Exclusive interview with VALENTIN POST, CEO, FINISH Mondial in Smart Water Magazine
The bi-monthly issue of the Smart Water Magazine carried a detailed interview with FINISH Mondial CEO Valentin Post in its issue dated November 15, 2022 wherein the interviewer CRISTINA NOVO PEREZ in a story titled “People are more than willing to invest in a safe toilet or sanitation system once they see its benefits” delves upon how globally 2.5 billion people still don’t have access to a safe toilet, with negative consequences for public health and the economy. The FINISH Mondial programme is implemented in 6 countries – India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia – improving living standards in communities. In this interview, Valentin Post, co-founder and CEO of FINISH Mondial, tells us about their approach to address the sanitation challenge, and how their programme contributes to the circular economy by encouraging safe disposal and reuse of human waste.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Valentin Post, co-founder and CEO of FINISH Mondial, tells us about their approach to address the sanitation challenge, and how their programme contributes to the circular economy by encouraging safe disposal and reuse of human waste.
Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at FINISH Mondial?
I have worked in the sanitation and waste sector for over 25 years. I started my career in industrial waste management and entered the toilet sector a little bit by coincidence. My first work experiences were with leather tanneries and the pollution they cause. You might think that working with human and municipal waste would be easy in comparison. But reality has taught me that the waste sector is never easy and highly contextual. As FINISH Mondial’s co-founder and CEO, my job is to safeguard the FINISH Mondial mission and vision, as well as to motivate and support the country teams, working groups, partners and supporting staff. To increase our footprint, I also actively seek to engage partners and innovations that may help us reduce costs or increase scale. FINISH (Financial Inclusion Improves Sanitation & Health) Mondial’s goal is to make sure that people in low-income communities have access to a safe toilet. To achieve that goal, you follow a holistic approach described as the “Diamond model”.
Can you explain your approach in more detail?
Yes indeed, our approach to the sanitation challenge is very comprehensive. We involve all the stakeholders in the sanitation ecosystem – communities, businesses, financial institutions and governments – with the aim of providing toilets for those who need them most. We visit communities and households to raise awareness of the health benefits of having a safe toilet, and we keep engaging with them to create demand for toilets. We train local masons to build quality low-cost toilets and safe sanitation systems, and train sanitation entrepreneurs to safely collect, transform and reuse human waste. We partner with banks and other financial institutions to develop sanitation loan products, build the capacity of their staff to market these products, and link them to interested households and sanitation businesses. Finally, we encourage governments to create an enabling environment and to join public-private partnerships. So, in a sense, you make sure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together… Yes, exactly, because there is no point in training masons to build toilets if they “We involve all the stakeholders in the sanitation ecosystem with the aim of providing toilets for those who need them most” FINISH (Financial Inclusion Improves Sanitation & Health) Mondial’s goal is to make sure that people in low-income communities have access to a safe toilet.
You apply a market approach to the sanitation challenge – people pay for their toilets – yet FINISH Mondial is an NGO. Why did you choose to work with a market-based approach?
The sanitation sector still relies heavily on government subsidies, which is un- sustainable in the long run. 2.5 billion people still don’t have access to a safe toilet! People also tend to be more negligent with products or services they have not paid for. We wanted to find a more sustainable approach and therefore, people pay for the toilets, but we make sure they can afford to pay. As a rule, people with- out toilets are poor and can’t afford the out-of-pocket expense of a toilet. This is where microfinance and the financial institutions we work with come in. Paying the needed amount in small instalments matched to the expected income of the household makes safely managed sanitation affordable for many more people. We find that people are more than willing to invest in a safe toilet or sanitation system once they see its benefits. And by creating a sanitation market, we create local employment for masons, pit emptiers, and so on. We also, of course, make sure that sanitation businesses sell good products. We give a lot of training to entrepreneurs to ensure quality and affordability. Typically, our toilets and sanitation systems are both high quality and also a third cheaper than prevailing systems.
You operate in six countries – Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Can you tell us about your plans to scale up and about some of the barriers you face in this regard?
“In urban settings, we work with and develop the capacities of sanitation entrepreneurs to collect and transform the human waste”
The biggest challenge is that scaling up sanitation is highly contextual: each country has its specific challenge. In Ethiopia, for instance, there are some financial liquidity problems. Even if households are interested in sanitation loans, the availability of funds is limit- ed. In Bangladesh and eastern India, we need to construct floodproof infrastructures, which is a technical challenge. We have identified several possible solutions, some of which we have tested and others still need to be tested. We will also need to get the governments to accept and adopt these new floodproof toilets in their standards.
The FINISH programme contributes to a circular economy: how so?
Our goal is to “recycle” the human waste from the toilets we build. Recycling can be autonomous, carried out by the household itself using double pits. These systems are used mainly in rural and peri-urban areas; the human waste is treated on site, and households learn how to empty and safely reuse their own faecal matter. Alternatively, in urban settings, we work with and develop the capacities of sanitation entrepreneurs to collect and transform the human waste, usually into co-compost that can be safely applied in agriculture. Co-compost from human waste, mixed with other organic waste materials, is very nitrogen rich and makes a great fertiliser.