One toilet can be shared by as many as 1,400 people in the slums of Pune, India.

That’s something Aarti Reddy, ’15, hadn’t considered. She had grown up in India with an awareness of the slums but hadn’t spent much time near them, or considered how residents in India’s poorest communities met their basic needs.

This summer that all changed when Reddy spent two and a half months working to alleviate the sanitation challenges that persist in Pune’s slums.

Reddy worked with a social enterprise organization in Pune, hoping to improve the wellbeing of people and the environment by applying commercial business strategies. She was considering projects in education and health care, but then she discovered the company 3S-Shramik

3S-Shramik makes and services portable toilets for construction sites and large events in India. They started expanding into the slums, where a large number of people are crammed into a small area without space or permission to build standard public restrooms. Reddy saw an opportunity to make an immediate difference: building access to basic sanitation and improving the residents’ quality of life.

When requesting funds for the project, Reddy conducted research about the need for public facilities. She found that approximately 1.5 million people — about 40 percent of Pune’s population — live in slums with limited access to public utilities and sanitation facilities.

Once she received grant support from Projects for Peace, she worked with 3S-Shramik to plan for and install 10 toilets, which she estimated would benefit around 2,000 people. To cover associated maintenance and cleaning costs and ensure the project is sustainable, 3S-Shramik charges residents a pay-per-use rate.

While the plan’s benefits were clear, the project had its complications. “We had to look at things like resident willingness to pay, local authority support and enthusiasm, whether there was space for more toilets, and if there were water connections and sewage lines,” Reddy says of her survey to find potential locations for the toilets.

Reddy and her colleagues had to balance the costs of maintaining each toilet and the limited means of slum residents to pay for use. The group decided to charge a monthly rate of 30 rupees (just over 50 cents) per person. While that amount is significant for slum residents, people in the communities indicated they were willing to pay because they valued the service.

Understanding how the toilets could improve the quality of life inspired Reddy to complete the project by the end of her time in Pune. She was thrilled when, after several weeks of delays, the necessary permissions were granted. Teams installed the toilets just a few days before she returned to campus for her sophomore year.

Back in Richmond, Reddy continues to work with her Indian colleagues at 3S-Shramik to monitor toilet usage and analyze the effectiveness of the project. She’s also contemplating a career that includes additional social enterprise projects.

“This experience gave me a complete idea of how to develop a project, and how to plan it, along with an understanding of the practical issues of working in India,” she says. “I’ll definitely go back and do more projects.”