Half of the sales agents in the USAID Transform WASH project in Ethiopia are women.
Imagine a woman born and raised in the rural side of Ethiopia, with a deep desire to improve health conditions of her children, family as well as community. This passion led 42 year old Abeba Sule to become not just a member but a leader of the health development army in SNNP region. These 'armies' are government development teams systematically trained in immunisation as well as other health extension programme packages to drive health-related behaviour change within their communities.
Abeba's in-depth knowledge of the health extension programme, commitment and genuine interest to cause impact led her to capture the attention of USAID Transform WASH, a five-year project that aims to develop, test, and scale market-based business models to increase use of improved WASH products and services.
The project recruits sales agents to promote sales of improved WASH products on commission basis, which encourages high number of sales by each agent and ensures sustainability. The commission is built into price of the sanitation products, hence cost is ultimately borne by the customer. Selecting and recruiting sales agents who serve as a bridge between customers and manufacturers is crucial to close sales orders. Manufacturers may lack the capacity to effectively manage and conduct sales in different areas. Sales agents, who are also a trusted contact person for households fill this gap.
Abeba is one of the female sales agents, which make up for 50% of the total selected sales agents in SNNP. "I very much enjoy my work as a Transform WASH sales agent because it provides me with an opportunity to earn income while also contributing to improvement of health in my community", says Abeba.
Like all other sales agents, Abeba visits households door to door to promote improved sanitation products in her assigned kebele. She stands out because of her outstanding communication and persuasion skills, which has allowed her to reach highest sales recorded in SNNP so far (37 SATO pans and 13 concrete slabs in 45 days).
Either business partners (manufacturers and retailers), or business advisers (employed by Transform WASH) handpick sales agents from community members based on pre-defined criteria and a relationship of trust with business partners. Selection criteria includes literacy (8th grade complete), salesmanship, honesty, good reputation in the community, communication skill and interest in WASH. Selected sales agents are then trained on topics which include; sales strategy, business management, customer handling, promotion, major concepts of sanitation and improved latrines, mapping of sales territories, planning and reporting.
Afterwards, it is on to sales! Sales agents translate their training to actual sales, escalating figures competitively to earn the highest commission, hence contributing to improved sanitation coverage, communities moving up the sanitation ladder and ultimately to reduction of preventable deaths and illness due to diarrhoeal disease, particularly among children under five.
USAID TRANSFORM WASH sets out to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing access to and sustained use of a wide spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a focus on sanitation. It does so by transforming the market for low-cost, high quality WASH products and services: stimulating demand at community level, strengthening supply chains, and building the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.
USAID TRANSFORM WASH is a USAID-funded project implemented by PSI in collaboration with SNV, Plan International, and IRC. The consortium is working closely with government agencies including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, the National WASH Coordination Office and regional governments.