By Sama Shaik, Ambassador

Picture credit: RTI International. Waste treatment system designed by RTI for the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’.

Many lives and businesses around the world are impacted due to the lack of basic facilities. According to UN reports, 2.6 billion people in the developing world face difficulties accessing electricity full time, 1 to 1.5 billion people do not have access to reliable phone services, 2.5 billion people worldwide lack access to basic sanitation and almost 800 million people lack access to water.

For economic growth and societal progress, sustainable industrialization and conducting good businesses can be challenging. Businesses depend on materials, resources, labour and service support all over the world; the growth of the internet and a significant rise in computing and technology has facilitated the ease of business transactions across the world but the basic infrastructure, supporting technologies, communications, transportation, and sanitation that businesses rely on are not universally available and this hinders productivity. By 2030, the UN aims to fight this by building quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation.

It is not only unfair to have an uncomfortable living situation without basic sanitation, access to clean water and constant electricity, but it is also a hindrance to business in low-income countries. Infrastructure constraints reduce productivity in the developed world and inhibit business and access to healthcare markets — in low-income countries in Africa, infrastructure constraints cut business productivity by around 40 per cent.

According to agricultural economists Michelsen and Ward, most people assume that the economic value of a resource, product or service is measured by market price: ‘in a market system, economic values of water, defined by its price, serve as a guide to allocate water among alternative uses, potentially directing water and its complementary resources into uses in which they yield the greatest economic return’.

According to the United Nations, every $1 invested in water and sanitation in developing countries yields about $9. Of the economic benefits of investing in sanitation, 1.6 per cent are related to savings by the health sector, 0.2 per cent are related to patients’ savings, 5 per cent to avoided deaths, 3.1 per cent to overall productive work days and 90 per cent are related to time savings, which increase productivity.

Picture credit: World Bank Water

When the government’s support alone is not enough to successfully achieve the goals, real progress will only come if multinational companies and businesses throw some weight behind the cause. An Accenture study in 2016 found that 87 per cent of big company CEOs believed that the SDGs provided a genuine opportunity to rethink their approaches to sustainable value creation. According to a new report by, 40 per cent of the world’s 250 largest companies currently discuss the SDGs in their corporate reporting.

Although real interest in serving the SDGs provides a $12 trillion investment opportunity, implementation might be a game-changing opportunity but not necessarily an easy one. The real challenge comes when companies must realign portfolios and business models with the government’s goals to create a sustainable value chain; they must get all the stakeholders and shareholders to agree upon the long-term profitable return on investment towards sustainable value creation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working on creating sanitation infrastructure and public services that work for everyone and keep human waste out of the environment. For the foundation, solutions for sanitation challenges in the developing world that made sense in the past are not necessarily the best solution for the future; the foundation aims to create innovations in technology as well as systems that are practical, cost-effective and scalable to replicate. It collaborates with government leaders, private sectors and technologies to revolutionize the sanitization standards and promise the best service delivery models.

For the billions of people who lack sanitation today, the innovation of the ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’ removes germs from human waste and recovers valuable resources such as energy, clean water and nutrients. It operates ‘off the grid’ without connections to water, sewer or electrical lines. This not only provides clean water and energy, but the water can be saved and used for drinking, generating electricity and other purposes. The foundation invested $5 million to support Chinese investigators to develop the ‘next generation’ toilet in November 2018.

The formation of infrastructure by non-governing bodies along with governing bodies therefore accelerates industrialization and drives innovation, creating sustainable living conditions for billions of people which lead to sustainable economies and businesses.

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