The Toilet Accelerator & Samagra Story

The Toilet Board Coalition sat down with the Cohort and Mentors of the 2017 Toilet Accelerator to find out a bit more about what they felt were the most valuable learnings in their journey together over the last twelve months and what they’re excited about for the future of the sanitation sector.

Swapnil Chaturvedi, Founder of Samagra; 2017 Toilet Accelerator Cohort

TBC: Hi Swapnil, could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your role in the 2017 Toilet Accelerator?

Swapnil: Hi, I am Swapnil Chaturvedi, people lovingly refer to me as Poopguy, I am the founder of Samagra in Pune, India. We joined the Toilet Accelerator in 2017.

TBC: What are some of the new inspirations, insights or understandings that you’ve gained through your year in the Toilet Accelerator?

Swapnil: We’ve had a dynamic year in the Accelerator programme! With the support of Rohit Pathak and Michael Lindenmayer, among others, we have been able to clarify and solidify our business model, launch an OOH advertising revenue stream and get critical feedback on our investability which has helped us prioritise how we grow and develop as an organisation. We’ve also built a stronger and more favourable relationship with the Pune Municipal Corporation which we are happy to be continuing through the Pune Project with the TBC in 2018.

TBC: What is your advice to the sanitation business sector?

Swapnil: — Like many other kinds of businesses, sanitation businesses require a great team with experience dealing with multiple stakeholders. If you focus on creating a sound business model and building a strong team the rest will follow.

TBC: What is your vision for the future of the sector?

Swapnil: Shit business becomes THE business to be in! The ecosystem becomes robust. Everyone wants to be in this business, which in turn creates a lot of competition in the sector and drives us all forward.

TBC: Thanks Swapnil!

Rohit Pathak, Global Brand Director, Domestos, Unilever; TBC Steering Committee & 2017 Toilet Accelerator Lead Mentor for Samagra

TBC: Hi Rohit, could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your role in the 2017 Toilet Accelerator?

Rohit: Of course, I’m Rohit Pathak and I am the Global Brand Director at Unilever for Domestos. I joined the Toilet Board Coalition Steering Committee in 2016, and came on as lead mentor for Swapnil Chaturvedi, founder of Samagra in January of 2017.

TBC: What are some of the new inspirations, insights or understandings that you’ve gained through your year working with Swapnil from Samagra in the Toilet Accelerator?

Rohit: Overall there’s been a deeper understanding of the challenges faced to improve sanitation conditions at the bottom of the pyramid. Key challenges being: developing a business case since many consumers aren’t used to paying for facilities, the maintenance of facilities (given shortage of cleaning equipment (staff, water or products)), designing toilets while keeping in mind the ability for easy maintenance, the challenge of working with the public sector on contracts and payments and then about how it goes so much further beyond building a toilet — we must inspire people to use it, through behaviour change work and keeping the toilet clean and safe.

TBC: What is your advice to the sanitation business sector?

Rohit: After seeing Swapnil’s incredible journey over the last 12 months I can only stress the importance and value of working on a small scale and trying to crack a business model first and foremost. Once you’ve established that the business model is viable it gives you the strength to secure funding for scale up. Also, and I think what is of particular relevance for sanitation entrepreneurs is the diversity and variety of funding streams, if you’re too dependent on one stream, one client or one environment you’re putting yourself at risk and significantly limiting your growth potential. What has been brilliant in Samagra’s case is how they were able to re-work all of this, quite aggressively in a six-month span of time. Swapnil has crystallised his business model, increased his revenue streams and re-negotiated more favourable terms with his major clients — all putting him on a much sturdier path to scale. And then it comes down to people, we’ve seen Swapnil need to thin his team and then slowly and methodically build it back in more organisationally robust manner, he’s recruiting for growth, building out his management teams and governance with an eye to how his business model will scale.

TBC: What is your vision for the future of the sector?

Rohit: I see a future where we shift from looking at sanitation as a social impact first enterprise, and instead as a profit generating enterprise that is committed to doing good. With this potential, and how much untapped opportunity is still available in this sector I am excited to see an influx of entrepreneurs and businesses taking advantage of that. I’d like to see financing solutions that can empower more easily the entrepreneurs in this sector. As we see the business models developing and the clearer pathways to scale I feel this will be absolutely key in the process. And of course, finally, the ambition for all of us is to see the sanitation conditions dramatically improve across the world due to the thriving business sector that’s developing here.

TBC: Thanks Rohit!

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