India’s Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh said last week that women in women in the country demand mobile phones over toilets. He believes that sanitation is a much more difficult issues than telecommunication. About 600 million out of 1.2 billion Indians have ready access to clean bathrooms – this accounts for almost 60% of those relieving themselves in the open across the globe. At the same time, over 800 million of those 1.2 billion Indians have cell phones. These statistics are raising eyebrows throughout the development community and have prompted new initiatives in which cell phones are being incorporated in sanitation projects.
Swapnil Chaturvedi, an entrepeneur who has been working on sanitation projects in India’s slums, came up with a project called “Poop Rewards.” Though the name may sound funny, the program has some serious goals. “Poop Rewards” creates an incentive program using cell phone talk minutes and other prizes to convince Indians that don’t have regular access to use the designated public toilets in their area. Chaturvedi says that cell phone users are extremely price sensitive, so he thinks they will be willing to change their behavior to earn the free minutes.
With a phone company as a partner, more public toilets could be built in the necessary areas — and cell phone companies can use the rewards program to retain low-price conscious customers and provide a public service, which can also help with loyalty, says Chaturvedi.
The program seems far-fetched, but as the winner of the recent Startup Weekend Delhi, “Poop Rewards” seems to have some potential. Mobile phones are offering unprecedented modes of problem solving – why can’t toilets be one of them?