How Coimbatore is Roping in Grandparents, Students and Corporates to Build Toilets for All

Coimbatore City is on a construct-a-thon to build toilets through a unique crowdfunding initiative, Toilet First.

In Tamil Nadu, it is a tradition to celebrate 80th birthdays like weddings. It is charming to see grandpas and grandmas exchange garlands and cherish their togetherness, which has lasted for decades. One such old couple in Coimbatore decided to celebrate the occasion like no one else probably has – by helping build toilets.

They donated Rs. 2 lakhs to the Coimbatore Municipal Corporation’s Toilet First initiative, which is on a mission to make Coimbatore free of open defecation.


Eleven hundred students (and counting) from various colleges are volunteering to build these toilets brick by brick. Danseuse Mridula Roy has committed to contribute to build one toilet every month. Corporates and other organizations are funding the initiative too. Coimbatore’s Municipal Commissioner, Vijayakarthikeyan, says every day he receives at least two cheques towards Toilet First. In short, thousands of people from different walks of life are coming together to make Coimbatore open defecation-free.

What’s special about this initiative? The Toilet First initiative works on a very unique idea, arguably the first ever in India, a crowdsourcing model to build toilets. In Swachh Bharat, the funds for building toilets come in portion contributions – from the Swachh Bharat fund, from the state governments, from the local civic bodies, and from the beneficiaries. While the first three fund sources are available, the last part where the beneficiary has to contribute is where the catch lies. How do you get the toilets built when the families cannot afford to contribute their share? That’s where the smart move of crowdsourcing comes in from Coimbatore’s Municipal Corporation.

The team, led by the Municipal Commissioner Vijayakarthikeyan, has formed a nonprofit body called Toilet First, which pitches in to make up for the deficit amount through crowdsourcing. The team has gone all out – with an impressive website and a catchy logo, a full-fledged social media campaign, and tremendous amount of local involvement.

By opening up the project to the crowd, the team has ensured that it is not just money that is pouring in, but great support and involvement from people all over the city too.

Coimbatore Municipal Commissioner Vijayakarthikeyan (Center) with the volunteer team

Coimbatore Municipal Commissioner Vijayakarthikeyan (Center) with the volunteer team

Toilet First has become the mobilizer of a fast paced movement to build toilets in every household in the city of Coimbatore. How fast paced you may ask? Toilet First, which is just one-and-a-half months old, has already built 600 new toilets in households in the city. The city has mapped the households that do not have toilets and got applications to build 2500 toilets. To reach this target, the team is literally on a construct-a-thon for toilets. The Toilet First army of volunteers, involving students and the public, is getting together to build toilets overnight. The team is taking up a construct-a-thon challenge to build 1000 toilets within 72 hours in the month of May – a feat that Coimbatore will take great pride in. As a demo towards the construct-a-thon, 50 toilets were built within 72 hours in Kalapatti. With regular construction and the construct-a-thon, the first phase target of 2500 toilets will be completed in the next couple of months, says a very confident Commissioner.

The team is backing up its efforts with a strong awareness campaign that is spreading the word about the need for hygienic habits.

A happy beneficiary of the Toilet First initiative

A happy beneficiary of the Toilet First initiative

Apart from volunteering by students and citizens, there is some serious learning that is also happening here. Toilet First gives opportunities to civil engineers to get hands on experience in construction through this project.

Students can be seen busily working on construction sites before and after their college hours.

Students can be seen busily working on construction sites before and after their college hours.

They supervise the work, coordinate with the labourers, and even dirty their hands with hands on construction work. On a daily basis, they update the team about the progress through a dedicated Toilet First app.

Toilet First’s motto, “Let’s Fund Together, Build Together, Unite Together,” is in many such ways bringing Coimbatore together as a city, beyond achieving its Swachh Bharat goals.

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About the author: Ranjini Sivaswamy is a freelance writer and one of the first team members of The Better India. She comes from a mass communication background and is currently a consultant with IIM Bangalore.

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