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Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 18:00

BRAC puts Entrepreneurs to Work Providing Clean Toilets for Millions

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1 February 2012, Dhaka. In Bangladesh, the development organization's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program gives millions of the rural poor a fresh start with latrines at prices fair to buyers and sellers alike.

Rushada Shahad doesn’t run your typical home improvement showroom. You’ll find no stainless steel fixtures and chrome faucets in her backyard in the Bhaluka subdistrict of rural Bangladesh, where she runs a business selling latrine slabs and pillars. But what this enterprise and others like it lack in luxury, they make up for in impact, providing sanitation to tens of millions of Bangaldesh's rural poor.

BRAC, a global development organization based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has announced it is financing the start-up of more businesses like Rushada's in a bid to reach households trapped in extreme poverty. With a new round of financial assistance from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization has begun rolling out the second phase of its WASH [Water, Sanitation and Hygiene] program. The first phase has already reached over 25 million people.

Rushada is a “sanitation entrepreneur” trained and financed by BRAC. Micro-franchised start-ups like hers are a “business in a box,” launched by individuals -- but with a business model, marketing support and interest-free loans provided by the organization.

“The WASH program of BRAC has provided 25.5 million people with sanitation, a remarkable increase,” says Babar Kabir, the director of the program. “We look forward to the second phase of the program, where we’ll direct our attention to the ultra-poor, or people living at the bottom 10 percent of the economic pyramid. We are working to eliminate open defecation in Bangladesh.”

BRAC, by most standards is the world's largest non-government organization, is currently scaling up market-based solutions such as these -- most of them developed in its home country of Bangladesh -- in 10 countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

About 2.6 billion people around the world lack access to basic sanitation, according to the United Nations. Lack of toilets perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty and malnutrition, with lack of access to clean water and sanitation killing an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five each year and children missing 443 million total school days annually due to related illnesses.

Late last year, BRAC received a three-year grant of up to $17 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to expand its BRAC wash program in rural and semi-urban areas of Bangladesh.

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