World Toilet Day and The Sanitation Economy: An interview with Venugopal Gupta 

Wase

Wase

Welcome to our new series of blog posts and happy World Toilet Day! We’ll be sharing with you monthly interviews with all sorts of influential people. To kick things off, we spoke with Venugopal Gupta, the Accelerator Director of the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) to find out more about the sanitation economy and how TBC are addressing the challenges brought by a lack of global sanitation.

Can you tell me a bit about your background, where are you based and how you know WASE Yes so, I’m based in Delhi and I’m the accelerator director at the TBCWASE was part of our accelerator program in 2020. Weve been working on the business model side of WASE this year.  

Sounds brilliant, can you explain your role at the TBC accelerator a bit furtherwhat do you do there So, the program was set up in 2015 and the idea was to see if business approaches are possible in sanitation, we’ve come a long way since that point. That question has been answered overwhelmingly [yes], the next question before us is what does it take to scale enterprises to the next level. Therefore, my work with the cohort is to focus on business models, the features that can scale and the bottle necks that may be a problem in scaling. I also lead investments for TBC so I talk to investors quite a lot and encourage them to invest in the sanitation sector. Walso run the investment committee to facilitate investment capital into sanitation SME’s.  

How does this all relate to World Toilet Day?   World Toilet Day is a great opportunity for all of us who are interested in sanitation to come together, November is a great time to take stock of what has been achieved and to think about what more needs to be done. So, World Toilet Day brings together multiple stakeholders with an opportunity to talk to investors, corporates, entrepreneurs and not for profit organizations that work in this area to exchange ideas and discuss what 2021 should look like.  

 

 

To you, what aspect of global sanitation is the most important and why?  Sanitation is very powerful from many perspectives, especially looking at it from a business model perspective. The first aspect is that there are billions who are outside the scope of sanitation currently, as we widen the net of sanitation and as we bring those people who have been traditionally unserved into the service envelope, I think the sort of impact we can create is amazing. The health risk, disease avoidance you know, economic opportunity… I think there are phenomenal impact areas for people.  The second point is that sanitation reaches the last mile, it’s a great way to reach the absolute last person. You know, sanitation in a way unites us, regardless of our geographical location, regardless of our culture it’s something that we all have in commonSo, bringing sanitation is a great way to reach those communities that are marginalized and have not been served so far. I think that really excites me. And finally, the most exciting part of a sanitation business is that it meets its customers every day, there are very few businesses that can boast of that kind of reach or that kind of engagement so it’s very powerful. 

Absolutely I hadn’t thought of it that way, it does meet people every single day. From what you just said do you think there is a group or a demographic that’s sort of left behind or disproportionately affected by a lack of sanitation?  I would say women, women are definitely a group that’s disproportionately affected by [a lack of] sanitation. If you look at the rural areas across the world, we just don’t have the right facilities and women find this really difficult, unsafe, undignified you know, [facing things such as] open defecation or open sanitation. Even in urban areas sanitation facilities are perhaps not designed in a way for women, they’ve been traditionally designed for men. From a design perspective as well as from an availability perspective, Women have been disproportionality affected.  

Wow, shame, yeah that’s such a shame.  

 

WASE Circular Economy Model

 

Just in case some of the readers don’t know, can you define the term sanitation economy and how we can increase its value?  Yeah, absolutely. The sanitation economy finds its origin [from the] TBC which was set up in 2015 and the idea was to figure out how we could set up sanitation from an unaffordable public cost to a business opportunity.  We thought about how to unlock the value in sanitation and in thinking about that we realized that sanitation is actually a market place. Where lots of products are being soldservices are being consumed and lots of economic value is being created of all kinds I would say the sanitation economy is this market place that is A, creating economic value and Bprincipled you know. It engages in circular model principles and it looks at sustainability as one of the guiding principles. So it’s kind of a sustainable, responsible sanitation market place.  

Thank you that’s great. Finally, as you know WASE quite well, what impacts do you think WASE will have on the sanitation space?  I think tremendous impact, I’m a big fan of what WASE is doing. The whole decentralized approach is something that I find really exciting. Circular economy and water treatment in a decentralized way is very powerful. I do also think that WASE technology can go really far with the right kind of product development and go to market strategy. There’s a very compelling case for technology in what WASE is doing and if the wastewater treatment to energy solution can be fitted with cloud technology then we are talking about a really powerful system. It’s a very powerful model that they are developing, I’m a big fan of what they’re doing.  

Yeah, I definitely agree, I’ve not been part of WASE too long, about 3 months now but it’s a really really great team.  And it’s nice to be near the labs so that I can actually see the tech being developed at the same time as all the branding and communication stuff. Thank you so much for your time, all the best in the lead up to World Toilet Day.  

 

19.11.2020 | Kimberley Dobney