Jesu Raju Thomas
Intensifying the social performance and sustainability of microfinance institutions to address the social challenge of sanitation: an Indian case study
The microfinance model has helped to address the world’s social challenges to some extent. Sanitation is one of the world’s social challenges and microfinance can be used as an intervention tool to address this. Worldwide 1.04 billion people still practise open defecation, accounting for 15 per cent of the world population, and of which 594 million are Indians. To address this sanitation problem, Bharathi Women Development Centre (Bharathi), a Tamil Nadu-based non-government organization, used its microfinance programme and group network to educate about the need for toilets, and provided the resources and technical know – how to construct latrines in individual households. So far they have successfully constructed 14,609 toilets by providing microcredit and have experienced no difficulties in repayments of loans, by which it is proved to be a sustainable programme. Bharathi has faced many challenges while implementing this project, such as raising debt fund for on-lending to its sanitation portfolio; shifting the culture of open defecation after construction of toilets, especially with male members of the family; establishing a technical know – how workforce to construct the toilets in rural areas; helping the poorest of the poor to not be burdened by the sanitation loan because of its non-income generating nature; and maintaining the low-cost construction of toilets. This study illustrates how a relatively small NGO microfinance institution was able to create a niche market and implement a sustainable sanitation programme along with its routine microfinance programme by providing awareness, technical assistance, and credit to construct toilets.