Rethinking The Poverty Loo

3 min readOct 1, 2016

by COMMON Community member Matt Pretorius, Founder of Common Toilets (formerly known as Toilets For All)

Growing up with entrepreneurial parents meant my life has never been too stable or normal, and taking risks and following opportunities was a lifestyle I inherited. Naturally, financial instability also often came with the territory.

I was raised in South Africa, where the drive and anxiety created by pressing financial decisions has a common name: the hustle. After the global recession, my family lost our business, and I had my first taste of what the hustle felt like. Watching my parents weigh the pros and cons of spending money on petrol versus food, or turning over the money I earned from doing neighborhood chores to contribute to the family income, made me realize just how threatening poverty can be.

Yet, we were still lucky, a fact that I increasingly understood as I left childhood and began my engineering studies at Stellenbosch University. There, I began to recognize the extent of the systematic inequality that provided people like me with a safety net many simply do not have. Even in my family’s least-secure moments, we had friends who could lend their hands, and were even willing to open their homes to us.

The more I understood poverty, the more I became convinced that it falls to those of us who have been able to avoid its grasp to create paths for others who are not so lucky.

The media may glamorize the ‘rags to riches’ cliché, and feel-good headlines make it seem like with enough determination anything is possible, but as I delved into the reality of economic disparity I realized just how incorrect that notion is.

What does poverty really mean for the millions of people that live off less than $2 a day?

For one thing, it means that escaping those conditions , especially on your own, is an almost impossible task.

If you were born into a community that lacked not only financial resources, but food, clean water, educational and employment opportunities, and all of the basic infrastructure that we take for granted, could you be a slumdog millionaire?

The tough truth is: probably not.

We need to rethink poverty. To rethink poverty we need to rethink money.

I co-founded Common Toilet and Common Currency to help change the status quo. Poverty should not be an inevitable sentence passed down through generations. My goal is to incentivize people differently to make a living, by turning waste into currency that can be then used to promote sanitation and restore people’s dignity.

Through our programs, poverty-stricken individuals can collect litter, which can be exchanged for credit. With this credit, people can purchase basic and essential commodities, including our robust, eco-friendly Common Toilets.

Poverty doesn’t just affect the poor. It affects everyone. And the effect that it has on our global economy is only going to worsen, until we do something about it.

Together we aim to make a difference. Together we can #DoShitThatMatters.

We are still in startup mode, but are open to collaboration. Feel free to add me on Linkedin /MattPretorius.

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A creative accelerator for social businesses and projects. We're working to build international excitement, conversation and action around entrepreneurialism