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Source indiatimes.com


Swapnil Chaturvedi's initiative has more than 1.5 lakh slum dwellers using over 3,000 community toilets in the city daily, encouraged by perks like health insurance and doorstep banking services.

Long before the seeds of Swachh Bharat were sown, there was a US-based software engineer who dreamt of clean, safe and reliable community toilet facilities for the urban slum-dwelling poor. Swapnil Chaturvedi decided to demonstrate the concept of a well-designed toilet that kept a user’s needs in mind to the local authorities, and opened the first Samagra Sandas (toilet) in March 2013 in Pune. Now, more than 1.5 lakh people across 100 and more slums are using over 3,000 community toilets in the city daily, as part of his Samagra initiative. “In India, I saw that on one hand, there were big shopping malls while on the other, there were these slums all over the city, with kids defecating in the open. I had seen slums and poverty before. But, maybe because I had lived in US long enough to gain an outsider’s perspective that felt like my blindfolds had been removed and I was seeing these things for the first time,” reminisced the 40-year-old, who had studied electronics engineering at the Bhilai Institute of Technology in Durg, Chhattisgarh, and worked in the US from 2001 to 2009. Then, he left his cushy job as a software engineer and enrolled for a Master’s course in design and management at Northwestern University, Illinois, to pave the way for a new career in social change. He researched sanitation issues affecting the urban poor in developing countries and began working on design and business models that could be applicable in India. Chaturvedi structured Samagra as an agent of behavioural change, with user-friendly toilet design and a unique loyalty programme, by which a person could use the toilets and pay, as well as get value- added services and rewards. Chaturvedi had spent a considerable time at different slums in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Gurgaon and Raipur to get firsthand experience about the approach of slum dwellers towards community toilets. During these slum surveys, he realised that building toilets alone was not going to be enough. There was an urgent need to inculcate hygienic user habits as well as create a sense of ownership and pride for the physical space. Thus, he came up with the “Loo Rewards” solution. At Shravandhara Society in Kothrud, he requested the Pune Municipal Corporation to give one community toilet for operation and maintenance on a pilot basis in 2013. Once the project clicked, he started taking over community toilets in different parts of the city. The Samagra system was designed to make toilets affordable, accessible and aspirational. In order to attract people to the space, Samagra developed a design philosophy that makes space attractive. “I have a team of people taking care of community toilets not only from the cleaning point of view, but also the design aspects,” he shared. The “Loo Rewards” system motivated people to use and pay, and what started off as discounts from local kirana shops gradually upgraded itself to value-added rewards like low-cost health insurance, door step banking, digital payments, discounts on products and so on. Naturally, usage increased manifold and, within few months of its launch, more than half of the community started paying for usage, making the toilets self-sustainable. Samagra enabled people to save money and be prepared for a rainy day. The philosophy behind the initiative was to empower slum dwellers with proper utilities and tools so that they did not fall into the poverty trap. “We believe people should live in healthy environments and if they fall sick, the sickness or emergency should not wipe out their life savings. Similarly, we offer doorstep banking services that enable people to save money without hassle and get up to 6.5 per cent for their savings, which is much higher than any bank. We have proved that we can increase savings by up to 500 per cent. Now, we are providing insurance cover to slum dwellers who are using community toilets, by paying minimum monthly charges,” Chaturvedi explained. His future plans include reaching out to 10 cities and two million daily users within the next two years. “Our goal is to become the largest sanitation enterprise, with 20 million daily users, in five years. We will do this by collaborating with several municipal corporations, NGOs and communitybased organisations,” he offered.

 
 
 

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