Starting out as a pilot project in 2018, FINISH Mondial Tanzania has been growing rapidly. In the past five years, the programme managed to construct close to 30’000 safe sanitation systems in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. But the road to success hasn’t been without its bumps and challenges. We talk with Christopher Ndangala, head of programme in Tanzania. He tells us about the hurdles he had to overcome, encounters from the fields that inspire him and what he is most proud of today.
Ndangala, can you please first briefly tell us what the current sanitation situation is in Tanzania and the regions you work in?
Overall, the sanitation situation in Tanzania is improving quite fast and, at the country level, the majority of the population now has access to some type of sanitation service. But we see wide discrepancies between regions. In the parts of the country where we operate, a large proportion of the population has no access to any sanitation service and still practices open defecation. We chose to work in these districts precisely because of the limited sanitation coverage there.
FINISH Mondial Tanzania started in 2018, can you tell us about the early days and the challenges you were faced with?
We started as a pilot project, in the Serengeti district. Our first step was to do a mapping of the sanitation situation in the region. The FINISH Mondial approach is based on four pillars: creating demand for sanitation among communities, involving the private sector in constructing sanitation systems, engaging financial institutions to provide sanitation loans to households and businesses and involving the government in building sanitation markets. So, we set out to map how much was already there. The first realisation was that financial institutions were scarce in the region and none of them offered loan products for WASH services. We then tried to find businesses that were already implementing specific sanitation technologies, without success. Even finding some of the hardware to construct sanitation systems, like pipes and fittings, was difficult. On the community side, our approach was at odds with certain belief systems. In Serengeti, sharing a toilet with the in-laws living in your household is considered inappropriate. And on the government side, the district is huge and there were only 7 staff members in the public health department. The challenges were coming to us from all sides.
Many hurdles indeed… you had to come up with quite a plan to overcome all these challenges?
Yes, honestly at the beginning we had our doubts if we would be able to make it. But we decided to try and implement several strategies. First we recruited artisans and trained them in the construction of safe sanitation systems with new technologies like ventilated improved pits and leach pits. We also realised that we could work with grassroots financial institutions. In Serengeti, we have what is called Community Conservation Banks, which are based on group savings schemes and we thought that we could try and partner with them and develop WASH loan products together. At the same time, we continued to approach the bigger financial institutions and tried to incentivise them, notably by offering to participate in the costs of transporting loan officers to Serengeti from Mwanza City, 300km in the West. The grassroots financial institutions ended up acting as intermediaries for households to access loans from equity banks. We started with a pilot group and the repayment rate was good and the bigger bank became a long-time partner. We developed standardised curriculums for artisans, supported suppliers in stocking construction material in rural settings, developed sanitation marketing packages directed at communities and created a consultative group with members of the government to make sure that our plans aligned with the government. Little by little, the whole ecosystem developed and evolved.
You mentioned earlier that some belief systems around sanitation and certain taboos have been a major hurdle in the uptake of improved sanitation. Fostering social transformation, in general, is very difficult, how do you approach a challenge of such magnitude?
Yes, it is indeed a challenge and we have faced several problems. I already mentioned the taboo around sharing a toilet with your in-laws. Another difficulty is convincing people to invest money in a toilet. We found that the best approach to social transformation was to involve community leaders and have them champion our cause, for them to become the spokesperson of the social transformation and showing the example by constructing an improved toilet themselves. They also helped us in translating our approach to the local context and finding the right words to convince people. We also constructed demonstration toilets, which was a great way for people to test and see the benefits of the improved systems. Then, of course, we also had to make sure that the toilets were as affordable as possible. We started to experiment and use local raw materials and promoted bulk procurement for households to reduce costs as much as possible. By working with grassroots financial institutions, we could also offer step-by-step construction, with a series of small loans over a prolonged period,
What do you consider the greatest success of FINISH Tanzania up until now? What are you most proud of?
What we are most proud of is that we see steady growth in community uptake of safely managed sanitation and that this growth is happening because communities see the health benefits at the household level. Actually, when you look at the statistics from the health dispensaries in the region we work in, cases of diarrhoea have clearly gone down. We are also proud to have been able to involve financial institutions, where there were none before, and that over time we have caught the attention of policy makers and the central government, and most importantly that these actors recognise the value of what we are doing. All these stakeholders support us now in scaling the programme and expanding to new locations. And we are also very happy that some sustainable markets around sanitation have been created beyond the scope of our project.
What stands out is that you were able to create really strong relationships with the central government, which is not easy.
Yes, the central government really shows a lot of appreciation for our work and truly gets behind our initiative. Actually we have the Deputy Director for preventative care from the Ministry of Health on our advisory board. And when we first met the Minister of Health herself, she was very intrigued by our diamond approach and the idea of loans to construct toilets. She really got behind it and sent some officials to visit our implementation sites, among other things. The local and central government players have become our ambassadors.
You are often in the field and I guess seeing the outcomes of your work and talking with the beneficiaries is very motivating, as well. Is there maybe one story from the field that stands out for you?
There are many! But one I particularly remember is a lady in a village in Magu district, who was living in a very basic house, a mud hut. She really wanted a toilet, because she knew how important safe sanitation is, but she couldn’t afford one. She was very motivated, so she decided to join a grassroots financial institution and saved for a long time, before being able to get her first small loan. Then she constructed her sanitation system little by little. Eventually, the mason was so nice to finish the toilet on credit that she repaid after harvest or getting another loan. And she made it, she got her toilet! I think this is such an inspiring story, it’s just very rewarding to see that even the lower income quintile is able to gain access to safe water and sanitation services.
In 2022, FINISH Mondial Tanzania started with a new financial product, a loan to connect households to water, can you tell us a little bit more about this initiative?
Yes, it’s something I am very excited about, because we are now able to offer a new product that people were asking for and for which a real need exists. While working with sanitation loans, we noticed that many people also really wanted a water connection, but couldn’t pay for it upfront. So, we partnered with Vision Fund, a microfinance services provider, and with the regional water utility to offer a new loan product, which until now has excellent repayment rates. This year, we aim to connect over 600 households to the water utility service. Our goal is to offer a complete product, a toilet with a bathroom and a hand washing facility.
What gets you up in the morning and motivates you to continue this work every day?
You know, seeing the journey we have covered since our beginnings, how much progress has been made, it’s really rewarding. When we started out, we had our doubts, would we be able to make it? But now we know that we can. Our partners are here to support us and are doing a great job. In my role as coordinator, I can see that things are running smoothly. And so many times, people come to tell me positive things about our programme. This keeps the momentum going. Now we have to aim even higher!
And what is your outlook on the future, where do you think FINISH Mondial Tanzania will be in 10 years from now?
We are now in an expansion phase and want to reach further geographically, also by partnering with more financial institutions. And crucially, we also want to institutionalise our approach and products, that is, integrating it in the government structures. Resources are limited and working closely with government structures will create many synergies. Our focus will also be on developing the circular sanitation economy in Tanzania. We have a triple objective here: improve health outcomes, preserve the environment and create livelihoods by making sure a toilet also becomes a means of gaining income by producing fertiliser for agriculture out of faecal sludge, for example. I look forward to these next 10 years!