A revolution at the heart of Clean India

A revolution at the heart of Clean India
A revolution at the heart of Clean India

Mumbai-headquartered Mahindra Group is one of India's leading multinational conglomerate. The corporate social responsibility (CSR) chief of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd shares the group's vision of contributing to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with 'India Investment Journal'. In response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call to the nation exhorting all schools to have toilets exclusive for girls by 15th August 2015, the Mahindra Group pledged its support for the Clean India Campaign through the ′Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya′ (SBSV) programme and earmarked Rs 23 crores [$3.5mn] for building toilets and Rs 6 crores [$1mn] for maintenance and awareness creation. We constructed 4,597 toilets primarily for girls in government schools, across 11 states, 104 districts, 404 admin blocks & 1,171 locations. Not only that, but the Group has also committed to maintain the toilets for a period of one year. Studies indicate that when water, sanitation and hygiene are missing, schools face fair amount of absenteeism by girls. Girls are particularly vulnerable to dropping out of school partly because many are reluctant to continue their education when toilets and washing facilities are not private, safe or simply unavailable. Gender norms and physiology make privacy more important for girls than boys and by virtue of biological realities girls need adequate sanitary facilities at school to manage menstruation. Hence, Mahindra Group focused on girls' school in its infrastructure and human dimension intervention model. The girls' toilets were required in government, elementary and secondary schools in hard to reach areas such as those in districts facing problems of insurgency and left wing extremism, remote mountainous terrain, forests and jungles and in rented buildings. Because of these challenges, the schools had been neglected. However, under the SBSV initiative, we devised an inclusive solution to ensure that no child is excluded including differently abled and, through innovative processes, overcame all the challenges in providing children access to toilets. Our SBSV initiative is an integrated programme that comprises intervention in the areas of physical infrastructure, hygiene awareness and capacity building, upkeep and maintenance. The programme has a direct impact on 294 lakh users per day. Of the 1,171 locations where the Group has constructed toilets, 80 per cent are in rural locations. While selecting the locations, we came across disparities across the country and meticulously selected the locations, in consultation with MHRD [Ministry of Human Resource Development], state level nodal agency, school authorities considering the following:

  • Multi criteria location selection analysis
  • Predominantly girls' toilets
  • Focus on BPL [below poverty line] and under privileged communities
  • Low sanitation coverage/high open defecation rate
  • Schools with poor attendance and dropouts
  • Extensive rural coverage
  • Wide geographical spread - North East to Rajasthan and Haryana to Karnataka
We also tried a different approach in its conceptualisation of the project by smartly combining its planning, engineering and human resource development components to construct user friendly toilet units for children and teachers. Adequate water supply to toilet units as well as waste disposal management systems were also incorporated. To ensure that the toilets were used correctly, we also conducted activities and awareness programmes in order to promote healthy and hygienic habits amongst users. There were some unique problems that we encountered during the construction phase and the remedies that it offered were:
  • Drop out because of lack of facilities - We provided facilities promoting good hygiene and privacy to girls so that they do not stop coming to school.
  • Biological realities - menstrual hygiene management was lacking - special efforts like gender friendly infrastructure, access to sanitary products and their disposal mechanism, hygiene education were provided.
  • Layout and design - common template - customized to fit children′s physique and took into account site related challenges
  • General design for "average child" and ultimately the facilities are not "used" - incorporated these requirements as it is prudent to incorporate these in the design during conceptualisation stage rather than making expensive changes post construction
We wanted to drive a positive change across the community and hence needed to use alternative thinking by not accepting any limits so as to create a differentiator whilst undertaking this project.
  • Our integrated maintenance model includes regular upkeep of toilets, supply of consumables and sanitary
  • items, regular maintenance etc. Apart from this, our model includes extensive awareness creation for personal and social hygiene, along with training and capacity building for the upkeep of the toilets.
  • Established sanitation infrastructure and enhanced conditions within the school and habits of children that help prevent water borne diseases
  • The project is not viewed as "donation model or usual CSR funding model". The end users of SBSV are viewed as clients and a high level of compliance to end user requirement is adhered to
  • Developed user-friendly model including those for differently abled, adolescent girls, small children and also those who are sick
  • Made a product differentiator in terms of block configuration, addressing the needs of girl children and those who are differently abled
  • Permanent disaster resistant toilets with a host of affordable facilities that can be managed by the school
  • Extensive use of locally available materials and providing local employment opportunities
  • To make model toilets which can be adopted on a large scale in other areas
  • Not viewing this merely as an infrastructure intervention, but also giving substantial focus and resources on the human motivation and hygiene behavior change aspect and sustained operation and maintenance
  • Not just building fully functional girls' toilets but truly fulfilling the mission of SBSV "Clean India: Clean Schools”
The envisaged period of maintenance is for one year and our endeavour shall be to empower school management to takeover maintenance and up-keep after the one year. During the training programme, a special review shall be conducted on the preparedness of the school towards this goal. It is necessary to mention that in many of the schools, the children were not familiar with the toilet usage and the clean habits to be followed. These are being addressed in the capacity building exercise and the children will be educated in all the hygiene aspects which are essential at home and as well in public places including school premises. This change in mind set will not only improve the self-esteem of the children but also build confidence in them. The major concern to be addressed will be to protect the privacy especially for the girl child which, in its own way, has many intangible benefits in the behaviour of the children.
Sushil Singh is vice-president, CSR, at Mahindra and Mahindra and primarily handles the implementation of the Employee Volunteering Programme (Esops) at the Mahindra Group.
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