How microfinance for sanitation is changing lives in the Philippines

Suguru Sakata, Leader – Bangladesh and Southeast Asia, SATO

SATO’s model for expanding access to aspirational hygiene and sanitation solutions has changed lives across the globe, impacting 68 million people worldwide to date. Our success is not only because sanitation and hygiene solutions are affordable and effective, but because we are passionate about building markets that tackle the barriers to communities improving their sanitation and hygiene. One way we are doing this in the Philippines is through our partnership with ASHI, a community-focused NGO offering microfinance solutions, that is helping us enhance our reach locally. 

ASHI has an extensive network in the Philippines and the ability to reach out to their customers in rural communities. With over 60 development officers in 60 offices around the country, ASHI can enter communities on the ground and engage directly with its over 100,000 members. ASHI’s microfinancing model is also particularly impactful for women, who make up 90% of its membership and are often the primary financial decision-makers in their households. 

Its microfinancing solution provides small loans and other financial services to individuals and small businesses that lack access to traditional banking, such as those in very rural areas without credit histories or significant assets. With microloans, people can buy essential supplies, invest in equipment, or expand their services, creating a ripple effect that can transform whole communities.

By providing loans specifically designed for sanitation improvements, known as ‘incentive programs’, ASHI and SATO are helping women secure better health and hygiene for their families through our safe and effective sanitation and hygiene solutions. Loans are typically offered at a 2.5% interest rate and repaid over two years. This microfinancing structure encourages and empowers women to be part of the growth and development of their communities.

Our partnership began in 2021 when SATO provided 250 units to households in Central Visayas through ASHI. This initial collaboration with SATO was incredibly positive. Local consumers deemed our products a good fit for their homes and community which helped generate demand and spread awareness through the community by word-of-mouth that SATO solutions are easy to install . Later, we integrated microfinancing to ensure that families who otherwise couldn’t afford it could access SATO’s innovative sanitation and hygiene solutions in a financially sustainable way.

Over recent months, the project has expanded throughout the Philippines and has evolved into a sustainable commercial operation. So far, more than 2,000 units have been sold to families in the Philippines, improving the lives of more than 12,000 people, and the initiative continues to grow.  

The partnership also provides ASHI’s staff with comprehensive training programmes to ensure that community members benefit from SATO products as much as possible. ASHI’s Development Officers receive online training about SATO products and then travel to the communities to engage them directly. They conduct meetings to highlight the importance of safe sanitation and the available microfinancing options. During these sessions, orders are placed, and deliveries are scheduled, helping local consumers begin their sanitation journey. 

In these communities, the new sanitation supply chain involves more than just the end user. The local masons, or tatay, are employed to install products, including SATO Stools and our I-Trap connector systems. This means the broader community also benefits from the development of sanitation ecosystems supported by microfinancing.

One notable case study is the Western Visayas area, which, like many rural areas of the Philippines, struggled with open defecation. This can cause disease and prevent people from working, learning, and living good-quality, dignified lives. By addressing this issue through the ASHI-SATO partnership, the region has seen significant improvements in sanitation standards and followed the sanitation code of the Philippines. We want to replicate the positive change we have seen here for other regions facing these challenges.

Looking ahead, the partnership has ambitious plans. With an Annual Operating Plan for 2025, both ASHI and SATO believe this is a long-term business venture that will continue to transform lives far into the future. We aim to scale up our efforts substantially, making safe sanitation accessible to even more communities across the Philippines. 

This partnership exemplifies how strategic collaborations can address critical public health issues while empowering local communities. By combining the strengths of microfinance and innovative sanitation solutions, we are not only improving health outcomes but also fostering economic empowerment among rural populations, particularly women. This initiative serves as a powerful model for how businesses and social enterprises can work together to create lasting, positive change.

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