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A Special Series for the 2014 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information. We asked a number of speakers to discuss the critical issues, challenges and opportunities underpinning their sessions in advance of the Forum to ground a richer debate both online and in Oxford.

Learn more about the 2014 Skoll World Forum, sign up to our newsletter to be notified of the live stream, view the 2014 delegate roster and discover what themes and ideas we'll be covering this year at the event. Also, read about the seven recipients of this year's Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

 
 

The Purpose of Healthcare

Gary Cohen

Co-Founder and President, Health Care Without Harm

Education is a Savior

Rafiatu Lawal

National Chairperson, Campaign for Female Education

 

Preparing for a World With 9 Billion, Designers Are Rising to the Challenge

Lynelle Cameron

President and CEO, and Senior Director, Sustainability, Autodesk Foundation and Autodesk, Inc.

 
 

Profit-With-Purpose and the G8

Sir Ronald Cohen

Chairman, Social Impact Investment Taskforce established by the G8

Tom Fox

Policy Lead, UnLtd

Cliff Prior

Chief Executive, UnLtd

 

Building the Impact Investing Market in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia

Liz Patterson

Lead on Social Impact Investment, UK Department for International Development

 
 

Inside Root Capital's Women in Agriculture Initiative

Catherine Gill

Senior Vice President, Investor Relations & Operations, Root Capital

 

Hitting The Impact Jackpot

Kristin Gilliss

Associate Portfolio Director, Mulago Foundation

 
 

Why Energy is Inextricably Linked to Environment

Sean McKaughan

Chairman of the Board, Fundación Avina

Well-Crafted Entertainment Can Change the World

John Marks

President and founder, Search for Common Ground

 

Sustainable Development Needs The Private Sector

Andy Wales

Senior Vice President Sustainable Development, SABMiller plc

 

Smallholder Impact and Risk Metrics: A Labyrinth of Opportunity

CJ Fonzi

Project Leader, Dalberg Global Development Advisors

 

Data and the Human Touch

Jim Fruchterman

Founder and CEO, Benetech

 

Connecting Poverty and Health

Barbara Bush

Co-Founder and CEO, Global Health Corps

Andrew Youn

Founder and Director, One Acre Fund

Why Reinventing the Toilet is a Women’s and Girls’ Issue

Why Reinventing the Toilet is a Women’s and Girls’ Issue

Melinda Gates

Co-Chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

April 4, 2014 | 2075 views

 

Earlier this year, a 13-year-old girl left her parents’ home in Kanpur, India in the late hours of the night and never returned. The next day, her body was found naked, with broken limbs. She had been raped and murdered. The girl hadn’t left home on a late night adventure, to meet up with friends or go to a party. She had left because there was no toilet at home, and her only option for relief was to go outside.

This incident, while truly horrifying, is far from isolated. In the Indian state of Bihar, for example, where almost 70 percent of rural households have no access to a toilet, most cases of rape of women and girls happen when they are forced to defecate out in the open. There is a lot of work to be done to get at the root causes of endemic violence against women, but in the meantime there are concrete things we can do now to help, like address the global sanitation crisis.

(Nairobi, Kenya, 2012) Sanergy builds low-cost, modular, urine diverting dry toilet sanitation centers. These "Fresh Life" toilet facilities are franchised to local microentrepreneurs, who generate income from charging a nominal usage fee. Sanergy collects sludge from the facilities daily, and converts it into valuable products like organic fertilizer, renewable energy and biochar.

Caption: (Nairobi, Kenya, 2012) Sanergy builds low-cost, modular, urine diverting dry toilet sanitation centers. These “Fresh Life” toilet facilities are franchised to local microentrepreneurs, who generate income from charging a nominal usage fee. Sanergy collects sludge from the facilities daily, and converts it into valuable products like organic fertilizer, renewable energy and biochar.

I know that I can always find a clean and private toilet when I need one. That is not the case for a staggering 2.5 billion people. And it leads to suffering that the rest of us have the luxury of never having to consider.

Violence is just one of many problems associated with the lack of sanitation. Each year, food and water tainted with fecal matter give billions of children diarrhea. About 700,000 of those children die. And because diarrhea makes it harder to absorb nutrients and vaccines, the survivors are less likely to thrive.

Sanitation isn’t just a problem in rural places like Bihar. It’s especially severe in the growing urban centers of poor countries, where slums with almost no infrastructure are getting more crowded every day. Privacy is almost impossible to find. Even where community latrines exist, they are often expensive to use and, to put it mildly, poorly maintained. In one slum in Delhi, four children drowned in an uncovered sewer.

At the Gates Foundation, I spend a lot of time learning about the problems facing the world’s poorest people—especially women and children. Our work is driven by the principle that every life has equal value, and every person should have the same opportunity to live a healthy, productive life. And to live with dignity. We invest in sanitation issues because having access to a toilet is a prerequisite for health and dignity.

There are a lot of reasons many people in developing countries don’t have better access to toilets. Part of the problem is technological. The state of the art in sanitation technology is just plain lousy. The flush toilets and sewers we use in developed countries are expensive, difficult to repair, and environmentally wasteful. In fact, flush toilets work just well enough in rich countries to prevent people from developing a new-and-improved toilet that works better for everyone.

And so we’re working with dozens of innovators from as many countries who are trying to make the first significant improvements to the technology in over a century. Last month, the Gates Foundation co-hosted the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, with the Government of India. The goal: inventing a next-generation toilet that will also meet the needs of the poor.

(New Delhi, India, 2014) Representatives from more than 45 nations gathered in New Delhi for the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India” to discuss solutions to bring sanitation to the 2.5 billion people who lack access to safe toilets. Innovative solutions, like those shown at the fair, demonstrated that by applying creative thinking and new approaches to more effectively managing human waste we can improve children’s health, dignity, and economic development..

Caption: (New Delhi, India, 2014) Representatives from more than 45 nations gathered in New Delhi for the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India” to discuss solutions to bring sanitation to the 2.5 billion people who lack access to safe toilets. Innovative solutions, like those shown at the fair, demonstrated that by applying creative thinking and new approaches to more effectively managing human waste we can improve children’s health, dignity, and economic development.

The fair was like any other science fair. The displays were fascinating. Some of the prototypes stretched my conception of what, precisely, a toilet is. Could a toilet that uses no water turn waste into energy? Could a machine convert tons of sewage into a small amount of fertilizer?

But the fair wasn’t just an idle exercise in futurism. It was a practical response to the needs of the poor, especially poor women. In the not-too-distant future, the prototypes will have become real products that provide safety, better health, and greater dignity to billions who lack sanitation today.

 
  • Nora DePalma

    Having worked in the plumbing industry for 25 years, I know the health benefits North Americans take for granted in sanitation. Most people never think of the vast infrastructure that plumbers built to keep us safe.

    Nor do people what it means to be so poor, you can’t afford that infrastructure.

    Huge fangirl of Melinda’s voice about this issue, about contraception and about all her work to keep women and children safe around the world. You and Bill rock!

  • Mats Jacobsson

    I believe that the solution to the sanitation problems in the developing world lays in organization rather than in finding a new toilet technology. As long as one is not using a water- or possibly an electric toilet there will be resistance to handling “the waste products” coming from defecation and urination. I strongly believe that using proper composting materials and smell absorbing natural materials combined with local education and efficient community organization of the chain, excrements- composting – fertilizer, holds the key to poor sanitation in the developing countries. Probably sponsoring an organizational and educational effort in developing countries would prove to be a more yielding path forward.

  • Damodar Bhartia

    Good Initiative ! as lack of Sanitation keeps The Poor real poor on all
    fronts, i.e. Social, Economic and Health. Toiletlessness is the mother of
    all ills in lives of unfortunate masses in Asia, Africa and partly in Latin
    America.. Re-inventing Toilets appear to be good idea but all the persons making efforts for it seem to have missed the Key Issues,
    (1) Simplicity, (2) Affordability, (3) Ease of Installation, Maintenance and
    Day To Day Use. The Massive Sanitation Problem among The Poor
    Population need simple easy to install and maintain Household Toilets
    at real Affordable Costs. These so called Re-invented Toilets are very
    positively very Innovative and Scientific Marvels but will perhaps become
    useful to small Elite Population which have Toilets at homes. Here one
    seems to be attempting to repeat and try making ‘Better Mouse Traps’
    whereas Millions of Families across the World is looking for Simple
    Functional Rugged Household Toilets at Affordable Costs in a reasonable delivery and installation time frame.
    Simple Twin Pit Composting Toilets With Onsite Curing of Human Wastes with reasonable Superstructures at Affordable Prices/Costs
    could be the answer to eliminate massive Toiletlessness among the
    population who needed it Yesterday, Hopes of Today and Tomorrow
    keep all Toilet Advocacy Gurus in The Great Maze of finding the
    variety of solutions to solve the Great Toilet Puzzle. Keep Things
    Simple, Affordable with absolute clarity about Installation Logistics
    in far away remote corners of the world.
    Involve all The Real Stakeholders (Supply Chain Industry) who are
    the real beneficiaries from present huge of lack of toilets in the world
    as it could be the big source of volume business for them for a long
    time, The Toilet Users / Householders are relatively smaller Stakeholders as against the Supply Chain Industry and Businesses.
    Keep Governmental Funding aspects for eliminating The Massive
    Toiletlessness to minimal levels, rather go for Creating Toilets Loans
    and Savings Bank – promote it – to give real meaning and efforts to
    The Toilet Advocacy – eventually also try and come up with launching
    Deep Discounted Zero Coupon Toilet Bonds to Fund & Finance the
    Massive Financial needs of The Toilet Oriented Sanitation Sector, and if these could be ‘Tax Free’ it will add to its quality and rating
    among potential investors.
    Dig Deeper into the real reasons what ignited the Interest in Toilets
    by your Foundation and which way it is moving to attain the ultimate
    goals in respect to eliminating The Toiletlessness from the World,
    Other than the Science and Technology Minded Team help bringing
    Financial and Social Engineering Gurus on board to make the real
    and visible difference.

 
 

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