Story Of Poop Guy Who Left His Job In The US To Solve The Problem Of Sanitation For The Urban Poor
India remains one of the 45 developing countries with less than fifty percent sanitation coverage. To eliminate the problem of open defecation, public toilets were built as a part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. However, many of those have overflowing commodes, stained urinals, blocked pipes, and non-working taps.
But long before the seeds of Swachh Bharat were sown, a US-based software engineer left his cushy job to provide safe and reliable community toilet facilities for the urban slum-dwelling poor in India. Swapnil Chaturvedi, also known as the Poop Guy has blessed more than 1.5 lakh people across 100 slums with his initiative.
40-year-old Swapnil completed his engineering from Bhilai Institute of Technology, Chhattisgarh, and moved to the US to work in 2001. Few years later, after his daughter’s birth, he came to India to visit his family. He was surprised to see the condition of the urban poor, which changed his life completely.
“On one hand, there were big shopping malls and on the other there were these slums all over the city (with kids defecating in the open),” Swapnil says. His blindfolds were removed and he wanted to do something for these people. So he gave up his US residency in 2011 and moved back to India.
Swapnil surveyed different slums in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Gurgaon, and Raipur to understand the approach of slum dwellers towards community toilets. That was when he realized that more than building toilets, it was important to inculcate hygienic user habits as well as create a sense of ownership for the space. Thus, he introduced the Loo Rewards programs.
In 2013, Swapnil requested the Pune Municipal Corporation to give one community toilet for operation and maintenance on a pilot basis. The project clicked and he started taking over community toilets in different parts of the city with Rs 20 lakh as investment.
Samagra Sandas was designed to make toilets affordable so that the urban poor could meet their health and emergency expenses in need. In order to attract people to the space, Swapnil’s team ensured user-friendly designs and offered rewards like mobile recharge, loyalty programs, health insurance, etc., for the users. Gradually, the usage increased manifold and within a few months of its launch, more than half of the community started paying for usage, making the toilets self-sustainable.
Today, more than 1.5 lakh people across 100 slums are using over 3000 community toilets in the city daily, as part of Samagra Sandas initiative.
Swapnil aims to expand Samagra Sandas to 10 cities with a footfall of more than two million users in the next five years, thereby becoming the largest sanitation enterprise. His ultimate goal is vast and beyond, in the field of energy access, environment, nutrition, education and health.
Swapnil has brought a big change in the lives of so many people. He is eliminating the problems of open defecation and dirty public toilets gradually, solving the health problems. His journey is path breaking in the field of sanitation.