Hygiene has assumed a greater significance since the pandemic, given that handwashing with soap is one of the most effective, simplest and cheapest measures to prevent the spread of Covid and several other infectious diseases. Discussing customised solutions on sanitation for the rural and peri-urban communities is Mr Amit Konlade from SATO in an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal. Following are the excerpts from the exchange.
1. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of hygiene and sanitation across the globe. At this stage, what is the responsibility of companies involved in this industry, in your opinion?
One of the crucial points brought to the fore for everyone because of COVID is that innovation is really required, and so is collaboration. I think there is an excellent necessity for products that can enhance people’s proper hygiene practices. As was emphasised by the pandemic, hand hygiene is critical. Therefore, we need products which are innovative, affordable, easy to use, and purposefully designed for communities that currently do not have access to solutions like that.
In addition to that, there is a requirement for collaboration of different stakeholders that can come together and bring in effective, affordable solutions and inspire behaviour change in the masses. COVID has brought a lot of focus back again on reinventing the wheel and bringing in some excellent innovative products which can help the people who do not currently have access to such products.
2. What initiatives are undertaken by SATO to improve sanitation habits in Rural India and Urban Slums?
As we all know, it is still challenging for a big chunk of society to access safely managed sanitation in India. SATO has constantly been working on this. We have been working to create solutions for the communities that currently do not have the correct products or the resources to afford the products available in the market. We are doing this by creating innovative, affordable, and easily available products.
We have also tried to upskill some rural communities by educating them on how to use the products we provide them. This way, they can improve their overall hygiene and sanitation habits.
We partnered with many social sector organisations because we believe that behaviour change is also required to enable the use of that product along with a good product. We have partnered with organisations such as UNICEF, Habitat for Humanity, and USAID, among others. These partnerships help us ensure that our products are not only used by the communities but are also instrumental in changing the lifestyle of these people.
During the pandemic, we jointly worked with UNICEF and developed a product called the SATO Tap, which focuses on hand hygiene and emphasises the importance of hand washing. As we all know, running water is a challenge for many communities. So with less water, what could the communities do? With this in mind, the product SATO tap was developed. We then made sure that the product was available to the communities in need for free. The product was also designed so that if these people want to repurchase the product, it is readily available to them and affordable.
3. What challenges did the team face in imparting sanitation habits in the country?
Behaviour has been the biggest challenge. The problem is that most of the time the products that are available to the rural communities are substandard versions of the urban products. The original products are expensive. But the cheaper versions are the, damaged or the 2nd-grade versions of the original product. These products usually cascade down to these communities. So they still believe that those are the products that they need to adopt.
In actuality what is needed is for someone to understand the circumstances of these communities and innovate products targeted and focused on their needs. If someone does not have 45 litres of water, he’s not going to be able to use the normal toilet. He’s going to need a product that utilizes the resource that is available to him and make good use of it. So even with less water, a toilet still has to be functional and doesn’t need to stink. Those problems need to be addressed. So I think for behaviour change, what is important is proper innovation and making sure that the said innovation trickles down at the grassroots level.
4. How can CSR improve hygiene and sanitation habits in India?
CSR is so much more than a corporate just donating something to the community. I think it is essential for companies to actually understand the importance and the impact of their CSR initiatives on the community. It is essential that companies collaborate with their partners and come together to make optimal use of the resources available. There is a large scope in lieu of the Swachh Bharat Mission with regards to actions that can be taken in order to uplift these societies and inspire behaviour change in them with respect to sanitation and hygiene.
We have collaborated with quite a few partners in India and other markets we are operating in. We believe that the correct product and the correct CSR initiative pushed together in a community which really requires it, could create a lot of impact.
5. What are the future goals of the company for the benefit of society in India?
We started in India in 2017 and ever since then, our goal has been to make sure that a maximum number of people adapt to better sanitation and hygiene habits. We have always tried to focus on innovation, affordability and availability to make sure that our products are catering to the requirements of the usually ignored strata of the community.
Apart from this, a goal that we have as a corporate is that by 2025 we want to touch 100 million lives. We believe that in the coming years, there is going to be a lot of focus on making sure that the SDG 6.2 targets are met and that India is faring well in its performance for sanitation on a global level.