The Changing Face of Philanthropy in India

I recently spent a week in India visiting our Water For People programs. We are implementing water and sanitation programs while also building local capacity to operate and maintain the systems with local government (Panchayati Raj Institutions), district and state government. In addition, we work to promote water and sanitation committees at schools, water user communities for water facilities, business opportunities in water (Jalabandhus — pump mechanics) and sanitation (Nirmal Bandus — toilet cleaners) and sanitation entrepreneurs selling toilets), and technologies for management of fecal sludge when it is emptied from toilet pits (where there are no sewer systems). We also use social arts and other health and hygiene education for social mobilization, awareness generation and behavior change. Social education using diverse concepts is key to success in changing behaviors towards communities with better quality water and sanitation. We focus on the most vulnerable populations, and gender and social inclusion is an underpinning principle in all our programs. Our work is very impactful and difficult yet extremely rewarding. Our Country Director, Meena Narula, gives a great overview of the water and sanitation landscape in India here in an interview (starts at 10:20) about the Right to Water.

A few things became clear to me during my trip that I had not been so conscious of on previous trips to India. India is middle income at $5,730 per capita (purchasing power parity) and income earning capacity is growing. Middle income makes India more similar to Latin America and much higher than East Africa (the three regions we serve at Water For People). This puts it in a different league of development. Things are changing quickly. Some of my observations:

· Government has prioritised water and sanitation as a national priority, and the Swachh Bharat Mission is a national flagship program focusing on universal sanitation coverage and sustained open defecation free (ODF) communities

· Bi-lateral/multi-lateral funding for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and other programs is reducing/disappearing

· Environmental policy is in place to create improved water and sanitation services (although implementation is a challenge)

· A mature institutional framework exists — Government, Civil Society and Public Institutions

· The number of nonprofits registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) increased from approximately 30,000 to approximately 44,000 in the past 10 years in response to the increase in global philanthropic interest in India; HOWEVER…

· Most global nonprofit organizations are moving away from being foreign nonprofits (liaison/branch/project offices registered with the Royal Bank of India) and are building local entities (Public Trust, Society, or Company) because of the risk of losing their FCRA. About 9,000 nonprofits lost their nonprofit status in 2015 when their FCRA was cancelled, most notably Greenpeace and the Ford Foundation. Ford Foundation, one of the biggest nonprofit organisations in the world, was put on a watch list by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Each of its foreign donations is now vetted before permission is given for it to be credited to any FCRA-registered NGO in India. There have been continuous discussions and measures since then to tighten some rules of the principal law governing the sector — the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), and transparency is more important than ever.

· A new corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandate of 2% net profit has brought ~$900 million to local charities from around 90 companies since 2014; this money can only be accessed by an Indian nonprofit (Public Trust, Society, or Company)

· More Indians are becoming donors themselves as income rises; India’s philanthropy sector is mature with regards to the percent of adults donating to philanthropic causes compared to countries with similar GDP and includes a growing list of high-wealth individual donors

· High quality of human capital is available in India for governance, leadership/management and operations of nonprofit organizations

One example of the changing tide of philanthropy in India

The Swachh Bharat Mission — Clean India (Rural) Mission — has taken India by storm. Started by Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi in 2014, the Government of India is aiming to achieve an ODF India by Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in October 2019. Specifically, the government is paying a ~$220 subsidy to families to construct a toilet. Market forces created opportunities and sanitation entrepreneurs building toilets have sprouted up everywhere — an effort we support. Since India has 600 million of the world’s one billion people that open defecate, this is a huge undertaking and is affecting the world where we work in a big way. Whereas water and sanitation is a common philanthropic and international aid focus in the developing world, in the case of India, the Government of India is providing most of the funding. The estimated $24B budget for Swachh Bharat is coming from central government budget allocations, bonds, a new tax, municipal budgets, public financing, a little help ($1.5B loan) from the World Bank, and corporate giving through the CSR mandate (~$50M per year to WASH). This level of investment is unprecedented in other countries. It is working. To date, 59% coverage on sanitation has been achieved in the rural areas, 78 districts have been declared ODF, and there are 593 more to go. In all, 142,799 villages have been declared as ODF villages.

Getting toilets to everyone is needed — and long overdue. We also need to work on getting people to change their behavior so that they actually use the toilets. This is much harder to accomplish than just building toilets as we are learning by the slow progress. The main reason for open defecation is the tradition of people who have continued the practice for centuries. While literature on social, cultural and behavioral aspects that constrain latrine/toilet adoption and use in India is limited, some of the key reasons cited in studies conducted include:

· Open defecation is more pleasurable and desirable than latrine/toilet use

· Latrine/toilet use has a lot to do with a person’s mind set, and less with their educational status or wealth

· People see latrines/toilets as disgusting and prefer open defecation

· Open defecation in urban areas is driven by a number of reasons including, lack of space to build toilets in high-density settlements and tenants unwilling to invest in toilets where landlords do not provide them

When I met with the Additional Secretary of Drinking Water and Sanitation earlier this year he said that only 50% of the toilets built in India 2015 were actually used. Not enough effort had been put into behavior change education. The main push was/is to BUILD toilets. Hopefully the percent of toilets actually being used improved in 2016 with more effort placed on education regarding the health benefits of keeping feces out of public places to minimize contamination of water sources and spreading of disease. Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is one approach to bring awareness to communities by “triggering” them to understand that they are actually eating their neighbors’ shit by mapping the life-cycle of shit flows in the community. This leads to shaming and consequently stopping open defecating. Bangladesh has (almost) become open defecation free (ODF) through CLTS and other methods, including strong political will — a huge accomplishment. There are also many hybrid CLTS approaches that use a softer approach with the same end objective — stopping open defecation. One incredibly inspiring example of achieving ODF is the Nadia story. Nadia was the first District (5 million people) in India to become ODF, just last year, through strong leadership and multi-faceted community convergence initiative called Sabar Shouchagar. I heard this incredible story first-hand earlier this month from the charismatic District Magistrate, Dr. PB Salim, who has now been assigned to make the entire state of West Bengal ODF. I am happy that Water For People is one of the partners supporting his work on this journey.

Let’s not underestimate the value of toilets for hygiene, dignity and safety — especially for women and girls — especially in India. They may wait all day to go and open defecate under the cover of night to have some privacy. Unfortunately with darkness and exposure also comes the increased risk of rape and attack. This is a key point in my TEDx talk. Getting toilets has given rise to the empowerment of women in India and is the basis of the No Toilet No Bride campaign started in Haryana, India. Emphasizing gains to social status may be a powerful lever to help accelerate uptake of toilets to achieve sustainable development goal #6 — sustainable water and toilets for all — by 2030. Again, education is critical to success. We support school programs that create Water and Sanitation Committees and Child Cabinets — a huge benefit in creating young water, sanitation and hygiene ambassadors to carry the message home and help change their communities.

Child Cabinet — Ministers of Water (and me!) in India recently

Assuming we figure a way to get everyone toilets, and that they are nice and affordable toilets based on human centered design, people will value them and use them. What comes next? We will have a huge waste management challenge as the pits and septic tanks fill up. Let’s get on it now to be ahead of the curve. The solution lies in developing decentralized systems to collect and treat human feces — no sewers are coming anytime soon to most of the world. Sewers are too expensive to build and maintain in most rural/peri-urban areas, and they use A LOT of water. So let’s be practical and engineer the right solution. This is where nonprofits based in India, like Water For People, can help. We have the technical know-how and 20 years of development experience in the Indian context. We also know that ecosystems of small businesses to empty pits/tanks and transport the sludge to decentralized treatment systems (small treatment plants sized for a town or group of towns) are a viable solution. We have done this before.

The logistics of emptying and transporting the sludge from pits/septic tanks to the treatment plant is the tricky part — making sure the pit emptiers make money and that the sludge makes it to the treatment plant instead of just being dumped somewhere else. And then, it is even better when we can re-purpose the sludge into marketable products for reuse, like sludge briquettes for cooking/heating, compost and fertilizer: the ultimate circular economy in “brown gold!” We are innovating and testing new technologies in India to improve sludge management.

There is still a long and complex journey ahead of us for Water For People India. We are prepared for it and we are adapting our strategy as India changes how it works with nonprofits. This way we can hone our niche skills to continue to make an impact and be relevant in this large and complicated country until the water and sanitation crisis is solved. Our exit strategy will be the next chapter, when we are no longer needed. That will be a great day and we are getting ready for it.