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Sierra Leonean Stimulating Sanitation Success

Monday, December 16, 2013

Interview with Steven Bockarie, Programme Officer, GOAL Sierra Leone

September 2013

GOAL Sierra Leone programme officer Steven Bockarie shares his experiences in the early steps of the GOAL Sierra Leone Sanitation Marketing Pilot Project.

Steven Bockarie is part of GOAL’s team working on Sierra Leone’s first Sanitation Marketing (SanMark) Pilot Project in Kenema, Eastern Province. Born and raised in the Eastern Province, Steven is no stranger to the challenges of open defecation; a daily reality for the population of over 1,191,539. In 2008, with funding from Irish Aid and GOAL, GOAL’s rural Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme started using Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) to trigger community-wide commitment to stopping open defecation. The results have been impressive. So far, the programme has reached nearly 214,000 people; 710 communities have been triggered in 8 (of 16) chiefdoms of Kenema District, of which 528 have been declared ‘Open Defecation Free’.

As Steven explains, GOAL sees market development as part of a broader programme to change and sustain new social norms by giving households better access to affordable technologies they can use in the long term. ‘the sanitation marketing program is focusing on providing affordable, accessible and robust sanitation products so that we don’t slip back to open defecation but instead move higher on the sanitation ladder.’

At present, with funding from Adam Smith International (ASI), Steven and the team are busy finalising the Alafia latrine product range (the brand name selected through focus groups), business models, and promotional strategies, building on extensive formative market research commissioned by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

Designing better latrines: the customer is always right

One of the key barriers to latrine purchasing identified by the market research was the lack of affordable, desirable latrine designs. To come up with good latrine options, Steven and his team at GOAL collected all the different existing designs being used in Sierra Leone, as well as some examples from other countries. ‘We went out with the samples to different communities and listened to what they liked and didn’t like. Then the masons redesigned new prototypes based on the community feedback. We went out to test them again. People were interested, but they had some more advice and changes.’

Steven explains some of the design changes masons have made. ‘Before, the [defecation] hole was too small. People want a large size slab. The slabs the masons made before were very thick and used a lot of rebar. They are heavy and may be over-engineered. So we looked into reducing the proportion of cement and adjusting the rebar, while still maintaining the slab quality and strength.’ GOAL is not yet finished with their product design work, but Steven thinks that the final cost of the new cement slabs, part of the Alafia range of products, will be around 12 to 50USD.

Simplifying the purchase, spreading the payments

Households not only want the right product features, they also want to know about the practicalities of the purchase, and how they can be sure they are getting a good deal. ‘They are concerned about costs and how to pay, how to place order, who to contact if they want to purchase, and how to transport the products.’

GOAL has supported the masons in business training and they will be able to use their new skills to develop and trial payment models, as they see appropriate, which can help ease the burden of up-front investment by community members. Steven is also using his previous experience as a microfinance loan officer to develop other options. ‘Very recently I’ve been engaged in stimulating over 350 community members to use ‘Village Savings and Loans(VSL) groups to empower those who can not afford to pay all at once.’ Steven explains that the VSL idea is not new; communities in Sierra Leone regularly form savings groups to help with house construction and other purchases. ‘We’ve had VSL for a long time. People use them to save for house construction, but never thought of saving to build a latrine.’

GOAL is looking into stimulating traditional Sous Sous savings groups or Village Savings and Loans (VSL) groups that encourage communities to save for large purchases and for general financial security. Combined with sanitation marketing in these areas, communities will be motivated to invest in latrines and empowered with the skills to save for this investment.   

Changing household priorities

For Steven, one of the biggest challenges in SanMark is changing mindsets: the idea of a household as a consumer paying full cost to a service provider is ‘all together a new concept’ for most communities. There is also the mindset that NGOs should provide things for free. But the most pressing challenge is actually making toilets a priority.

‘Changing the minds of people is not automatic. It is not that people don’t want a better latrine; it is just not a priority. We have to entice them. We have to discuss privacy, safety, and comfort – quite apart from health. We have to tell them that they can do it for themselves – they don’t need to wait for subsidy from NGOs or the government.’

Creating business opportunities

Steven has the same attitude towards businesses: ‘We need to tell them it is an investment. It is a business. GOAL is just here to stimulate the demand and market, and we must maintain our role as a stimulator and intermediary.’ Through GOAL’s supply chain efforts, one construction company based in Kenema town is now planning to invest and Steven is helping them think through different business models. The businesses intend to work with local masons in the two chiefdoms, who will in turn serve as selling agents. The two interested contractors will work with GOAL to promote the options, arrange transport of materials, and also pre-cast on-site.’ These bigger businesses are also considering setting up temporary smaller production sites that can service groups of villages, using the local mason labour.

There are a few potential options that could work. But no matter what, GOAL wants to make sure that masons and retailers are coordinating better. ‘Now that the retailers know that certain masons will be part of the programme, they are willing to give them materials at a steady price, and masons can also get more materials on credit than before.’

So what’s next for the GOAL project? ‘After the product design process and finalization of the promotional strategies, our next step is to launch the new Alafia product range. We launch at the end of October - it is the month of plenty when people have money. The feedback from the communities is that it is the right time for sales.’ Stay tuned for more updates from Steven and the GOAL Sierra Leone team as the Alafia range of products hit the market.

GOAL is an international non-denominational, non-governmental, and non-political humanitarian organization dedicated to the alleviation of suffering among the poorest of the poor in the developing world. More information about GOAL can be found at www.goal.ie

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