Making a Better Toilet with Social Franchising

By Shankar Narayanan, Director of Programs at PSI India

Credit: NY TimesI’d like to eat a burger. A chicken burger, mind you.

What if I had to go to a bakery for the bun, a butcher for the meat, a grocer for the lettuce, tomato and onion and a deli for the cheese?

By the time I put everything together, the lettuce has wilted, the bread is stale and the meat is looking a bit funny. To top it all off, I’ve never even made a chicken burger before and I’m not sure of how to cook it.

That’s what it’s like buying a toilet in Bihar.

Over 60% of India’s population does not have access to a toilet, meaning they are forced to defecate outside, a practice which causes the spread of diarrheal disease and contamination of the environment. PSI partnered with the NGOs Monitor Group, PATH and Water For People to answer the question: “Why don’t households have toilets?”.

We found that the supply chain is fragmented.

Families want toilets, but they have to go to so many different shops to aggregate the right materials that it has become a major hurdle to construction. The average customer has to cover nearly 19km of distance to reach each shop.

Even if they can manage to collect the bricks, the pan, the cement, the tiles and more, they will have to hire a skilled mason to put everything together and often return home to find that the materials aren’t good quality. To make matters worse, many families cannot afford to have the cash to make a purchase up front, a requirement from many suppliers.

To address these issues, PSI is applying its expertise in social franchising, the use of commercial franchising strategies in the non-profit sector to expand access to products and services for underserved communities.

The goal of social franchising is to improve access, quality, equity, and cost effectiveness of the health-related products and services in developing countries like India. Social franchising strengthens the existing sanitation market infrastructure by engaging local private enterprises to improve the quality of the toilets being delivered in an often unregulated private sector. PSI’s social franchising business model is structured around four components: 1) The franchise brand; 2) franchisee standards and procedures; 3) the franchisor operating system; and 4) financing mechanisms.

PSI will contribute to a decrease in open defecation and an increase in access to and use of improved sanitation by working through the private sector to make markets work for the poor. At PSI, we feel that business opportunities abound in sanitation, including in urban and rural areas and throughout the sanitation value chain from construction to maintenance, which will also deliver sustainable health impact for the people we serve.

This approach allows PSI to better coordinate the supply chain for sanitation, including establishing one-stop-shops for toilet materials and service delivery, while simultaneously working with the existing retailers to connect them better with each other and with consumers.

Today PSI is the largest social franchising organization in the world, operating 24 franchises in Asia, Africa, and Latin America with a combined estimated total of 10,000 franchisees delivering services to some 10 million clients per year.

Services being franchised have grown to products and services that include a range of family planning, reproductive health and maternal and child interventions such as sexually transmitted infection treatment and management , cervical cancer screening, tuberculosis treatment, HIV counseling and testing, malaria prevention and treatment, pneumonia treatment, and of course diarrheal disease treatment and prevention.

PSI is working to identify more affordable options for families in India, and to increase their access to financing to help them make a purchase.

Just like McDonalds created a franchise of restaurants that makes a burger – the Big Mac – easy to buy, PSI is enabling households in Bihar to buy the toilet they need from the newly-established “Saadhan Toilet Centers” with the price and quality they want – Basic, Deluxe or Super Deluxe.

I don’t have to get every part of that chicken sandwich I want. There are countless options for getting it right now and the franchise model has played a key role. Why can’t the same be done for a toilet in India?