As MBA students, we were tasked with advising an Irish NGO on their sanitation marketing project, which had entailed raising public awareness of the need for better sanitation in rural villages in Eastern Sierra Leone. The follow-on steps that they had taken included working with local consumers to design relatively cheap concrete latrines which local masons would produce. Throughout this process, the NGO had taken into account the local context, and worked with local partners in order to lay the foundations for a sustainable market for sanitation products, and thus better sanitation in Eastern Sierra Leone as a whole.
Working in Sierra Leone for two and a half weeks helped us as business students realise how much we take infrastructure, access to credit, and electricity (in particular) for granted. Working with local Sierra Leoneans however, showed us that entrepreneurial flair was possible in the face of such constraints. Local masons were travelling long distances to show consumers different types of rural latrine. Local radio stations were playing jingles and holding radio phone-in discussions on the role of sanitation in the village. Local sanitation representatives were sharing new ideas with us in order to increase market awareness, sales and thus overall levels of sanitation.
The key to sustainability for this “market-making” exercise will be whether local people can step up and take control of the marketing and distribution functions that have been heavily subsidised so far. Given what we saw while we were out there, and the people that we spoke with, we believe that they can.