The better the question. The better the answer. The better the world works.

How entrepreneurship can lead to a cleaner living environment

Discover how an EY team in India helped economically and culturally revitalize communities while creating a cleaner place to live.

Related topics Advisory Health
Women Carrying Bottles
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The better the question

When is empowerment the greatest public service you can offer?

Public sanitation has been a critical issue in India.

Public sanitation in India is a crisis affecting millions of people across the country. People don’t have access to proper sanitation, leading to waste in open areas. Even in developed areas, waste is moved manually from private homes to public dumping grounds by underprivileged people who have been charged with this task for generations. As a result, 85% of waste goes untreated and contaminates already-scarce water sources.

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The better the answer

The lobby for change

People are empowered to be entrepreneurs in their own communities and combat the public sanitation crisis.

In 2014, more than 500 million people lacked access to toilets. Members of the EY Advisory team were inspired by the national government’s Clean India Mission and sought to increase access to toilets and standardize waste treatment in marginalized communities. They drove a demand-led approach by working with affected communities to lobby for change and help underprivileged people to entrepreneurially capitalize on their stigmatized work.

The team piloted this approach in four communities in Varanasi, a city of about 1.5 million. The program enabled people to act as entrepreneurs, operating public toilets as a business enterprise and working with the local government. The team also incubated three sanitation entrepreneurs to take this solution to schools, where almost a quarter of the girls were forced to drop out due to a lack of toilets. These entrepreneurs worked to implement and operate toilets, resulting in a 23% reduction in the female dropout rate, and more than 200 school children adopted hygienic habits through a focused communication campaign. As a result of these efforts in Varanasi, the communities experienced a 70% reduction in waste in open areas within 18 months.

Due to its success, the EY team scaled up their approaches to two states — Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. In Odisha, the EY team created town halls where women collaborated and led “self-help groups”. These women lobbied to demand additional facilities from their local government, resulting in the installation of new public toilets in each community. Once the toilets were installed, the team worked with the people charged with transporting the waste to help them not only maintain the new toilets but develop entrepreneurial skills to secure better equipment and pay for their labor. These community members became empowered to work safely, profit from their efforts and feel proud of the difference they’re making.

In Andhra Pradesh, the team empowered the communities and government to install a decentralized treatment facility, replacing public dumping grounds, providing a safe method of disposal and keeping water sources clean. The workers are able to profit by selling these services to the government directly.

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A cleaner, better India

The team’s solutions are helping to revolutionize sanitation across India.

Between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, these approaches are expected to result in more than 90 treatment facilities and benefit almost 23 million citizens. Community by community, this team is creating the model for a grassroots sanitation revolution across the country. Beyond the obvious health benefits, these communities are economically and culturally revitalized, empowered to demand and profit from solutions to problems that have existed for generations. By helping people where they are, understanding cultural challenges and finding approaches that will give them a cleaner place to live, this team is building a better India every day.