Urban community-based sanitation enterprises viable businesses

Live & Learn has established an effective contextualised sanitation marketing approach in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji, with potential for this approach to be replicated in other Pacific Island Countries. The approach uses a combination of market-based mechanisms (small businesses) and behaviour change techniques to increase demand for improved sanitation. The sanitation marketing approach is one of the first successful attempts to pilot the use of sanitation marketing in peri-urban settlements in Pacific Island Countries.

Sanitation marketing is the application of relevant social and commercial marketing practices to change behaviour and increase the demand and supply for improved sanitation facilities.  It includes raising community demand for improved sanitation facilities. This community demand is then met through the products and services sold by the sanitation enterprises.




Many previous attempts to improve sanitation in the Pacific region have failed to create local ownership of the issue and solutions. Positive sanitation improvement outcomes have been achieved by projects, but results were often not sustained due to sanitation infrastructure not being maintained, with the most significant factor being lack of ownership. Using market-based mechanisms can help to increase local ownership and rapidly scale-up the reach of activities to improve sanitation in a shorter period of time with efficient use of financial resources.

Through the Western Pacific Sanitation Marketing & Innovation Program, funded by the Australian government, Live & Learn established eight Community-Based Sanitation Enterprises (CBSEs) in urban and peri-urban informal settlements to improve sanitation within these communities. Live & Learn also worked with government departments and private sector agents to create an enabling environment for these enterprises to succeed and thrive.

An external review found that the CBSEs are demonstrating potential for long- term financial viability. The eight CBSEs are currently actively trading and their businesses have products, construction capacity, marketing tools, business plans and staff with sufficient knowledge and confidence to operate the business. Live & Learn staff work closely to help increase the capacity of CBSE management and staff through action-oriented training and mentoring linked to actual business activities the CBSEs are undertaking.




Significant progress has been made by the eight CBSEs since their inception, with sales of sanitation and hygiene products and services increasing in each of the locations. Diversification of products and services to meet market demand is one of the areas the businesses are looking at to enhance their longer-term sustainability.


The CBSEs sell diversified products and service offering providing both sanitation and non-sanitation products, and hygiene consumables. Product diversification has been in four main categories:

  1. New products produced by the CBSE that leverage their existing construction skills
  2. Reselling WASH and hardware products
  3. Reselling hygiene consumable products
  4. New services – Leveraging construction skills, sales skills or reputation


CBSEs have to function as a business, but they also provide social benefits to the communities where they are based, including:

  • employment opportunities
  • improved sanitation facilities
  • improved hygiene and sanitation knowledge
  • a range of skills training for community members