New way of doing business: Innovative e-toilet pilot in Odisha

Entrepreneur Bhanupriya explains how to access the public e-toilet attached to the micro-enterprise Rainbow Café that she operates in Angul municipality, Odisha

Entrepreneur Bhanupriya explains how to access the public e-toilet attached to the micro-enterprise Rainbow Café she operates in Angul municipality, Odisha, alonGESIde others from the Saptarang self-help group. "Saptarang" means seven colours, representing the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ community. (photo: RTI / Angul Municipality / Eram Scientific Solutions)

An innovative idea to combine public toilets with shops to fund their ongoing operation and maintenance is improving sanitation in the Indian state of Odisha.

Almost one in five people in India (18.6 percent in India’s 2011 census) have to use public toilets because they do not have a toilet at home.

Finding a safe, working public toilet is especially challenging for women, as there are 40 percent more public facilities for men and few gender-neutral facilities.

Lack of public toilets and poor maintenance due to funding shortfalls are obstacles in India’s path to open defecation-free status.

But the solution may lie in a business model created by the research and development social enterprise, Eram Scientific Solutions, with the support of Water for Women's WaSH Hub project with Research Triangle Institute (RTI) India.

An innovative micro-enterprise for sanitation and health (MESH) model has been developed, providing a self-sustaining, integrated public toilet and shop unit run by local women-led self-help groups (SHGs).

Shop sales cover operation and maintenance costs, forgoing the need for government financial support beyond the initial provision of land, utility connections, including water and electricity, and nomination of the SHGs.

To pilot the MESH business model, the WaSH Hub approached the Government of Odisha through UNICEF, and EY, the Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Technical Support Unit. 

MESH received interest from Odisha cities, including Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Puri, Paradeep, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Baripada, Talcher, and Angul.

This time last year, on World Toilet Day, 19 November 2020, the foundation stone for the first-ever MESH unit was laid in Angul, with the unit inaugurated three months later on 19 February, 2021. Made possible by a combination of government and private-sector funding, the e-toilet is increasing the community's access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and the attached cafe is generating sustainable livelihood opportunities for marginalised groups.

Entrepreneurs like Bhanupriya, pictured above, operate the micro-enterprise alonGESIde other members of the Saptarang SHG. "Saptarang" means "seven colours" and represents the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ community who SHG members identify with, and which the Rainbow Cafe is named in honour of.

Water for Women partners with Research Triangle Institute Global India (RTI India) and the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) in reaching some of India’s most at risk people with transformative WASH intervention programs.

Water for Women is the Australian government's flagship WASH program and is being delivered as part of Australia's aid program over five years, from 2018 to 2022. Through Water for Women, Australia is investing AUD118.9m to deliver 33 water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects and research initiatives, which aim to directly benefit 3.03 million people in 15 countries across South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific.


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