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SanMark in Ethiopia - Opportunities and challenges

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sanitation Marketing in Ethiopia, like many other places, is still in its infancy and as a sector we have a lot to learn.  It is becoming increasingly clear that sanitation marketing can play a role in Ethiopia in supporting the construction of improved latrines.  However the question of how sanitation marketing links with ongoing demand creation and behavior change activities is still to be answered.  In addition, while there are some encouraging signs in relation to the enabling environment needed to support sanitation marketing, the conditions that are required to support the engagement of the private sector to effectively be taken sanitation marketing to scale are still unclear.

The Government of Ethiopia, led by the Ministry of Health, has developed a National Sanitation Marketing Guideline to provide a clear framework for all actors working on sanitation marketing to move forward. This was recently launched and its implementation discussed at a National Sanitation Marketing Workshop. This workshop provided a platform to learn from the wide range of completed and ongoing research initiatives. The workshop also provided space for interesting and timely discussions on the roles and comparative advantages of different actors in relation to the implementation of sanitation marketing.

Coming together as a sector to share expectations, objectives, knowledge and experiences around sanitation marketing has provided increased clarity on both the opportunities and the challenges we face. Some of the challenges that we still face are set out below:

-       The roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders that maximize their comparative advantages in sanitation marketing need to be better internalized. Who should play the market actor and market facilitator roles is still under debate.  The tendency for both Government and development partners to lead sanitation marketing activities and become implementing actors in the supply chain is flawed. For a robust market to be developed, the Government needs to create an enabling environment for the development of the supply chain and development partners need to facilitate other actors, primarily those driven by profit, to engage.

-       Creating new and innovative partnerships to support taking sanitation marketing to scale is a challenge, but also the opportunity. The sector needs to harness existing knowledge and skills, and combine these with the skills of actors not previously engaged in the drive to change sanitation and hygiene behaviors. Identifying the new actors that add value, stimulating their interest and forging new partnerships will take some concerted effort.

-       The diversity across Ethiopia’s regions, as well as between and within rural and urban settings, means different business models will need to be developed and adapt to address different market dynamics. More context specific assessments of the market opportunities and challenges are needed to enable the development of business cases for sanitation and hygiene products and services in these different contexts.

-       Currently financial institutions are not effectively engaged in the provision of financial solutions to potential sanitation entrepreneurs or to communities needing financial support to move up the sanitation ladder. As with other section of the private sector, more work is needed to convinced financial institutions there is a viable market and profit to be made.

-       Not atypical of any new market, there are many barriers to entry in the sanitation market for both large and small scale entrepreneurs. The policy instruments that could be used at the macro and micro level to address these barriers (without undermining the market) need to better understood, and advocacy to support this change undertaken.


Despite these challenges there are plenty of opportunities to harness.


-       Latrine coverage is at 55% in Ethiopia (JMP, 2011) and is increasing due to demand creation activities, predominantly CLTS-H. However the vast majority of existing and newly constructed latrines are unhygienic and unsustainable in nature. Poor latrine quality is not providing the benefits of privacy, safety and improvement in the hygienic environment desired by households, and certainly not the health benefits that WASH professionals seek. The demand generated to change behaviors, needs to be matched with the provision of sanitation solutions that are desired by communities. The strengthening of skills and increase in the availability of products to respond to this demand has the potential to have a significant impact on Ethiopia’s progress towards its sanitation targets.

-       Various actors are developing business models and engaging a wide variety of stakeholders in their implementation.  The examination of a variety of options for the production, sale and transportation of different product and services is an essential learning curve that needs to be undergone. Some of the initiatives currently being developed and piloted will fail; this is an inevitable part of market creation. Distinguishing between product failure, business model failure and market failure will be an interesting, and important, opportunity for sector learning over the coming years.

-       The Government’s Micro and Small Enterprise Development Agency is increasingly interested in sanitation marketing.  What is most exciting about this is that they don’t care about sanitation services and changes in hygiene behaviors, they only care about job creation and stimulating more sustainable businesses – this focus is needed.

-       Ethiopia has a strong existing network for the delivery of communication messages in the Health Extension Worker Programme and Health Development Army. If these existing channels can be effectively harnessed and innovatively combined with other communications channels, the right blend of promotional and behavior change messages can be delivered to both support demand creation and drive potential customers to existing products and services.


The sector in Ethiopia plans to establish a multi-stakeholder platform on sanitation marketing to support the sharing of knowledge and experiences gained through the implementation of the National Sanitation Marketing Guidelines. It is hoped that the platform might also act as a catalyst to facilitate the forging of new partnerships. There is little doubt that within Ethiopia some successful pilot models on sanitation marketing are starting to emerge, the question that remains is whether these can be scaled up. A robust and well-functioning market for sanitation and hygiene related products and services is what is needed to support the achievement of sector targets, and this is still some way off.

 Oliver Jones, WSP, February 2013


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