By Md. Wahidur Rahman (Project Manager, WASH SDG - Hope for the Poorest), Md. Mahiul Kadir (Executive Director - Hope for the Poorest), Lenka Kruckova (Programmes and Advocacy officer – Simavi) written in collaboration with WASH SDG WAI sub-programme in Bangladesh.
A checklist for entrepreneurs
With guidance from Simavi, Hope for the Poorest (HP) has worked with local WASH entrepreneurs on a Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (HRWS) approach to business. These entrepreneurs are becoming gradually more sustainable and profitable, as well as seeing that the approach has added social and economic value to their businesses and communities.
Simavi initiated support to HP on human rights and inclusion in spring 2021, with a series of sessions on what the HRWS mean for WASH service providers (https://rsr.akvo.org/dir/project/6892/update?id=31201). Subsequently, HP provided a training to local entrepreneurs to contribute to the realisation of the HRWS and align with the human rights-based approach. HP and their facilitators have since (8-months ago) been using a checklist periodically to discuss different aspects of service provision in light of the standards and principles of the HRWS. The checklist contains questions used to guide the entrepreneurs towards improving their business to provide services and products that are ‘available’, ‘accessible’, ‘affordable’, ‘acceptable’ and of ‘quality’. These are defined in international human rights law under which the State is the duty-bearer. However, in the working area of the WAI sub-programme, entrepreneurs play a direct role in the realisation of the human rights of the population as they sell WASH products and services. The exercise was conducted on a quarterly basis with 10 entrepreneurs selling WASH-related products and services, with the idea of evaluating after a year how much these discussions helped towards better businesses and better service provision.
In August 2021, facilitators from HP completed the checklists with the 10 entrepreneurs for the first time. During these discussions, they identified the status of several aspects from the checklists. Overall, it demonstrated that many were already addressed by the entrepreneurs and embedded in the training and capacity development material that HP shared with them. It was clear for example that the entrepreneurs already did not discriminate in the provision of their services. Areas of improvement were similar for most entrepreneurs and included: linking up with governmental committees and other NGOs for subsidies, standardisation of processes or improving their accountability via proper feedback mechanisms.
Since the first assessment, there has been a noticeable improvement with the way the entrepreneurs run their businesses. In order to improve accessibility to the store, all 10 have ensured that their business centres are near a main road. Moreover, customers now have the opportunity to place an order with the entrepreneurs by phone and home delivery services are available. This is helpful notably when the shop is closed, for example, during COVID-19-related lockdowns or disasters. Internet is not always available, but mobile phone network is, so that has increased product accessibility to the customers. The checklists offered the entrepreneurs and HP an occasion to focus on certain areas that required special attention, and emphasise the use of certain approaches (e.g. gender & social inclusion, disaster resilience).
Improvements resulting from the checklist
In addition, the entrepreneurs are now accountable and transparent to their customers, they are using a complaint/suggestions box in front of their businesses where customers can contribute to help develop WASH products and services. To avoid unhealthy price competition entrepreneurs now hang a price list next to a photo (for people who cannot read). Customers are able to ask about products’ quality components and even where the raw materials used in the products are sourced. Overall, the entrepreneurs have diversified their products and prices to ensure they support gender and social inclusion.
The work with the HRWS checklists demonstrated that entrepreneurs have gone through a change of mindset after eight months. In addition, the discussions were not only used as a standalone tool, but turned out to be a helpful monitoring tool for HP and allowed them to include elements of HRWS also in other activities that influenced the entrepreneurs’ work, such as training, coaching, WASH association discussions. It was a challenge at first to discuss the different aspects linked to human rights rather than business with the entrepreneurs as they were not familiar with the topic and many of them are not literate. However, the entrepreneurs are now satisfied that they are not only making profit, but that they have a social role in their business. Important benefits seen include better services, especially for those who are isolated, and an increased connection between entrepreneurs and customers.
Poster with various WASH products.
Challenges and future plans
Nevertheless, despite the positive changes mentioned, there still remains various areas that take more time to address. For example, environmental sustainability takes longer than other topics to mainstream due to the high costs of certain technologies and environmentally sustainable materials. However, HP and Simavi are pleased to see the progress that the entrepreneurs have made since August 2022 and are looking forward to the endline study, which will take place in December 2022.