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Toilets making money

Published on: 16/11/2016

An innovative approach to create better public toilets and jobs in Ethiopia

The Millennium Development Goals (1990-2015) aimed to reduce by half the proportion of people without sanitation. The Sustainable Development Goals (2016-2030) are more ambitious, and the vision is sanitation for everyone, all the time. Sanitation is recognised to be important not only at home, but also at work, in schools and in public places.

Open defecation

In Addis Ababa, the rapidly growing capital of Ethiopia with its new hotels, apartment blocks, and urban railway systems, there is a less attractive sight: open defecation. Many households lack toilets and communal toilets are often of poor quality or filthy. Playgrounds, designated corridors, pedestrian and open ditches are all used or misused for open defecation. It's unpleasant and a hazard to health. In a city that has suffered a severe outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) during the past year, improving sanitation needs to be high on the agenda.

Building a "special class" toilet business

More public toilets might be part of the answer. PSI – an NGO – with technical assistance from Sanergy – a Kenya based social enterprise - has been working with local authorities of the city to find ways to improve the provision of public toilets. The Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) is also building public toilets. The approach of PSI is not just to build toilets, but to build a toilet business that can be sustainably run by locals. It combines the best business practices like marketing and branding with local entrepreneurship and drive.

The proof of concept of PSI's innovative approach can be found at four sites in Addis Ketema Sub-city. The brand is Liyou class. This means special class. The initiative builds on the recognition that people in these communities would pay to use a clean and accessible toilet if it was there. Liyou class toilets aim to be clean and inspiring toilets that everyone will be happy to use; being affordable and accessible.

The toilets are run on a franchise model. Two different models are being tested. Two of the toilet franchises have been purchased by an individual and the other two by a group of underemployed entrepreneurs who were carefully vetted and given support to enter a new business. Each of the groups involves four people. The group members are mostly women. 

Liyou Class public toilet in Addis Ketema Sub-city, Addis Ababa, November 2016. Photo: IRC Ethiopia

The ‘Liyou Class’ toilets are well designed and well managed. The toilets have hand washing facilities and a shower service is available as well. Stickers with key hygiene behavioural messages are also placed on the doors. They are also compactly designed so that they can be fitted into small pocket areas. Land availability is the critical constraint and has been the biggest challenge so far. Sites have been provided by the sub-city authorities on public land, but a lack of suitable sites is the major challenge to expanding the numbers.

Inside the Liyou Class public toilet, Addis Ketema Sub-city, Addis Ababa, November 2016. Photo IRC Ethiopia

Sanitation entrepreneurs

Daniel Tesfaye, Child Survival Program Manager-WASH at PSI, told us how formal interviews were conducted to select the entrepreneurs from a list of people with a track record of previous businesses from the sub-city. The selected entrepreneurs made an upfront payment of ETB 30,000 (US$ 1,330).

Meseret Workneh is one of the private entrepreneurs running one of the toilets. She used to sell coffee on the side of the road earning ETB 30 (US$ 1.33) per day on average and ETB 50 (US$ 2.20) on a good day. “It was barely enough to satisfy my basic needs. So, I was pleased when I heard of the ‘Liyou Class’ toilet business. I paid 30,000 birr (US$ 1,330) and now I own the business. I’m also selling coffee side by side because I have hired one person to assist me with the toilet work.”

Liyou class is open 15 hours a day from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm and customers are charged ETB 2 (US$ 0.09) for the toilet, ETB 1 (US$ 0.04) for the urinal and ETB 8 (US$ 0.35) for the cold shower service. The income is much better than before according to Meseret. “It’s been two months since we opened and last month we generated ETB 2,400 (US$ 106) and I saved ETB 1,200 (US$ 53) after covering my costs including the cost of the guard and the assistant. This is only the beginning so I hope I’ll be able to gain more once people hear about the place and start using it. ”

Happy customers and jobs

One of the customers says, “I spend every day here trying to grab any work of carrying stuff for people or loading and unloading materials from trucks. I used to pee on that corner under the fence (pointing to an area still used for that purpose) because I had no choice. There was no public toilet around here.” He also told us that he uses the shower on Sundays and buys his coffee at least twice a day from Meseret.

The Liyou Class is not only improving sanitation, but creating jobs. At each site, 3 or 4 people are employed as operators, cleaners and guards. But the sanitation job chain doesn’t stop there. The septic tanks at the sites need emptying every couple of months. This generates new business for local companies that provide sludge emptying services.

In fact one of the crucial questions that PSI are looking for answers to at the moment is exactly about jobs. Do the entrepreneur-owned franchises perform better than the group-run franchises or vice versa? This is a hot issue. Current government policy is to promote job creation for the unemployed – especially for youth and women – and the group association model is widely promoted. But sometimes the enterprise does not engage the whole group, with a few doing most of the work and paying the others a smaller share. The bigger an association gets, the harder it is to manage. With an eye to creating sustainable businesses, this is a crucial issue.

PSI are now looking forward. Although the pilot has only been running a few months, the next step is to scale up the model to create more businesses, more jobs and give many more people a dignified and pleasant toilet experience. Options are being explored to take Liyou Class to other parts of Addis and other cities in the country.

IRC are working with PSI to find ways to take the Liyou Class model to scale in Ethiopia. For further information on Liyou Class, please contact Daniel Tesfaye at PSI,info@psiet.org.

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