Cell phone minutes as a reward for using public toilets in India

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?

Read more about “Poop Rewards” here, or, to learn about the perspectives of Indian women on this matter, check out this article.

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4 responses to “Cell phone minutes as a reward for using public toilets in India

  • hmfraser

    I have some questions. So people do not like to use these public restrooms and the government is trying to make a reason for people to use them? Does this mean they are going outside instead? And so they want things to be more sanitary by encouraging them to go inside?
    Perhaps there is a reason that people are choosing to go outside instead, and if so maybe this should be the first issue addressed before this program starts.

    However, I think it sounds like a fine idea. Seems like everyone involved benefits (unless there is something wrong with these bathrooms I don’t know about) and addresses the issues that you see the people are more concerned with. The name is a little strange though.

  • mariahvb

    This is a great topic! In my opinion, I think that the demand for cell phones is much higher than toilets because it has become somewhat the norm for people to not have access to those amenities. Whereas, in comparison to cell phones, although it is a relatively new technology, the benefits of using that as opposed to a toilet is unprecedented. The Rewards project is such a great idea. Not sure how it could be implemented on such a large scale, but I think this would be greatly beneficial for the country’s sanitation problems.

  • ssimon1

    I had many of the same questions as you both did, and because this is a brand new initiative, I think any of the unknowns are going to be addressed as they are encountered. I think the issue is that people simply do not use the public toilet facilities for whatever reason – they could be too far away, not clean, overcrowded, etc… The whole idea really stood out to me, though. Using cell phone minutes and other technology-based rewards could be an effective new trend in ICT4D. It’s clear that what people want is technology, and hopefully we’ll see more initiatives like this as technology becomes even more widespread.

  • wstewar

    This is a funny initiative. By promoting the use of public toilets does this mean that these communities will be more sustainable? Is there a problem of public defecation that authorities are trying to fix? It is an interesting initiative but i don’t exactly see the development benefit except that people are getting minutes for their cellphones that would otherwise be expensive.

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