WFH Daily #173: Lessons from Mark Twain

September 12, 2020: Survive, revive, thrive; A smarter toilet in India is changing lives; Necessity drives innovation

Founding Fuel

[Image by skeeze from Pixabay]

Good morning,

While rummaging through our notes last evening, we stumbled across some that we had saved up over the years. All of these are attributed to Mark Twain and we think they make for an interesting read over the weekend.

“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

“When people do not respect us we are sharply offended; yet in his private heart no man much respects himself.”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

“When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.”

“Don't go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.”

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”

In this issue

  • Survive, revive, thrive
  • A smarter toilet in India is changing lives
  • Necessity drives innovation 

Have a good weekend.

FF Exclusive: Survive, revive, thrive

What will it take for firms to survive, revive and reimagine their business in a post-Covid world? This question was top for Indrajit Gupta, co-founder, Founding Fuel, who was moderating a discussion on the theme at Ficci Flo. 

“There are two key leadership tasks to deal with the pandemic. One is, grappling with the operational aspects of the crisis. The second is to prepare for the post Covid-19 world. Because every crisis invariably throws up new opportunities for you to pull ahead of the pack, to reimagine market spaces,” he said to set the agenda for the panel.

“The first focus should be conserving cash, getting your operations down to where you think you can afford the next 12 months of a fairly low transaction economy,” was where Rajiv Ahuja, executive director at RBL Bank, started from.

Ananth Narayan, associate professor at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, pointed to the “the rural economy, which is turning out to be an actual bright spot in the overall landscape.”

But Sucheta Shah, promoter, Atlas Integrated Finance, chose to slice it in three parts. “The industrial [sector] is struggling to survive…The service sector is in the revive mode…Agriculture is thriving because food is a necessity.”

Dig Deeper

A smarter toilet 

Back in 2014, India had nearly 550 million people defecating in the open, equivalent to nearly the entire population of North America. The issue is not just of national pride, but a looming public health crisis with over 100,000 preventable child deaths annually.

Since then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has made sanitation a hot button issue and the country has seen tremendous progress with over 100 million toilets built.

However, one key issue continues to daunt public health officials and stifle progress—ensuring the public toilets remain functional over the years. Often, they stink, are vandalised, lose access to water and stop being operational after just a few months of use, making most people revert to age-old habits.

It appears building toilets is easy. Building a system of maintaining them is hard. 

One social enterprise that seems to be on its way to solving this problem is Garv Toilets, founded by 37-year-old Mayank Midha, former software engineer at TCS. Garv Toilet’s sophisticated version has real-time sensors to track hand washing, water usage and flushes. That data provides local health officials with valuable hygiene information and ensures the facilities are working. 

“Very little manual intervention is required to maintain this facility,” says Neha Goel, senior project manager at Garv. 

However, when one speaks to donors and government officials, it’s not the smart technology that makes Garv toilets stand out, but the softer aspects the team has cracked. 

For example, the choice of stainless steel over concrete-and-brick makes them less prone to vandalism. And the fact that they are pre-fabricated and can be installed easily, saves the hassle of obtaining the plethora of permissions for construction, especially near slums. The toilets are fairly modular and adjust to various contexts. Don’t have a sewage line nearby? Garv toilets can be fitted with a bio-digester to ensure safe faecal waste management.

The team at Garv is fairly agile. When Covid-19 struck, they were quick to introduce UV light sanitisation in their toilets, aimed at killing viruses between use. They are collaborative too. Of 1,000 installations, about 680 Garv toilets are regularly maintained by a government or contractor and 422 of them have real-time monitoring.

All is not smooth sailing for Garv toilets though. Given a single toilet with its metal enclosure can cost between $2,400 and $4,900, about 25% more than comparable traditional models, scaling quickly is going to be challenging. The lockdown has also impacted the pace of their on-ground operations and hiring. And with CSR and social impact funds drying up, attracting funding is going to be a bit hard going. 

One thing is clear: social innovation in India is not for the faint of heart.

Dig Deeper 

Necessity drives innovation

(Via WhatsApp)

This was shared by a school-going kid and all of think it funny. Well, we think so too. What may your thoughts be? Tell us about it on our Slack channel.

And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there. 

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel 

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