Featured Partner: Ministery of Foreign Affairs – DGIS

pim-van-der-malemini-interview with Pim van der Male
Pim van der Male is policy officer of the water cluster of DGIS: Directorate inclusive green growth at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. DGIS is the department that deals with foreign trade and development.

Why was DGIS interested in funding Safi Sana in the first place?
We found Safi Sana interesting and innovative as they proposed to develop a sustainable solution to sanitation problems in urban slums.

In most projects the sustainability component in sanitation is secondary and there tends to be more attention towards drinking water problems.

What was your first impression of Safi Sana? At the time, I thought it was striking that Safi Sana had their focus on both sanitation and the problem of the waste produced in public toilets. Moreover, right from the start they put energy into finding a way to sustainably fund their project. DGIS liked this approach especially for sanitation.

Why is that? It’s hard to develop a viable business case for sanitation and we want to get rid of projects which need government funding for ever. Furthermore, in sanitation there is often a focus on hardware but not on its maintenance, let alone on the waste produced. Safi Sana thus distinguished itself by the combination of sanitation and waste management. Later on, the Safi Sana model has been expanded with the cultivation of seedlings and marketing of their end products (i.e. electricity, organic fertilizer and seedlings). They have come a long way.

DGIS did not fund Safi Sana in the first instance. What went wrong? One of the problems was their cross sectoral approach. DGIS was not able to fund them initially, because they simply did not fit in our framework. How should we classify them? Where they part of sanitation, water, energy, or agriculture? In fact, it’s everything together: sanitation and water as input and energy and agriculture as output. That made it a complex case for DGIS. We were not used to think cross-sectoral or to collaborate with other departments. So we learned a lot from Safi Sana at DGIS. In fact we created the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW) with Safi Sana’s cross-sectoral way of working in mind. Hence, I regret it when Safi Sana was initially rejected for funding. Fortunately they managed to get funding later in the Ghana Wash window. I have enormous admiration for the perseverance of this team.

What do you think of the Safi Sana case as it is now? Meanwhile Safi Sana engages in the entire value chain: they build toilet facilities and treat waste from toilets together with waste from food markets and slaughter houses. They produce energy, organic fertilizer, irrigation water and seedlings. They even organize (hygiene) education programs in their training center and have their own laboratory. I visited their factory last May and was very impressed with what they have built up. It is exiting that they address the whole cycle and market their end-products in smart and distinctive ways in order to cover their running costs. At the same time the complexity of their case can also be a trap. It is difficult to manage and it takes a long time to make it a viable business model. Most projects have a scope of only 4 years which is too short for Safi Sana.

How do you see the future of Safi Sana? In my opinion the chances of survival of Safi Sana were quite uncertain for a long time, but now that they have reached a certain scale, and keeping their perseverance in mind, I believe they will be able to take the next step. They will have to find additional funding from social investors and partners for each component in their model. Next to that they have to find domestic sources of income. I heard they will try to develop a local tax system for waste in Ghana. That seems like a good idea to me.