Making Sanitation A Wellness Movement

Aviom is to be raising USD 30 million valuing the six-year-old lender at around Rs 800 crore

Sanitation is one of the essential needs of a person to maintain health and hygiene, and the rural sector of India was lacking it for many years. When the Swachh Bharat mission started in 2014, about 600 million people in India followed open defecation, of which 550 million were in rural areas.

The Narendra Modi government is constantly working to provide 100 per cent sanitation coverage to the rural populace. Apart from that, there are organisations like Aviom that are dedicated to providing funds for constructing toilets in rural areas.

BW Businessworld had an interaction with Kajal Ilmi, MD and CEO, Aviom on how sanitation is a necessity and how the organisation is working towards it. Excerpts;

How do you see sanitation as a topic in rural areas?

If we come down to sanitation specifically, it just does not impact the health of the rural and semi-urban population, it is also about self-esteem. So there are three parts if we talk about toilets, one is inside the house, the other is in public areas, and the third is sanitation in schools and colleges.

We have not much-focused sanitation in the last many years in the country, however, the government is bringing various schemes. We can see televisions, social media and other progress in the rural areas, and yet they don't have better toilet facilities. So the average cost of toilet construction would be about Rs 1.10 - 1.15 lakh. Aviom works to provide this fund to construct toilets.

We have come to know that Aviom has earlier contributed to making rural toilets, so how all the things were done and what all made the initiative successful?

We started in August 2016. Aviom has about 120 branches in 14 states. It's the only financial lending company in the country lending for toilet construction.

In our business model, the first applicant is a woman in 100 per cent of cases. All the lending is done to women for toilet construction. Globally, we are recognised for sanitation, we also have international funding for our work on sanitation.

We have funded 31,000 toilets already, and we will fund more than a lakh toilets by December end in 2023. Till 2025, we would have a list of three to four lakh toilets that must be constructed.

Aviom has empowered 55000 rural women, throw some light on it.

We have a business sourcing model called 'Shakti'. It's a flexi working model for rural women wherein we impart basic financial literacy to them, and we engage them to source business for us. 100 per cent of the payment is done directly to their accounts through banking channels only.

Currently, we have 55,000 women working with us and every month there is an add-on of 3000-4000 women. They perform the sales sourcing function. Typically these women are anganwadi workers or self-led group leaders. They spread the word on sanitation talking to thousands of other women they know calling for an Aviom-fit customer.

How has the covid time been for your organisation?

There were two waves of covid, but I think we have done very well. We have been stable with our growth and penetration.

Well, nowadays there is much more awareness among people than in the olden days. The World Bank data says that today only 15 per cent of the populace practice open defecation, meanwhile the Indian govt is also taking on measures to construct sanitary toilets for the 1.4 billion population. As you and your team are closely working on such initiatives, what do you think about it? Is this fact true?

Awareness about toilets doesn't mean they have money to construct one. The government is subsiding and is giving up to Rs 12,000 under the Swacchh Bharat mission which is great. But the fact is, there is no possibility of the drainage and plumbing in the septic tank, its construction comes around Rs 12 - 15 lakh. So awareness is increasing but there's no access to financing.

15 per cent of the World Bank data is about all of India. Maybe 40-60 per cent of rural areas are still practising open defecation. We travel to tier 2 and tier 3 all the time, we see there is no concept of a public toilet also.

Should Aviom or organisations like Aviom be backed by the government?

We do get a lot of backing from the government as we are a licensed company and we are like a social enterprise for profit. So we are planning large press meets next year so that more people can come to know about us.

The rural sector needs funding for toilets. I don't think creating awareness is a difficult task now, it is just the funds they need. Our core focus is sanitation, and we will work ahead with this.

Any plans you have for the company like after 5 years?

We want to be known as a sanitation cooperative movement in the country. What Amul did for milk, I think we should do for toilets and sanitation. So the idea is to make it a movement and to create a women's channel of Shakti to reach out and further penetrate the country.

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