Corporate World Hails Sulabh Model in France

The LH Forum, organized by PlaNet Finance, a micro-credit company based in France, invited the Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement, Founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, to share Sulabh’s success story with world leaders and business tycoons in France.

Dr. Pathak, along with Mrs. Laxmi Nanda and Ms. Dolly Parwana, liberated scavengers from Rajasthan, participated in the two-day session held in the historic city of Le Havre, about 200 km from Paris on September 13 and 14, 2012.

“Your personal and professional achievements and your staunch dedication to the integration of the untouchables in India, along with your entrepreneurship sense, led us to invite you,” said Jacques Attali, President of LH Forum in his opening address pointing to Dr. Pathak.

Hundreds of experts, corporate executives, NGO representatives, academics, politicians and union representatives gathered to discuss and promoe ‘Positive Economy.’ Ideas were shared and propositions were articulated to build foundations of new ways to conduct business. The LH Forum aims at a “Movement for a Positive Economy – A Platform to Develop Relationships and Create Knowledge about an Economy that Seeks More than Profit.”

The LH Forum event is created and supported by PlaNet Finance Group, one of the leading global micro-finance groups. Mr. Arnaud Ventura, its co-founder and CEO, strongly believes that the LH Forum could and should one day bring together representatives from all the fields of economy, because the positive economy could become a major orientation in our society.


The LH Forum believes that our current economic systems and institutions are not capable to adequately address and respond to critical challenges and mounting crises. There is a need to provide a safe platform, where ideas and innovative approaches could be brought forth for developing a positive economy and for creating relationships and knowledge instead of transactions and for finding space to stand and work together, instead of fearing and standing apart. Once a movement is born, naturally it begins to expand in other locations.

Addressing the gathering on ‘positive and responsible economy’, he said: “The crisis and excesses that took us down the road have led to an increased awareness of the precarious situation of each of us, including the most privileged in a global economic system weakened by its short-term view and blindness to profit. Yet, to quote a famous phrase of Gramsci about crisis periods, ‘the old is dead but the new hesitates being born’. I am convinced that this crisis reflects a profound change of the global economy towards the emergence of new paradigm: that of a positive and responsible economy. In such an economy, created wealth is not an end in itself but rather a means to serve the higher ethical values, altruism, and the quality of life. This economy is extremely inclusive embracing the poorest, diversity, future generations: an economy, which is respectful of both people and the environment. The LH forum will constitute a unique platform for companies, NGOs, individuals, trade unions and, public sector players offering opportunity for meetings among people who all work in the same direction and who will embody the Movement for a positive and responsible economy. The richness of these exchanges, ideas, and achievements that emerge will be decisive for the future”.

Hon’ble President of the Republic of France, Mr. Francois Hollande, gave via video link the opening keynote address on ‘The Great Transformation: A Fair Balance between Economic Values and Human Values’. He stressed the need to develop and preserve linkages between economics and humanity. None of the two can survive and prosper ignoring or neglecting the other. Economic growth and progress of mankind are inter-dependent, and hence need to be co-ordinated and linked up with each other.

The second day brought with itself discussions on varied topics such as ‘Aiming at an economic development, respectful of the plant: the environmental footprint of the economy’, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility: a mere communication tool or a genuine driver for action?’, ‘From social emergency to social entrepreneurship’ and ‘Following the footsteps of Gandhi, the incredible Adventure of Dr. Pathak’ etc.


The discussion on Dr. pathak’s Sulabh Movement started with a film produced by a French reporter Ms. Catherine Berthillier, being screened on the success of the movement highlighting transformation of millions of scavengers. At the end of the 26-minute film, Dr. Pathak, Mrs. Laxmi Nanda and Ms. Dolly Parwana came to the dais to a standing ovation from the huge gathering.

Treated as ‘untouchables’ and ostracised by society for the nature of their work for decades, the two women stood confidently along with Dr. Pathak on the dais addressing the Positive and Responsible Economy Forum.

Ms. Catherine Berthillier and Ekta Bouderlique of Shemango moderated the discussion. “A girl who once used to clean human excreta manually from toilets, today standing tall before this august gathering and addressing the forum is a scene straight from Cinderella story”, said an emotional and beaming Dolly.

Laxmi Nanda – the other liberated woman – said: “I live and move around freely in society at par with others with my head held high. I know my future is bright like other upper caste people in India. Now I too have the same rights and privileges to live happily”.

Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak in his address observed, “Our main objective is to connect these unprivileged people with the main stream of society and fill a sense of dignity in them. Today’s event was just a gesture to wipe off the label of untouchability from them. It is a great challenge to eliminate this shameful practice, which still exists in the civilized society.

Lauding the effort of the LH Forum for organizing such an event, Dr. Pathak outlined his future plans. He said that his organization would construct public toilets in developing countries, popularizing Indian toilet system to ensure proper sanitation in near future. Dr. Pathak, along with his team, has developed an indigenous two-pit toilet technology, which is not only cost effective but can also be used for producing biogas.


Dr. Pathak further said, “In the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America the sanitation problems are many and complex, such as defecation in the open, manual cleaning of human waste etc.” In these countries 2.6 billion people have no access to safe and hygienic toilets. Sulabh has planned to provide help in implementing its technologies in 50 countries, where the sanitation coverage in less than 50 per cent of the population. He said that there is a plan to construct 500 public toilets in each of these 50 developing countries.

He said that the US Army had also shown interest in replicating the Sulabh public toilet system for war-ravaged Afghanistan and expressed desire to get a detailed concept report on the biogas-based Sulabh public toilet system.

The Engineering and Facilities Wing of the US Army wanted to extend the concept of construction of public toilets in and around 40 places in Kandahar, the second important city of Afghanistan. “We are training and empowering people in Sulabh technologies which are free from patent. We have constructed public toilets in Afghanistan and Bhutan. We have trained professionals from 14 countries of Africa in collaboration with UN-HABITAT, so that they may replicate these technologies in their respective countries”, said Dr. Pathak.

The Forum also noted that “as a true icon in his country, this disciple of (Mahatma) Gandhi is one of the first Indians to have successfully but on social entrepreneurship and managed one of the largest Indian NGOs with more than 60,000 co-workers”.

The discussion progressed to a Question and Answer round from the audience.


Q-Do you think your technologies could be applicable and useful to Western countries?

Ans- Yes, western countries have sewerage system in which construction and maintenance is very expensive, it requires enormous quantity of water to flush and it pollutes the atmosphere. There are many causes of global warming in which gases generated from the human waste are discharged into the atmosphere. Human excreta contain 65% methane gas, which burns. Therefore, if they adopt the technologies I have put forward, they can save millions of gallons of potable water for flushing and save the atmosphere form the global warming and the money used for construction of the sewerage system.

Q-So Dr. Pathak you would be truly glad if someone picked up the project of adapting

Ans- Yes, when I started in 1968 nobody was interested in the technology I propagated. There was lot of criticism and hindrance more so as I was a Brahmin. At that time even to utter the word ‘toilet’ was frowned upon. But, now the entire world, be it the United Nations or the Heads of different countries, scientists, engineers, architects etc. all are talking about Sulabh technologies. I would be indeed very happy if someone would pick up my technologies, which are also ecologically friendly, use them, and adopt them in other parts of the world.


Q-What are your next steps?

Ans- My next step, in fact my future course, will be to propagate the idea of sanitation throughout the world especially in the three continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America and this will be helpful in achieving the Millennium Development Goal.

Secondly, we want to set up the first University of Sanitation in India. Another step would be to continue to publish the ‘Encyclopaedia of Sanitation’.

Q-As you said, you do not accept any grants and make your own money to help the society, but after we saw the movie on Sulabh we are so impressed that I am sure people would want to invest in your cause so in future do you have any plans to accept monetary help to expand your project?

Ans- I entirely agree with you. Somebody asked me what are the positive points and what are the limitations with your model. I replied: positive is what I have done till now and limitation is due to my decision of not accepting monetary help in any way or form, hence our reach/expansion was limited 2.6 billion people in Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc., do not have access to proper sanitation and for us to reach them we would need money; so we have now started to think on the line of accepting money.