Nearly 600 million people in India do not have access to proper toilets, 100 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, and more than 432,000 Indians die every year from diarrhea-related diseases caused by lack of sanitation. Anoop Jain knew it was fixable problem and set out to be a part of the solution by earning a master’s in public health at Tulane University.
“Unlike India, the US does not have a sanitation crisis,” says Jain. “The overwhelming majority of Americans have access to safe sanitation and drinking water, which is not the case in India.”
Enter Sanitation Health Rights in India (SHRI), the nonprofit Jain created with Chandan Kumar and Prabin Ghimire. With a goal to provide wider access to high-quality sanitation services, SHRI builds public toilets in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, where 51% and 42% of the population (respectively) is considered “multidimensionally poor.”
With eight facilities built to date, SHRI’s toilets are used by more than 6,000 people daily in densely populated, rural villages. The toilets cost about $30,000 USD to build and have a clever, integrated design that leads to dual positive health outcomes: they reduce open defecation (the leading cause of diarrhea in India), and in turn, the methane gas produced by the contained feces is reengineered to produce electricity and power a water filtration system. That clean water is then sold back to the community at a very low cost, just $0.008 per liter.
Finding a New Purpose in New Delhi
Jain was born in Canada to Indian parents and moved to New Orleans, in the southern US state of Louisiana, in 2000 for his father’s job. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, Jain was displaced to Houston, Texas, for evacuation. Undeterred and inspired, he volunteered to rebuild houses in the Lower Ninth Ward, and an appetite for community activism was born.
Ever the problem solver, Jain pursued an undergraduate engineering degree at Northwestern University in Chicago. After graduating, Jain took a job at a Chicago engineering firm but felt unfulfilled. He eventually quit his job to build a soup kitchen in the Himalayas for Tibetan refugees. During travels to New Delhi, he met his future social entrepreneur partners, Chandan Kumar and Prabin Ghimire. A fast friendship steeped in community-minded pursuits turned into the broad strokes of a business plan for SHRI.
Lacking the public health training required to undertake such a large-scale sanitation project, Jain began researching universities with top-ranked public health programs. Home called again, and he enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans for his master’s degree.
Creating Change at Tulane
“I always knew I wanted a career that focused on social justice. There are so many ways one can do that – becoming a public interest lawyer, organizer, or doctor. For me, it was public health,” says Jain. “More specifically, it is the focus on prevention of disease that I believe is what makes public health about social justice. And I don’t just mean preventing the spread of pathogens from the environment by installing toilets. I’m talking about undoing the pernicious systems and structures of our society, so that they can be built back in a more just and equitable way. To me this is how we truly prevent morbidity and mortality, and why I went in to public health.”
The most inspiring aspect of being in public health is the doggedness and commitment of my colleagues and peers.” — Jain, Master’s of Public Health, Tulane University
Tulane University is ranked #42 in National Universities and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine is ranked #14 by U.S. News & World Report (2022). The university has a diverse student enrollment — 11% of students are international — and offers four advanced MPH degrees to students enrolling through Shorelight: Master of Public Health, Master of Science in Biostatistics, Master of Science in Public Health, and Master of Science in Tropical Medicine, with several being STEM-designated degree tracks.
Along with its top rankings, Tulane’s renowned program appealed to Jain for its commitment to combining classroom fundamentals with real-world experience that spurs change. “I wanted training in epidemiology, biostatistics, and the fundamentals of maternal and child health so that I could advance the work of my organization,” he says.
Jain finetuned his sanitation project at Tulane’s Changemaker Institute, a social venture accelerator that mentors graduate students while they develop, test, fund, and launch their startup ideas. He and his SHRI team’s hard work has translated to accolades and funding, including a $30,000 prize from the Dell Social Innovation Challenge and a $100,000 award from Waislitz Global Citizen Foundation. In 2016, Jain was named to the Forbes’ “30 Under 30” social entrepreneur list.
Experiencing New Orleans in a New Light
Jain’s hometown of New Orleans was also an important part of his decision to enroll at Tulane. Diverse and energetic, the “Crescent City” is known for its music, food, architecture, history, Mardi Gras celebrations, and joyous atmosphere. Experiencing that revelry and comradery in a new light was a draw for Jain.
“I wanted to come back to New Orleans and live there like a young adult and experience the city in a totally different way,” says Jain. “I was very intentional about not only spending time with my high school friends while I was back, [but also experiencing] the city with my new friends, these fascinating people from all over the world who were there to learn and enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer.”
“New Orleans has something for everyone,” he continues. “It was really amazing being in the city with people not from there, as we all ‘grew up’ together in our early twenties, while also being there to advance our mission-driven careers.”
Leading the Charge, Nurturing Success
After earning his master’s from Tulane University, Jain continued his studies in public health, receiving his Doctor of Public Health from University of California Berkeley in 2019, and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School. And, of course, he is still very hands on with SHRI.
“My co-directors and I are still leading the charge!” says Jain. “We are scaling quickly with the [Indian] government. We are also in the process of developing a robust monitoring and evaluation platform that will help us quantify and demonstrate our impact.”
Measuring the impact of implemented solutions is key in public health, says Jain, and toward that end, Tulane encourages students to plan, test, iterate, and adjust.
“Nurturing success is in the DNA of Tulane University,” he continues. “Whether it is in the classroom, or in one of the world-class institutes on campus, Tulane is full of faculty and staff who support students in myriad ways. The faculty and staff will help you excel in the classroom, while preparing you to be a leader out in the real world.”