Kenyan FINISH programme coordinator Pamela Bundi was a bank employee when she first heard of the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW). She switched careers from banking to development cooperation and has not regretted it once. She feels proud when she drives through Busia County in Kenya. There, she helped improve sanitation facilities. Today, people still are building FINISH toilets. "Local communities truly adopt the FINISH way!"
FINISH stands for Financial Inclusion Improves Sanitation & Health. The programme's mission is sanitation for all. It uses an integrated model that addresses sanitation demand and supply. FINISH works with a multi-stakeholder approach that involves the entire value chain. The programme's success involves integrating the sanitation supply-side and financial resources in the value chain. The programme raises awareness and creates demand for sanitation services among end-users. As a result of the programme, the Busia community has built 17,197 sanitation systems, giving 103,182 people access to improved sanitation.
A job with a purpose
"When I worked at the bank, I was fortunate enough to join the Special Projects Department. Through partnerships, we worked in renewable energy, sanitation, and agriculture. This is how I got acquainted with development work. It was not common to bring commercial finance into development for sustainability back then. But I loved it! Suddenly, my job had a purpose; this was my turning point. We could make a positive impact on people's lives." Pamela left the bank for a position in the agricultural sector, still focused on finance. A little later, she heard of a vacancy in the FINISH project. "I applied and got the job. With my commercial experience, I was the perfect match for a project aimed at financial inclusion!"
FINISH stimulates private (micro)financing to provide sanitation for rural communities in the bottom market segment. People who earn between 2 and 10 US dollars per day can take out a small loan. With a salary lower than this, repaying a loan is challenging. Pamela and her team have connected development initiatives and commercial money. "Because I understand the private sector, it is easier for me to educate government teams on financing and loans. Governments often use their social safety net programmes to give away items for free. Instead, we offer those who can afford it a way to pay for it.
At the same time, financial institutes do not always understand the development sector. My job is to educate, inform, and increase understanding of the sanitation sector and its benefits from a commercial perspective. This includes explaining how to make money and an impact at the same time. Financial institutes can contribute to the SDGs and market themselves as institutes that care about the welfare of people beyond their own profits."
It is not always easy, Pamela says. "Once you meet people with a different mindset, it becomes easier. But we often find somewhat rigid teams that need convincing, which takes a lot of time. Still, more and more commercial partners and government teams understand that FINISH is the way to go."
It is not just the administrative and financing sides that are challenging. When a local project starts, masons and artisans need training to build and maintain toilets. The team educates households about the need for proper sanitation, hygiene, and finance. "These people need to improve their sanitation but find it challenging to take out a loan for a toilet," Pamela says. "With the FINISH model, they invest in the toilet themselves. Once they are convinced, they either pay for the toilet directly; or we link them to our financial partner for a sanitation loan. Then we link them to our local trained artisans to build an affordable and good quality toilet." FINISH helps businesses build and maintain a healthy sanitation market. People can safely manage and easily empty the toilets themselves. The waste is turned into compost, which improves soil fertility. "There is a whole chain of health, economic and climate benefits from quality sanitation," says Pamela.
That is why it pains her to see that, sometimes, financial institutes choose quick money over basic needs such as sanitation, which has direct health benefits. Quick wins are also important, "but access to sanitation is a basic human need that we must prioritise. And not just because it reduces deaths and diseases. Households with proper sanitation facilities give people a sense of dignity." This is especially true for girls and women; improved sanitation has a positive effect on school attendance rates.
Should people get sanitation for free if it is a basic human need? When people earn less than 2 US dollars per day, they should get it for free. But when they have a decent income, we have reason to ask them to pay. The FINISH project aims to create awareness: people will better maintain and use the toilets because they have paid for them. And for every euro the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW) subsidises, there is a leverage ratio of 1:12. "So for every toilet FDW subsidises, we build 12 more. Private-sector funding helps us make it happen."
A good project example is the government funding of €112,120 for sanitation in schools. This shows that we can create a sanitation market by addressing supply and demand. A side note: lending rates can fluctuate, reaching as much as 28%. For low-income households, paying off interest is too expensive. The government has limited the interest to protect households, making it less attractive for banks to give out loans. Dealing with this instability and attractiveness for commercial banks requires a different mindset.
Yet, the FINISH programme is a success. It makes Pamela proud that 3 years after the project ended, people are still building FINISH toilets. "Even when I drive by, I can see it: that is a FINISH toilet. We no longer work in Busia County. But, the local community, artisans and government have taken over, and building improved toilets continues. On our FINISH Facebook page, artisans share pictures of toilets they are constructing the way the FINISH project trained them. Some artisans have grown into small businesses with up to 10 employees. Others have diversified their work and are building houses. It is exciting to look back at how I contributed to this project. This is why I joined FINISH 7 years ago. And looking back at what we achieved, it was well worth it!"
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