By Okechukwu Umelo*

Hi! I recently joined iSMA as a volunteer, encouraged by my growing interest in social marketing. I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to support the organization’s work with my knowledge, skills and experience.

My interest in iSMA has been spurred by my work with the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF), a multi-donor trust fund that invests in behaviour change activities that enable large numbers of people in developing countries to improve their sanitation and adopt good hygiene practices.

Central to the GSF ethos is scaling up and sustaining sanitation and hygiene behaviour change across rural communities. In order to achieve this, the GSF supports nationally-led programmes that deliver community-led total sanitation, behaviour change communication and sanitation marketing activities.

Sanitation marketing, an offshoot of social marketing, is all the rage in water, sanitation and hygiene circles. The Water and Sanitation Program describes it as “an emerging field that applies social and commercial marketing approaches to scale up the supply and demand for improved sanitation facilities.” WSP also notes that while formative research is the foundation of any sanitation marketing programme, components such as the marketing mix, communications campaigns, and implementation are also critical to the design and implementation of effective sanitation marketing programmes.

In the GSF-supported programme in Madagascar, facilitators encourage people to climb the sanitation ladder by valuing local technologies, materials and skills emerging from the communities themselves. This is central to the programme’s sanitation marketing strategy, which covers everything from support to small-scale entrepreneurs to low-cost solutions implemented directly by the toilet owners.

If this GSF example and literature from over the last decade are any indication, sanitation marketing is steadily gaining recognition as a low-cost, high-impact and sustainable approach. It’s being increasingly incorporated into diverse water, sanitation and hygiene programmes across the globe, in both the public and private sectors. But is it much ado about nothing, the best thing since sliced bread, or somewhere in between? What are your thoughts?

*Disclaimer: The views expressed are solely mine, in my private capacity.