Microloans for Sanitation

The Challenge

In rural Vietnam and Cambodia, open defecation and poor hygiene practices are a way of life for a majority of families, and the consequences are dire. Fully 50 percent of Vietnamese and approximately 80 percent of Cambodians do not have proper sanitation at home. Good hygiene practices – including regular hand washing with soap – are not widely adopted, particularly in poor communities. These factors help create a breeding ground for water-borne illnesses, and are responsible for 17,000 deaths each year – 90 percent of them among children under age 5. The problem results in an estimated US $1.2 billion in economic losses annually in these two countries, and contributes to the problems keeping poor Vietnamese and Cambodians trapped in the cycle of poverty.

Our Approach

Solving these seemingly intractable problems requires a new approach – one that marries strong community engagement, expertise, and leadership; reliable funding that can be leveraged wisely to achieve the most significant impact; and an innovative business model that spurs behavior change and ensures that the end result is a win-win for donors, suppliers, recipients, and entire communities. Thrive Networks’ Community Hygiene and Sanitation Program in Vietnam and Cambodia began implementing this multi-pronged approach on a large scale in 2011.

Alongside our local partners, we organize events and distribute materials to educate the community about hygiene and sanitation, as well as build community support for installing systems. We help connect families with credible sources of micro-financing and locally-trained masons to build, install, and maintain home latrines. The installation progress and completion are then independently verified. Finally, we reward results. Households confirmed to be using and maintaining the latrines receive a rebate to offset the cost of their latrines and community volunteers receive a bonus for their work. Communes receive conditional cash transfers when local sanitation rates reach 30 percent, and again when rates reach 95 percent. These household rebates are awarded after inspection of the finished product rather than upon the signing of contracts – ensuring that providers are held accountable and quality of construction remains high.

Lack of access to financing for households that want to purchase a toilet has been one of the major constraints for the Community Hygiene and Sanitation program. It is difficult for many of these very poor families to obtain funding from local banks. Thrive Networks turned to microfinance funding from Kiva as a source of funding to reach these households. The Kiva funds are used as microloans for individual clean water entrepreneurs.

The Thrive Networks Advantage

Even before the partnership with Kiva, Thrive Networks pursued micro-financing as a mechanism to facilitate social service programs. It has worked extensively with the Hai Duong Women’s Union (HDWU) of Vietnam. As part of the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU), HDWU functions as a network of Vietnamese women. This served to aid national efforts to recover from the war and, more recently, to enhance socio-economic development. In May of 2012, Thrive Networks provided the HDWU four billion Vietnam Dong in capital (approximately $190,000 USD) over five years to support rural sanitation improvement in Hai Duong Province. In this way, the HDWU facilitated local management of the funds to provide access to micro-investments to construct latrines and hand-washing devices. In September 2013, Thrive Networks extended this project to Ninh Binh, and awarded an additional two billion Vietnam dong in capital (approximately $94,000 USD).

The Kiva partnership enables us to scale this micro-financing program to help more of those most in need – families living in rural, underserved communities, and earning less than $2 USD per day. We are privileged to have entered into this innovative collaboration, which is part of Kiva’s ongoing initiative to extend its reach beyond traditional microfinance institutions, to work with schools, companies, NGOs, and social enterprises that can use microfinance to create sustainable, positive change. It provides financing which would otherwise be a critical challenge for implementing sanitation projects like the Community Hygiene and Sanitation program.

Unlike other programs that offer only short-term and remotely-led approaches to sanitation, our results-based approach is implemented by local partners that have the legal or social mandate for rural sanitation in their communities. Community organizations and government agencies ensure that policies, human resources, financing and technology are in place, ensuring the sustainability of the program. Local partners, like the Vietnam Women’s Union, are central to every stage of the effort—helping to educate, build demand, as well as helping with access to financing, materials and labor. This ensures that the results are beneficial for all involved. The costs associated with delivering latrines and achieving associated behavioral change are among the lowest in the industry, ensuring smart investments that reach more people for less money.