There are thousands of similar villages in India. Tekes brought about 30 Finnish entrepreneurs, researchers, and experts of various civic organisations to Saurath, a village in rural north-east to share ideas with the locals on what kinds of services and products are worth developing in the Indian countryside.
During the visit, the Finnish company Ekolet
set up a composting toilet and convinced the villagers that it is worth trying out.
"Traditionally there are no toilets in rural India, and consequently, using them is new for the people. Many do not feel that it is necessary to have one, even though a toilet would promote environmental cleanliness, health, and women's safety", say Kalle and Matti Ylösjoki from Ekolet.
A group of women in the village have been brought together to test the Ekolet composting toilet in a pilot project headed by the local NGO Dritshtee Foundation.
"There is much demand in India for the information that we get during the pilot project. We want to know how a composting toilet works in the context of the history and cultural backdrop of India, which goes back thousands of years. A composting toilet is a completely new idea there. We need to show local people that it works, and that it has benefits", Kalle Ylösjoki explains.
The women are interviewed after two months' experience and again after six months. In addition, the Drishtee Foundation is organising discussions for women, and a local health care expert explains the benefits of using the toilet and gives advice on hygiene.
Kalle and Matti Ylösjoki are pleased with the results of the Business with Impact trip, and the piloting opportunity that it brought, but the Indian countryside is not the easiest possible business environment.
"There should be pilot projects in different areas and for different groups of users. We are going forward, but everything is slower in India. It will probably take years before real business emerges", Matti Ylösjoki sighs.
However, there is a clear need for composting toilets in India. The state and non-governmental organisations have money. The middle class in the countryside could afford to buy a toilet if they wanted one.
"If women's organisations were to exert pressure to install safe toilets in every house, this would undoubtedly start happening."
The “Business with impact co-creation journey” to India was organised as part of the Team Finland Future Watch service coordinated by Tekes, which brings SMEs prospects for changes taking place in the business environment in different parts of the world.
- Further information on activities involving India
- A travelogue of the Business with Impact trip (pdf)
Text: Eeva Landowski
Photo: Tim Bird