What on earth is World Toilet Day, and why are we celebrating it? The fact you may be asking yourself that question is exactly the reason World Toilet Day is so important; most of us take having a toilet in our home for granted. Yet 2.5 billion people globally do not enjoy this modern luxury—the result of which is poor sanitation, and an increased risk of disease and malnutrition, especially for women and children. World Toilet Day aims to raise awareness of this important issue.

It’s likely you can think of one or two funders that address health or education. But can you just as easily think of a funder that addresses sanitation? Less likely. Yet with such alarming statistics and health related consequences, why doesn’t the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector get more philanthropic attention?

One of NPC’s clients, the Stone Family Foundation, believes that the problem of access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene is one that deserves its full attention—which is why it dedicates 80% of its funding to tackling the problem in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. It also believes that many traditional approaches to funding WASH have not worked—lack of planning and commitment to maintenance, for example, has resulted in WASH infrastructure falling into disrepair and disuse. Furthermore, the sector lacks adequate attention, funding and talent.

  • Attention: WASH is often viewed as a tangential issue, frequently overlooked as a means to other social outcomes—such as health, education, and poverty—rather than an end itself. This is a lost opportunity given access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human need. Toilets and sanitation also lack the excitement to engage a wider audience of media and donors. It doesn’t help that topics like ‘faecal sludge management’ are not what people typically want to talk about at dinner parties. But the WASH sector is fascinating! Take one of the Stone Foundation’s innovative grantees Sanergy—a sanitation company based in Nairobi slums—for example. Sanergy manufactures low-cost toilets and sells them to local entrepreneurs, who operate them as pay-per-use community toilets at 3p a go. Sanergy then collects waste from toilets daily and converts it to fertiliser, which is sold to farms. The Stone Foundation is supporting Sanergy to apply its model to household latrines.
  • Funding: Only 3.9% of international aid goes to water and sanitation. Most of the funding comes from donor agencies, such as DfID and the World Bank, as well as some corporates, like Unilever and Coca Cola. Private philanthropic funding is a smaller component of the sector, but is vital for its success. Philanthropic capital often has fewer restrictions on its funding and is willing to take on more risk. The Stone Foundation already aims to work with other WASH funders, such as the Vitol Foundation and Waterloo Foundation, but seeks to encourage more funding—particularly private philanthropy—into the WASH sector.
  • Talent: With less funding and attention, it comes as no surprise that WASH struggles to attract top talent. Due to the capital intensive nature of the sector, social and commercial finance can be hard to come by compared to energy and agriculture. With a focus on market-based approaches in WASH the Stone Foundation has noticed that it is particularly hard to attract social entrepreneurs to the sector. It is therefore working to create an enabling environment that welcomes innovative entrepreneurs. The Stone Foundation is already funding WASH enterprises, including Pivot—a sanitation company that aims to create a cost-effective and financially viable way of treating faecal waste by converting it into renewable fuel. This fuel is then sold to industrial customers such as cement companies. The Stone Family Foundation has invested to help Pivot build and test its approach on a commercial scale.

With the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) we have a great opportunity to get WASH and SDG6 the attention it deserves. We think that the global need for WASH, as well as innovative initiatives like Pivot and Sanargy, demonstrate why WASH is a sector not to be sniffed at. So Happy World Toilet Day!

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