Bindeshwar Pathak

Ashoka Fellow


This profile was prepared when Bindeshwar Pathak was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
An estimated 650 million of India’s poorest citizens lack access to basic hygienic toilets; open defecation toilets are still common. When Bindeshwar started his work 40 years ago, he saw that sanitation offered a leverage point in matters both obvious and profound: Health, livelihoods, environment, social cohesion, and rights—particularly as pertains to the millions of India’s “untouchable” caste.
Sulabh International advances transformative change in diverse communities. His solution brings together design, financing, public will, municipal resources and technologies that are basic and low cost. The pour-flush compost toilet (Sulabh-Shauchalayas) is outfitted with biogas converters to generate energy and reduce toxins and environmentally damaging practices such as dumping waste into rivers. By introducing a scalable, self-financing solution for sanitation, Bindeshwar eliminates scavenging—the practice of removing human waste with manual tools—a job that falls to India’s untouchables. Thus, the system he has introduced has created new roles for India’s poorest citizens and charted a new, safe and dignified way for them to earn money.
The infrastructure Bindeshwar has built is successfully used in twenty-five states and four territories. Many of his approaches have been adopted in other countries, and Sulabh International is actively involved in extending its work to Bhutan and Afghanistan. Additionally, Bindeshwar is building a University of Sanitation that will be a central resource center for everyone who needs to know about sanitation—users, technologists, municipal leaders, renewable energy experts and rights workers—to learn, share ideas, expand and deepen the work, and develop new ideas.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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