Toilet Day Thrills Kenyans as Capitalist Trio Sells Hope

June 15 (Bloomberg) — Suraj Sudhakar sold pay-toilet services in Kenya. Heidi Krauel peddled solar-powered lights in India. Joel Montgomery pushed drip irrigation in Pakistan.

The three young college graduates are the subject of “The New Recruits,” a fascinating PBS documentary airing tonight at 10 p.m. New York time. The film chronicles their yearlong adventure with “social entrepreneurship,” a philosophy that combines humanitarianism and capitalism to fight global poverty.

The trio was trained by the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit group that believes free enterprise is the best way to help Third World countries. The film is narrated by Rainn Wilson of NBC’s “The Office” and directed by Jeremy Newberger, Seth Kramer and Daniel A. Miller, who earlier made “The Linguists.”

Sudhakar’s story is the most compelling — and depressing.

In a slum outside Nairobi, pigs, dogs, chickens and humans scurry across huge mounds of garbage. The area lacks a sanitation system, making it what one local calls an “open defecation zone.”

Sudhakar’s company, Ecotact, installs pay toilets that cost about eight cents per visit. A “World Toilet Day” featuring a speech by Kenya’s minister of public health and sanitation is held to publicize the facilities. A comedian entertains the crowd with one-liners such as, “Did you just make a big one or a small one?”

‘Monsoon Money’

In order to create a high-class image, the company opens the first toilets in the city’s business district. “Don’t forget us,” pleads a small group of children in the slums. Sudhakar promises to come back.

In Pakistan, Montgomery approaches his Micro Drip project with the enthusiasm of an Amway salesman.

“A rainmaker is any person who brings money into a company,” he tells his small sales team. “I want monsoon money!”

But local farmers resist his pitch to install systems that save water by using special pipes and valves to slowly irrigate crops. Despite a spreadsheet presentation showing farmers they would eventually save money, they’re reluctant to invest in a system that doesn’t pay immediate dividends.

When he came to Pakistan, Montgomery was convinced that free enterprise could solve any economic problem. After 10 months in the field, though, he concedes that “the market is imperfect.”

Solar Power

Krauel worked for D.light Design, trying to sell solar- powered lights to some of the 500 million Indians “without access to good electricity.” They currently rely on kerosene, which can be dangerous.

Sales aren’t easy, though. Most Indians earn less than two dollars a day, which makes it extremely difficult to afford a solar system that costs $25.

Cost wasn’t Krauel’s only problem. The tall slender blonde was disturbed by a billboard advertising a show called “I Hate Working Women” and a newspaper story about a brutal gang rape.

“India is not a safe place to be a woman,” she concludes.

The film says only 50 percent of social entrepreneur jobs survive their first four years. Yet by the end of the film, Krauel and Montgomery are seeking new opportunities to sell to the poor and Suhakar has enthusiastically returned to Kenya to build more toilets.

Source – Bloomberg

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