary business opportunities linked to sanitation.

The Coalition led a panel discussion entitled Business Approaches to Waste to Resource Models. This drew attention to its work in identifying opportunities for a circular economy approach.

This is about transforming human waste – or ‘toilet resources’ – into valuable products. It can be converted into biogas to generate electricity. It can also be converted safely into fertiliser. This isn’t just theoretical. There are businesses doing this right now. Sanergy in Kenya and Safi Sana in Ghana are two good examples. As more businesses see the value in these ‘toilet resources’, we expect to see more sanitation enterprises achieving scale.

We also announced a partnership with the Pune Municipal Corporation and the Toilet Board Coalition, with strong support from Unilever, to make Pune – a city east of Mumbai – the world’s first smart sanitation city. There will be pilot initiatives that will lead to a significant increase in the access to sanitation, digital marketing to support sustained behaviour change, as well as circular economy approaches that generate value from waste.

Entrepreneurs and mentoring

The Toilet Board Coalition has a ‘Toilet Accelerator’ programme, where we mentor small sanitation enterprises to help them strengthen their businesses and scale up.

I’m mentoring a business called Clean Team Ghana, which provides in-home toilets that don’t require plumbing. Twice a week, the waste is collected and safely disposed of. They have strengthened their customer service model, while improving profitability. They are now seeking investment so they can expand to 10,000 households in Kumasi – Ghana’s second largest city – in the next few years.

Toilets and wi-fi

Rohit Pathak, Domestos Global Brand Director, is mentoring a social enterprise – Samagra – in Pune, India. This business refurbishes run-down community toilets and offers access to families for a small monthly fee.

Around this, they offer other services and products, like health insurance and access to low-cost mobile data bundles. Their wi-fi offering is of particular interest to us. It gives us a platform to deliver behaviour-change messaging, and then track how consumers respond. Through that insight, we know which activities are most effective. We can then roll these out across similar centres.

The WASH4Work partnership

Unilever is on the steering committee of WASH4Work, a partnership of private and public sector businesses and organisations. This initiative aims to mobilise greater private sector engagement in the provision of equitable and accessible WASH within business operations, supply chains and surrounding communities.

At World Water Week, WASH4Work shared new resources available for businesses interested in providing proper WASH in the workplace. Additionally, Unilever, Diageo, the Gap and WaterAid gave an update on the research they are conducting in support of WASH4Work. The research aims to strengthen the business case for why the private sector must engage on this critical issue, looking at factors such as increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and the improved health and safety of employees.

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