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Giving voice, and providing directions, for urbanites who need to pee (& and poop, & change their menstrual pads).

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The Joint Monitoring Project, of the WHO and UNICEF, estimated that in 2015, 41 million people living in Indian cities, practiced open defecation. This is 7% of all urban residents in the country and represents 43% of all urban residents in the world engaging in the practice.

These people are typically slum residents, whether they reside in homes or not. There are many cases where no public latrine alternatives exist for these residents - although there are also many cases where latrines exist but they are considered less favorable than defecating, urinating and addressing menstrual hygiene issues in public. Where sanitation is lacking and no public latrine exists, coverage should be expanded; where latrines exist but they are an affront to human dignity, they should be improved.

Privacy, security, cleanliness and dignity are all essential, especially for women, and arguably more so than in sanitation systems with private latrines. While many public latrines have some facilities for washing and bathing, they rarely contain facilities for disposing of menstrual hygiene management products, or for washing menstrual cloths. 

In addition, many urban residents, even if they have access in or near their home, may not have access outside of the home in their places of work, at the market, in government offices, hospitals or at school. Meeting the full sanitary service needs of a low-income working population requires at least basic access in all of these locations. Women are especially vulnerable without access at work and may even miss work during menstruation. Very little research has been done on extra-household sanitation access: greater efforts are needed at tracking, designing and financing these types access. Schools are an important arena in particular, because lack of sanitation could lead to lower attendance and graduation rates. 

We propose to develop a texting-based & smart phone capable app that would allow people to search for the nearest public restroom, rate the facilities there, and complain if their isn't one nearby, or if the facilities are not properly maintained.

We would focus on girls and women, include schools and make sure that the technology could be used by anyone with a phone; we would ensure that low-income and/or illiterate populations were engaged in particular. Our hope is to i) raise awareness of the issue of extra-household access to sanitation, and ii) have a crowd-sourced map of latrine access, covering both day-use extra-household needs and the needs of residents that use a public latrine as their primary point of access to sanitation. This map would be available to the public via a dedicated website, for use by grass-roots NGOs, but would also be used by our team to make targeted recommendations to policy-makers and possibly assist in the framing and motivating of future policy-oriented research projects.

In addition, the website would also provide an area for information sharing among providers and users, whether they be schools, government offices or the proprietors of stand-alone public latrines. We hope that this will help foster the grass-roots creation of best management practices, idea-sharing, and perhaps also the chance to give praise for those latrine owners that have done exemplary work.

Our app and website would increase visibility, accountability and transparency, but ultimately we want to increase the number, type and frequency of conversations about sanitation. We want to create a new way for people to engage with sanitation issues in their community, across neighborhoods and income levels, in order to talk about how best to create the clean, sanitary city that everyone wants to live in. We will focus on the gaps, but by engaging with people on the ground, and connecting their feedback to the other residents of the city, in real-time and with opportunities for further comments and discussion, we hope to foster a space whereby people stop talking about their sanitation problems and start talking about their sanitation solutions. 

How would you describe the stage of development of your idea?

  • Conceptual Development

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

Our aim would be to start in Bangalore, but we would eventually scale up to the rest of India after a few years time. We would focus on the 41 million Indian residents of urban areas that practice open defecation, as well as the rest of the urban population that might use public latrines for extra-household day use needs. After scaling up nationally, we would look to expand to other regions of the world, and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

We would engage with students first. We would raise awareness for the project initially by creating a school latrine comparison map through crowd-sourcing among students. Once we have established ourselves with students, we would then expand to parents, and then the neighbors of parents, until we have scaled up to all residents in the city which face some type of limitation on their access to sanitation.

What types of financing would be required for your idea to be successful?

Costs would be minimal. The only costs would be for the development of the app, the on-going maintenance of the app and the website, and any marketing necessary to encourage people to use the app. We imagine that this would not be funded by the users, however, as free and open access to the app and the website would need to be maintained. We would like to obtain donor funding in order to cover app development and to cover marketing during the initial scale up. But once the app garnered sufficient users, we could sell advertising space which we imagine should cover on-going maintenance costs and further marketing endeavors.

If you are proposing to partner with other organizations, please explain their role and reason for partnership.

This idea is in the preliminary stages. Although we do have a network of past collaborators, we will need to develop our ideas, and perhaps create a working prototype, before we can formalize new partnerships focused on this project in particular. For example, we have connections with NextDrop in India, and we are hoping that either they would be willing to partner with us as we develop the app, or refer us to local partners that might assist with app development. We also have connections with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and we hope that they might help us to build relationships with local Indian policy-makers. As of right now we have not formally created any partnerships yet, as this is a completely new idea; but we have formed partnerships with organizations working on the ground in India in past projects and we have no doubt that we will be able to do so again in the future.

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

If you have been operating in India, what has been your focus?

We have conducted impact evaluations of NextDrop in Bangalore, and the Karnataka Urban Water Sector Improvement Project (KUWASIP) in Hubli-Dharwad.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • No

What states or districts will you target/are you targeting within India?

Bangalore, Karnataka to launch, then scaling up to other city centers, most likely moving on to Mumbai and Delhi next.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

We are a team of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley. Our research focuses on water and sanitation access in developing countries and in India in particular. We are made up of Zachary Burt, Postdoctoral scholar at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, Prof. Isha Ray of the Energy and Resources Group and Prof. Kara Nelson of the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.


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