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Samagra (समग्र)

Awesome Sanitation Services For The Urban Poor (आओ संडास , सर्विस पाओ बिंदास)

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Samagra's Mission:

To "enable the Urban Poor lead dignified, productive and empowered lives"

Sanitation Issues in India:

Unfortunately, India accounts for 600 million of the nearly 1.1 billion people worldwide who regularly defecate in the open due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. The problem is especially acute in India's dense urban environments. Women and children bear a disproportionate burden of the negative effects stemming from poor sanitation.

In urban India, while the percentage of households without toilets decreased to 18.6% in 2011 from 26.3% in 2001, the number of households without toilets increased slightly to 20 million households or roughly 100 million people. Of these individuals, roughly 25 million use public toilets that are dilapidated at best and often unhygienic while an estimated 75 million people in urban India defecate in the open everyday.

Despite the great need that exists and the transformative effect that community toilet facilities can have on the poor, few organizations have been able to address this issue effectively. Existing solutions take a “top-down” approach, attempting to bring certain technologies or methodologies to the base of the pyramid. Most sanitation programs fail or have limited impact because they fail to realize that solving these issues is not just about technology or infrastructure, it is also about user engagement and behavior change.

Seeking to deeply understand the wants and the needs of our end users we have performed intense ethnographic research across slums in various cities in India.
We have found that the Critical factors responsible for failure of sanitation efforts are:
1. Lack of appropriate Toilets (design issues)
2. Lack of User Engagement (behavior issues)
3. Lack of Operational Models (maintenance/operational issues)

Samagra's Approach:

We have found that in order to create sustainable social impact with respect to sanitation issues we have to do 3 things:
1. Change The Environment i.e. build better toilets
2. Change The Behavior i.e. engage user emotionally and rationally
3. Build a financially sustainable Ops Model

Samagra’s holistic model incorporates the “change framework” into its DNA.

Samagra is the first for-profit sanitation social enterprise in India that is dedicated solely to providing access to clean, safe, and reliable community toilet facilities for the urban slum-dwelling poor.

What makes the model innovative is the seamless bundling of other value-added services along with the toilet block:
- Financial services (including savings accounts)
- Access to digital goods (mobile phone re-charge, TV subscription services, Bill Payment Services)
- Access to life improving Products and Services (like Health Services, Ecommerce etc)

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Samagra effectively partners with municipal agencies and businesses and leverages existing community toilet infrastructure to create a community center and a “one stop shop” for slum residents.

The model has proven its ability to attract and retain users to the toilet facility, promote hygienic behavior, and still achieve profitability.

As it worked to build a proof of concept, Samagra has been supported by grant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Millennium Alliance (USAID, UKAID, Technology Development Board, FICCI)Ashoka Fellowship and  Acumen India Fellowship and several awards for implementing an innovative business model for sanitation.

By providing access to community toilet facilities that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – that also double as a center of commerce and other activity – Samagra has proven it can reduce rates of open defecation and effect improved health and security for its members.

Samagra has successfully re-designed and operates 12 community toilet blocks (320 Toilet Seats) in the city of Pune, Maharashtra and currently has over 10,000+ daily users that are regularly using the facilities.

The team now aspires to replicate this model and scale up to total of 60 toilet blocks serving over 60,000 daily users by the Dec 2016

Why did I start Samagra?

There is only one reason why I started Samagra - "For Women's Dignity". 

Samagra's LooRewards Model

Samagra's LooRewards Business Model is based on "Monetization of The User Engagement"

The model at its core focuses on good design and effective management of community toilet blocks. Samagra combines knowledge and expertise from a variety of discipline – human-centered design, toilet block management, personnel training and marketing - to create community facilities that offer both sanitation services and access to critical value added services for local slum-dwelling populations.

Samagra operates in India, where those who handle human waste are considered "untouchables" by society and as such people willing to work on handling the toilet waste are NOT readily available. There are also government laws that prohibit human handling of waste from dry toilets, thus rendering "canister or cartridge" model of toilet-emptying illegal.

Samagra started with a business model of converting toilet waste into biogas and thus generating revenue from the waste, but we soon realized that even discussing about toilet waste is considered taboo, let alone usage of the biogas or fertilizer produced from toilet waste. Also there is a HUGE Capital Cost related biogas generation technologies and these also require a lot of space that is NOT available in urban slums.

Due to social, financial and spatial issues associated with "Monetizing The Shit" business model we realized early on that this will be very difficult to scale in slums of India. Although all the waste from our toilet blocks gets treated, we do not monetize the by-products produced from waste, except for the treated water that is used for flushing and cleaning the toilets.

How Does Samagra Model Work?

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1. Design:Samagra designs and renovates community toilet blocks in partnership with the Municipality which pays for all the renovation and utilities (water and electricity). 

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2. Operate: Samagra then starts operating these blocks. Each Block is run by a local women who acts as the Kiosk Manager or Operator (a.k.a "Loo-Preneur") and is regularly cleaned by Samagra's Cleaning Force also known as Clean Warriors

Samagra's Kiosk Managers a.k.a LooPreneurs
Samagra's Cleaning Force a.k.a Clean Warriors

3. Engage: All slum dwellers can use the toilets for free.

But only those who pay for usage get access to LooRewards or Value Added Services like (Mobile Tops Ups, Bill Payments, Banking, Health Services and E-Commerce)

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2-Levels of Behavior Change through LooRewards:

Most Slum dwellers in India consider community toilets to be a free social utility. As it is said "Thing that belongs to everyone, does not belong to anyone". As such users are unwilling to pay for community toilets and would rather defecate in open. Free community toilets suffer from ownership issues (that lead to misuse and vandalism).

While fee payment is critical to create ownership, most often the toilets relying on User Fee for revenues often fail to sustain operations because they fail to change the behavior as many people DO NOT want to pay for toilets

As such 2-levels of behavior change are required in order to promote sanitation in urban slum communities while making O&M of community toilets self-sustainable.

1. Converting Non-Users into Users (Reduction in Open Defecation)
2. Converting Non-Payers into Payers (Creating a New Social Norm of Paying for Utilities)

Samagra's LooRewards Platform accomplishes this in the following manner:
All the slum dwellers in the service area are free to use Samagra operated community toilet blocks. But ONLY those who pay get access to Samagra's LooRewards programs that provides Value Added Services as digital goods, bill payments, banking, health and e-commerce services etc.

As such:
1. By converting filthy community toilets into well-designed & clean facilities, Samagra motivates non-users to start using the toilets. And,

2. By tying REWARDS with GOOD BEHAVIORS of paying for toilet usage, Samagra is able to change social norm into "Community Toilets as a Paid Utility".

As such Open Defecation is reduced and toilet becomes self-sustainable within few Months of Operations.

Components of Samagra Model:

- LooRewards & LooKiosks:LooRewards essentially a rewards program to incentivize paid usage of toilets by offering only paying toilet users access to services at the LooKiosk. LooKiosks act as access points manned by local women who acts as the Kiosk Manager or Operator (a.k.a "Loo-Preneur") a.k.a LooPreneurs, who use Samagra's ICT enabled technology to administer the services offered through the kiosk. 

- LooSavings: The model is also supplemented by LooSavings, which provides a savings accounts for members. This enables paying toilet users to avail banking services. Thus sanitation and Financial Inclusion go hand in hand. Savings programs also reduces cost of operations and makes Samagra Model highly scalable and replicable

- Kiosk Operators/LooPreneurs: As Samagra scaled its operations, it has also been successful in motivating local women to take the role of managing kiosks. All of Samagra’s LooKiosks are being operated by women who are playing an important part in sustainability of Samagra’s Operations by delivering all the Value Added Services to our paying users

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Results & Impact:

- 12 Community Toilet Blocks (320 Seats)
- 10,000+ Daily Users
- 30-50% Increase in Toilet Usage
- 600% Increase in Users Paying for toilets
- Toilets Start Breaking Even within few Months of Operations

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Samagra's Vision:

As it expands in 2016 alone, Samagra has the opportunity to put Pune, Maharashtra on the map as a model city for India that has perfected the community toilet block for its citizens, and also to create a “demonstration effect” in other large cities across India. 

Samagra's Goal is to scale up to 300 Toilet Blocks serving over 300,000 daily toilet users by end of 2018.

Scale Through Franchisee Model:

The larger vision is to amplify Samagra's Impact by partnering with other sanitation providers and equip them with our "Toilet Management Processes & Technology" and "user engagement LooRewards Platform" that will enable these partners make their own operations sustainable.

Meanwhile we will keep bringing more and more life improving products and services through our LooRewards Platform, thus "Empowering Transformations" in urban slum communities.

We believe that Sanitation is a Wicked Problem.
Sanitation practices we know have evolved over years.

The behavior is a consequence of multiple environmental factors such as infrastructure, education, lifestyles, social norms. The history associated with the problem also leads to multiple beliefs. 

As such solution to sanitation lies in the use of Psychology, Technology and Business Models

Few Articles/Videos About Samagra:

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

  • Scaling phase

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

The City of Pune alone has over 564 slum pockets with 1.2 Million Residents (40% of total population) requiring over 24000 Community Toilet seats (~1000 Toilets) to be managed properly.

Samagra has surveyed various Tier I and Tier II cities (like Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad etc) with requirements of thousands of well-manged community toilets. As per our research about 1 Million Community Toilet seats need to managed across urban slums of top 10 most populated cities of India.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

Samagra's Model has been designed with Social, Cultural and Financial sustainability in mind. Our toilet designs and the LooRewards Value added services have been designed after thorough experimentation and research on user behaviors, needs and wants, so that we are NOT required to make any drastic changes in our operational model as we scale.
The MoU with local Municipality ensures that CapEx and costs of utilities is taken care of. As we have become better in user engagement, we have been able to accomplish unit-level break-even withing 4-8 months of operations. This ensures block level sustainability while bringing small amounts of revenue towards the company.
We are estimating that by the end of 2016 we will be able to achieve unit level break-even with 3 months of operations.

And we are putting significant amount of efforts in:
- Robust processes for Recruiting and Training the Toilet Operators/Loo-Preneurs
- Streamlining Logistics for Cleaning Operations
- Increased coordination with the Municipality for Toilet Construction
- Developing Leadership team that can manage scale of operations
- Implementation of robust financial and operational protocols

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

Samagra's Model has a Chicken and Egg issue.
Samagra is currently making revenue at unit level and our facilities break even after only few months of operations.
While at unit level our model is becoming robust, every unit contributes only a small amounts of revenue towards the company. While we are working on unlocking revenue channels that would bring more revenue into the company, we estimate breaking even at the company level once we have 175-200 toilet blocks under operation.

Therefore we are looking for following type of funding:
- Grant Funding - to fund cash flow shortfall as we scale up, make our model more robust and unlock more sources of revenues.
- Equity Funding - to fund growth as we reach scale of 100-150 toilet blocks.

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

Samagra’s SMART Partnership Philosophy: We believe that SMART partnerships should accelerate cash flow, increase revenue, reduce costs and should result in mutual social/financial benefits. Partnerships built on solid business and social benefits like these have a much greater likelihood of succeeding in the long term and forging such effective partnerships can speed entry into a new geographic area or market segment, open additional channels of distribution, accelerate new product development, and reduce costs.

We focus on creating partners across 3 major categories:
1. Government Partners like ULBs, Political Leaders - Samagra cannot scale without their support
2. Funding Partners - To provide strategic advice and funding required for scale
3. Business and Technology Partners - that can enable Samagra to:
- Reduce cost of operations
- Unlock new revenues
- Create deeper engagement
- Make Samagra model more profitable and scalable

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

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

Samagra is only focused on providing sanitation services in Urban Slums. After failed pilots that involved "monetization of shit" in Raipur and Bhubaneswar, we have only been operating in the city of Pune in Maharashtra for the last 3 years.
However we have performed research in 4 mega cities and 3 big cities across India to understand the market size and customer behaviors across slums.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

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

Samagra currently only operates in the city of Pune, Maharashtra. We have performed research in 4 mega cities and 3 big cities across India to understand the market size and customer behaviors across slums. After making our technology and business model more robust by mid of 2017, we plan to scale to 2 cities in 2017 and 3 more cities in 2018.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am passionate about Sanitation in Urban slums because of the impact it can have on the lives of Urban Poor.
Can you imagine living a single day without toilets? This is a very difficult question for over 100 Million Indians living in urban slums - That is equivalent to 1/3rd of the US population. Imagine the plight of women and girls in slums who lose dignity every day while trying to find a place to relieve themselves.

Being a father of a young daughter I have made pledge to her and to myself that I will not stop until every mother, sister & daughter had access to dignified Sanitation.

Samagra’s team comprises of engineers, MBAs, designers, social scientists and leaders who have deep seated entrepreneurial spirit and passion for designing appropriate solutions for intractable problems. We have combined experience of over 15 years in designing physical spaces and over 20 years of experience in Branding, Marketing, Product Promotion, Content Creation and Getting Shit Done !

Is this a new or recent idea for your organization? How does it differ from what you are already doing?

In 2011, Samagra started as an organization trying to generate revenue by converting Human Waste in Power (Biogas and electricity). While this model worked at a small scale in a slum of Bhubaneswar, we soon realized that not only does the "Monetization of Waste" model has huge CapEx implications, the model is NOT scalable and replicable to other slums.
Our toilet users in Bhubaneswar were NOT ready to cook with biogas made from human waste and the local farmers were NOT ready to pay for fertilizer made from human waste. On top of all this, City Sanitation Policies and land availability in urban areas, make installation of Waste Treatment facilities, that require large space, very difficult.
The Unit Economic of "Poop-to-Power" model fell apart as we scaled and were unable to create viable revenue channels.
LooRewards model (in development since 2013), on the other hand, is scalable, viable and replicable to all slums areas because it monetizes the "wants and needs" of Urban poor.

What are the two or three biggest risks for your idea and how will you manage the risks?

Risk 1: Operator
Risks -Fraud & misappropriation by operator can hamper operations. Mitigants -Use of Technology to move to a complete cashless system and effectively monitor/detect fraud
Risk - A sub-par Operator can create serious challenges for Samagra. Mitigants - Strengthen recruiting process of Operators followed by a well-designed Training process. Move a complete entrepreneur model so that incentives are properly aligned

2. Reliance on ULB
Threats: Dependence on ULBs for permissions/other provisions from the ULB's (Which can reduce scale-up pace). Opportunities - Scale aggressively & deploy strong outreach efforts to unleash the "demo effect"

3. Water dependency
Risk- Dependence on water.
Mitigants: Use recycled water for cleaning & flushing

Risk4. Dependence on Cleaning Execs
Risks- Samagra depends on humans for cleaning that can pose challenges at scale. Mitigants- Develop a self-cleaning & self flushing technology. ( funds will be used for this)

How would you propose to track or record the households or customers reached?

Before Samagra starts intervening in a community, we collect extensive toilet traffic/usage and baseline data from all the households in the community. And as soon as Samagra launches its operations in a community, every new user who becomes Samagra's paying user is enrolled through LooRewards digital platform. Number of daily users is tracked using traffic monitoring system. These ICT technologies enable us calculate Loorewards penetration and usage, and track users and non users in real-time

If you had two years and $250,000 USD in funding, how many households or customers would you reach?

Samagra Toilet Units break even within 4-8 months of operation.
However, as mentioned earlier, Samagra will break even at company level once we reach ~175 Units under our operations. Also there are a lot of revenue models that will only unfold at scale.
As such Samagra will scale aggressively in the Next 2 Years adding 5-7 Community Toilet Units (100-140 toilet seats) every month OR 1000-1400 families every month.
Combined with other funding of USD 450,000 that we have already raised, USD 250,000 funding will enable us to reach minimum of 100 Toilets OR 20000 Families OR 100,000 Daily toilet users.
As such Water.Org's USD 250,000 Funding will be of extremely strategic value for Samagra because it will enable us to increase revenue coming from every single unit towards company and as such making Samagra ready for impact investment.
We believe that Water.Org funding will enable Samagra become first equity invested slum sanitation company in India

How would you propose to invest $250,000 USD if you received philanthropic/grant funding support from

Samagra Core Toilet Activities are as follows:
1. Community Data Collection
2. Community Engagement
3. Toilet Management:
- Recruiting and Training the Toilet Operators/Loo-Preneurs
- Recruiting and Training the Cleaning Executives
- Partnerships with Local, National Business
- Partnerships with ULBs
- Toilet Management Technology
4. Processes
- Increased coordination with the ULB
- Developing Leadership team that can manage scale of operations
- Implementation of robust Technology, financial and operational protocols

Our Toilet Units break even within 4-8 months of operation (All unit level expenses Operator Income, Cleaning Executive Income get covered). However revenues coming from Units towards Company are not enough to fund the cost total of operations and tech development.
As such there will be a cash shortfall until we reach ~175 toilets when total revenues from units will start covering cost of operations and technology. USD 250k will cover for this shortfall

What type of support beyond grant funding are you most interested in?

Business Strategy Support - How can Samagra scale without screwing up by using Franchisee model and SMART partnerships?
Linkages to Financial Institutions - so that Samagra can offer diverse range of financial productslike micro-loans, insurance etc as LooRewards
Technology guidance - Economically viable waste treatment tech, Use of ICT in Ops, monitoring and evaluation
Government Engagement - In locations where Samagra is NOT present but water.Org and it's grantees/partners are

Does your organization have Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) approval?

Samagra works with one of the best minds in impact investing space. We have absorbed USD 700k in grant funding so far without need for FCRA.
Samagra will work with Water.Org to make sure the funding is disbursed with proper legalities and compliances

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Hi Swapnil,

Absolutely loved the idea and the way it has been narrated! Its a good social cause I would say in order to provide sanitation facility to the people living in India. Was wondering if this organisation can collaborate with NGO's or NPO's by providing them basic education to understand the importance of "good sanitation" to the illiterate people in the rural India such that it will help in increasing the usage of the sanitation facility provided by Samagra!


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