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Challenges open the door for opportunities. More than half of rural population are still forced to poo without loo. This big challenge came as an opportunity for LIXIL. The company launched, easy to maintain, water saving and affordable SATO toilets for India’s rural population. Within six months, 35,000 rural households are using them. Priyanka Tanwar, Head - Public Affairs (Asia Pacific), LIXIL talks to Mohd Mustaquim about its journey, challenges, opportunities and future plans...
Kindly tell our readers about SATO and its business?
SATO is a range of safe, hygienic, odor-free and durable toilet solutions for people with no access to clean and safe sanitation.
The SATO technology is currently available in 14 countries including India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, The Philippines, Uganda, Kenya, and Haiti. SATO was launched in India in October last year and is currently available across five states including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Odisha.
What is the objective of SATO?
A large part of the global population, especially in India, still continues to practice open defecation primarily because of two reasons- either they do not have access to toilets, or their toilet systems do not address the challenges they face while installing, maintaining and using them. In fact, India accounts for 60 percent of all people in the world without access to sanitation.
We believe that safe and affordable sanitation is the right of every individual. SATO is a part of LIXIL that aims to improve the livelihood of 100 million people through sanitation and hygiene solutions by 2020.
How has been the journey of SATO in rural India since its launch and what response do you get from rural consumers?
It has been a very special journey for us in India. We have noticed that there is a need for an innovative sanitation solution in rural areas of the country. SATO is currently trusted by over 35,000 families who are not just our customers, but have become our advocates at local level. In fact, we receive several orders, on the recommendations of such users.
We have noticed that leadership at the village level is also playing a crucial role in convincing people to install toilets and use them. Panchayat pramukhs, pradhan and village elders are increasingly seeing SATO as a reliable and affordable solution for their villages.
How do you convince the rural consumers to have a SATO toilet? What marketing strategy, advertising and consumers awareness programmes do you apply while reaching to rural people?
We must commend the Government of India for taking the first step towards convincing the people to use toilets. However, we have noticed that people do not use toilets as the existing technologies are not designed as per their need. Many TPPF (Twin Pit Pour Flush) latrines that are currently in use are clogging and pit switching is complex. A toilet that is easy to maintain, saves water, and is affordable is the answer. SATO is one solution for all of these requirements.
Therefore, we work with masons in villages to ensure they are aware about the correct installation procedure. We also use several community engagement methods like working with religious leaders, community leaders to make people understand the benefit of using a toilet. These engagements are aimed at addressing the cultural barriers that people have in constructing toilets in their homes.
Additionally, we are running extensive ground activation campaigns. In order to create retailer-level awareness, we have dedicated SATO mobile vans that demonstrate key benefits of SATO products. At the same time, for consumer awareness, we organise consumer activation activities at Panchayat level. Here, we set up sample toilets at potential villages to demonstrate the benefits of SATO toilets. Both these activities have yielded positive results.
What challenges do you face while reaching rural consumers and how do you tackle them?
India is a vast country with diverse set of challenges like the existence of many languages and dialects, lack of communication facilities, low per capita income, distinct cultural norms and low literacy rate among many. Therefore, we began with talking to people in their local language. For example, our communication with people in Maharashtra is in Marathi while in Uttar Pradesh, we use Hindi as the medium. A network of 20 distributors and 205 dealers across all the five states help us in reaching out to customers in their language.
We also work extensively with local leadership to ensure that our message reaches to the people through one of their own. While in some cases, we use the opposite strategy i.e. reaching the well-off people through poorest in the village. We tested this strategy in Bangladesh where we noticed that less well-off people were more willing to listen to experts. Therefore, BRAC, our partner in Bangladesh, constructed SATO toilets for them while gently shaming wealthier villagers into following suit. Bangladesh is now almost open defecation free. We would like India to achieve this status soon.
What are your plans?
We have witnessed an encouraging response from customers across India in less than six months of our launch. With our product reaching 35,000 families, we can say that more than 1.75 lakh people use SATO products daily, considering the average household size comprises five people as per census 2011. This has encouraged us to reach out to even more people in the coming days. We are looking at expanding our reach from five to 10 states during this financial year.
What role SATO plays in Government’s rural sanitation programme? Do you also get Government support? If yes, please describe what and how?
SATO’s vision is to provide a sustainable sanitation solution to people in rural and peri-urban regions of the country. By doing so, we provide a tangible solution to the Government’s rural sanitation programme which requires an innovative technology that addresses the challenges faced by the people like high usage of water, frequent clogging, and complex maintenance procedure. The Government of India’s Dr. Mashelkar Committee on Sanitation has recognised our work. SATO’s water saving technology features among the list of technologies recommended by the committee.
Recently, SATO has also won a Red Dot Design Award for its V-Trap connecting system that has been designed specifically for a twin-pit pour-flush latrine (TPPF). It uses an innovative V-trap configuration connecting the two pits. This design makes switching between the pits easier and eliminates the chances of clogging.