Students Take World Toilet Day Seriously
Tom Callinan of Charitable Words was invited to be a judge at a University of Cincinnati Business School class, “Taking The Challenge for Sustainable Development” course. Here is his report:
I don’t recall seeing much about these days on the traditional news outlets. There was a lot of coverage anticipating Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping, I believe. I do recall seeing references to Toilet Day in social media. I may have snickered. I was not paying serious attention to the global issue. I should be.You should, too.
Students at The University of Cincinnati Carl H. Lindner College of Business are paying attention.
Worldwide, 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. 1 in 3 women worldwide risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. Sanitation would make 1.25 billion women’s lives safer and healthier.
The UC students focused on a place to start with their “Humble Commode” project to serve Beldi, a village of 1,474 in India, where 7 out of 10 citizens lack access to toilets. Open defecation results in disease, death and economic and environmental consequences. Their plan: Raise $21,000 to develop public sanitation system at the village level and scale it over the coming years to serve more rural areas.
One of their most impressive points: Indian culture, understandably, values return-on-investment in urban areas rather than rural areas where 70% of the population resides. This is a nation in which 50% have mobile phones, but less than a third have toilets.
There’s no way I could do justice to the sophistication of their business plan here. But trust that they thought through the biological, economic and cultural challenges they would face.
The “biogas” toilets they designed would capture human waste to keep lands and streams clean, provide fertilization to farmers and sanitize the lives of village people, particularly women, who often must sneak into fields at night at the risk of their safety, certainly dignity.
A traditional U.S. corporate view of that would be termed a “win, win, win.”
The students’ expanded, visionary thinking explains why the course has been identified as an “UC Forward” course in that it is “multidisciplinary and allows students an experiential learning opportunity to solve real world problems,” said Professor Ratee Apana: “The goal of this course is for our students to come up with sustainable solutions for social change.”
The three UC teams have been collaborating with students from The Indian Institutes of Technology in Roorkee and Vellore, India. Other presentations focused on industrial runoff contamination (project name “Cincivell”) and clean, sustainable drinking water (project name “Wellness”). I cast my votes with best wishes for all three superb presentations. Best wishes to the winner, which will be announced soon and advance to take part in the Acara Case Challenge hosted by the Institute on the Environment and the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota.
Whichever project wins at that level would get funded by Acara and advanced. In the UC students’ case, to India.
It was a privilege to be a judge and inspiring to see these students care. Their business plans were sound, with do-able plans to start and dreams to scale over the coming years to do more.
One of the most impressive part of the presentations, in the context of Charitable Words’ previous posts: The students obviously were coached well in a strategy to put real people’s faces on the issue. It fit right in with our belief that there should be “no stories without numbers, no numbers without stories,” as Lori Jacobwith, a respected wordsmith and coach in the nonprofit sector, advises.
Some of the jargon of science, technology and economic theory clouded the students’ presentations. The names of farmers, small business owners and young women from a faraway place may have sounded strange to judges, or you. But the eyes of Sunil, Meenash and Pooja, and their stories, should capture attention of any audience.
World Toilet Day, and hearing the students explore solutions, came at a perfect time for me. As a board member of Social Venture Partners International, I have an interest in a new SVPI starting up in Bangalore. SVP teams engaged philanthropists with nonprofits (Non-Government Operations is the term in India) in a venture capitalist model in which social change is the return. In Cincinnati for example, SVP partners have focused on the environment and children and families at risk.
There’s so much work to be done, so many places, from here to there and all points in between. It was heartening to see the students in a classroom but not thinking about staying there.
I’ll be sharing the UC students’ work with Bangalore SVP friends. Whether they get officially involved or not, they should know that some college kids in Cincinnati care and share their dreams.
That gives me great hope. And make me Proudly Cincinnati.
Thanks, Ratee and students. It was an honor to be invited into your world.by