6 March 2015
Men are decision makers, women are a burden.
This is just one of the sentiments that was seen as culturally appropriate in Bangladesh only 40 years ago. Today, women are making their voices heard and taking lead roles within the Bangladeshi government.
Unfortunately, these strides have not trickled down to the poorest and most marginalized women, specifically in the southern region of Bangladesh. Women here serve as day laborers, or are involved in unpaid domestic work and small scale homestead vegetable production. This means they are dependent on seasonal work, and on their husband’s incomes. Even when earning an income themselves, women have little say as to how it is spent. This is where iDE is making a difference.
A few years ago, iDE started a project in Bangladesh to target poor and marginalized women in southern Bangladesh. We established small groups of women, who received training and a loan to start their own small farming business. The goal was to support them in earning a higher income and give them more confidence to voice their opinion.
iDE trained these women in business planning, and money management. They were also supported in choosing the best technologies to invest in, in orderto make their business profitable. These technologies included jute sacks, pond dikes and “floating” farm techniques which provided them with more space to grow vegetables . When you grow more, you earn more.
Hasina Begum was part of a women’s group. She expanded her homestead gardening using techniques learned from the iDE training sessions. She used the loan to lease land and started cultivating vegetables on a larger scale, which she then sold to nearby markets. The profits she earned were used to repair her house. Most importantly, she can now afford three meals a day, instead of struggling to even provide one. Now that’s life changing!
Mitali Mondol also received iDE support. She set up a small shop in her neighborhood. Another woman, Gita, used her profits and bought a cart which she now rents to a puller, which gives her a regular, sustainable source of income.
When the most marginalized women significantly raise their income, it leads to many material and social benefits. The women reported greater decision making power within their household over expenditures. With their new income, they can now afford to buy three meals a day, medicine and educational materials for their children. We are grateful for the support from donors, which gave us the opportunity to make a difference for these women.
5 March 2015
In Ethiopia much of the land is owned by men. In fact, it is out of the ordinary to meet a female farmer who owns the land where she lives and works. This is only one of the reasons why Demu Bikila so exceptional.
From Addis Ababa, head southwest and you will intersect with a small town called Tulu Bolo. Turning from the highway down a dirt road, through an empty field, and over a dried up irrigation ditch, finally coming to the lush field and home of Demu.
Demu confidently starts to explain that she has been growing cabbage for four harvests and that she keeps only 50% for consumption and sells the other 50% to a nearby market via her farmer group. Demu says the iDE Farm Business Advisors (FBA) connected her to a local bank where she received a micro-loan so she could purchase a treadle pump and good seeds. The FBAs also helped her to find the best spot to set up her treadle pump and build out her field. She uses the proceeds from selling half of her harvest at the market to pay back her loan and for other expenses.
She says she uses the other funds to send two of her 5 children to school. She hopes that one day she will have enough money to send all of her children to school.
When asked what she used to do before farming, she says she took care of the home and children and that her husband was the farmer. Demu’s husband passed away a few years ago.
It was not long after Demu was introduced to iDE that she decided to join her local farmer group. She says, “Before iDE, I had no knowledge of agriculture and bought all of my food at the market.” You can imagine what a shock it was to her to have to learn a new trade and be the sole breadwinner for her family. Demu took it all in stride.
Her determined spirit and children kept her going. She is a minority as a woman and a land owner in Ethiopia, and now she has the knowledge and the tools for success. She can now say with a smile that she is a successful businesswoman and community leader.
Gardening with iDE technology generates income for Florence. She has improved her families lives and her husband is much closer to her.
Economic opportunities are extremely limited for rural women in Zambia. Women generally have fewer assets than men and limited opportunities to make money. They have difficulty gaining access to the money and credit they need to buy products and technologies and set up small businesses that generate income. And when it comes to economic decision making and agency to influence their husbands’ choices over the use of resources women have restricted power.
iDE’s Rural Prosperity Initiative (RPI) aims to empower women small-scale farmers to improve their incomes and positions in society using an innovative market orientated approach that focuses on improving access to productive water. iDE does not do giveaways. The only thing that is offered to women is training and advise on business, entrepreneurship and agronomy to give them the means to grow vegetables in the dry-season. To succeed women must invest their own money in the products and technologies that enable them to use their improved skills and knowledge in a meaningful way. iDE helps women small-scale farmers who cannot afford these products with loans facilitated through CETZAM MFI on a commercial basis. Ownership of technologies enables them to generate the revenue to repay the loans within six months, with a 97% repayment rate, to date.
Florence’s Story: Florence Mapulanga is a typical farmer from Kapini village, Chibombo in Zambia. She spends her life gardening whilst her husband is away in town during the week working as a bus driver. In 2006 she was struggling to sustain her large extended family. Her five children, mother in law, step son and his wife, brother and her brother in law all lived in a small, cramped traditional mud hut with thatched roof and even with their combined income they often went hungry
Despite their difficulties, Florence was determined to do all she could to make a better future for her family so she joined an iDE farm group later that year, under RPI, iDE’s flagship programme. She attended specialised workshops where she learnt about efficient water usage and a range of micro-irrigation technologies which can be used to access water in the dry season. With her husband’s wage and her efforts they saved enough to buy a small motor pump. Armed with her pump and improved knowledge about crop production (beans, cabbage, Irish potato, tomatoes, eggplant and courgette) from an iDE training session she was able to produce better quality and quantities of vegetables to sell at the market.
After working with iDE over a five year period, using iDE’s approach over consecutive growing seasons, in addition to her own exceptional management (including good agronomic practices and careful pest and disease control) her annual income has increased ten-fold from $200 a year (less than $1 a day) to $2000. She has lavished her money on her family. Today they all have three meals a day and a variety of nutritious foods. A larger solid brick house with a tin roof provides them with more comfort and space. And a solar panel powers new amenities such as a TV, phone and radio which has improved their quality of life and provided light so her children can do their schoolwork in the evening, giving them the best chance to succeed in life.
Florence says that her success has bought her closer to her husband: “He respects me more because I am not a sleeping housewife”. This respect, gained through her hard effort and entrepreneurship has enabled her to make important economic and managerial decisions that affect her and her family’s lives. For example she makes all the day to day decisions on her farm when her husband is away in town. He says, “she is the one who knows everything about gardening! She is the boss!” Her husband even trusts her with purchasing new products and technologies to further improve their lives, however most of the time they discuss all their options and make major decisions together as a unit. Unlike many other women in her community Florence’s voice is heard.
Her commitment to iDE’s philosophy resulted in her decision to invest heavily in widening her water application technology base (facilitated through iDE staff) with a variety of water saving and efficiency benefits. She bought:
- A treadle pump in 2009 which she uses when she can’t afford petrol for her pump,
- Two water storage tanks for convenience and efficiency as well as water quantification and regulation
- A brand new drip irrigation system facilitated by iDE’s latest innovation the community Farm Business Advisor (FBA) – a local farmer and entrepreneur who gains commission from the sale of irrigation and other technologies, products and services.
A quiet, shy woman, Florence comes to life when she talks about how she will use her existing and new micro-irrigation technologies to support her new farm plan. She is currently clearing land to expand by 0.2 ha and set up the drip and tank set to grow watermelons for the first time. Once it is set up it can be left to irrigate in a self sustaining system. She also plans on distributing fertilizer through her pump and drip system (fertigation) ensuring each plant gets the right amount of nutrients directly to their roots.
Florence smiles happily at her prospects; “watermelon is something different from most farmers which means more money in my pocket!”
Florence is an inspirational woman, working on the farm full time, paying for her children to be in school and supporting her extended family.
With iDE’s help she has the confidence to focus on gardening as a lucrative business opportunity and alongside an improved quality of life has gained greater respect from her husband and the community. More women in rural Zambia can follow Florence’s path by working with iDE, even with limited means and an environment that is far from conducive to do so.
iDE’s has been investing in water technology for the rural poor and the economic empowerment of women for over 15 years in Zambia. It is from this experience that the importance of recognising and promoting women as agents of their own change has come to bear increased pertinence. iDE understand that approaching gender related issues is not a tick box exercise that merely requires inclusion of women but rather, involves appreciating and understanding women as decision makers with needs and aspirations.
Women’s invaluable contribution to rural development should be recognized!
3 March 2015
With a little training and a lot of hard work, entrepreneur Kim Sreng has turned a plot of land into a tomato empire.
She inherited land, but was not sure what to do with it until she visited a demonstration farm run by iDE. She had previously been growing cucumbers and selling them for a low price, but after seeing the income potential of a tomato farm she decided to start training with iDE. Seven harvests later, she has grown over 6.5 tons (or 13,000 pounds) of tomatoes with a net profit of over $12,000. In a country where the average yearly income is only $1,000 USD, her farm is a testament to the power of her entrepreneurship.
Her successful business has allowed her to invest where it matters most – her family.
The most important change in her life was the birth of her first child. Cambodia has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, but Kim was able to afford to have her baby in a hospital rather than at home. She is proud to say her baby is happy and healthy.
As a working mother of a young baby, she is grateful to have her husband spend more time at home. Because she is so successful, he doesn’t have to travel for work anymore and can work on the farm instead.
She has transformed her life over last three years for the better and there are many more changes to come. In fact, next year Kim and her husband plan to build a new house for their growing family. Until then, they are looking forward to having electricity in their home for the first time.
Kim has worked hard to make her farm so profitable. She plans to further her training with iDE and invest in more agricultural technology so her farm, and her family, can continue to thrive.
16 January 2015
Many people visit the temples in Cambodia’s Siem Reap Province for holiday; but for Mrs. Teou Lang, daily visits to the temple are her living. She sells postcards at the Phrea Khan temple each day to help her husband, a gardener, support their four children. When she is home with her children, Teou is constantly thinking about her family’s health. Their wellbeing and happiness is important to her, and it is for this reason that she bought a latrine in 2012 for 170,000 KHR (USD$42.50).
After a few Sanitation Teachers coordinated with her village chief and held a meeting for many families in the Leang Daiy Commune, Teou and her husband became interested in the idea of a latrine. She explains that iDE’s representatives gave her more information than anyone else has about the benefits of a latrine, and much of this information was in the form of easy-to-understand illustrations.
Prior to owning a latrine, Teou and her family would walk to open areas in the field and defecate in a hole they dug each time. She says her family’s health is now “completely different,” and hypothesizes that this is due to the latrine being more sanitary than open defecation, particularly because it is an enclosed hut and all waste is far underground, ensuring diseases do not spread as easily to her home and her food supply. The latrine shelter also prevents the family from spending excess time in cold or rainy weather, which has decreased how often they get the flu.
Today, it is easier than ever for Teou and her family to stay healthy. She says she has never had to fix the sturdy latrine, she finds it very easy to clean, and she only has to refill the water basin twice each week. She is proud that her family owns a latrine, and now finds it easier to comfortably have guests and relatives at her home.
In the future, Teou only hopes that more families will be able to afford latrines as well. She acknowledges how difficult it is for poorer Cambodian homes to purchase a latrine but she hopes that this changes in the future as iDE continues to help in the Siem Reap Province. She feels particularly passionate about the positive effects to be had from village talks sponsored by iDE or Sanitation Teachers.
4 December 2014
By Mariko Takeuchi,
Founding Director of inCompass Human-Centered Innovation Lab at iDE
The notion of prototyping—mocking up ideas to learn and to adjust for what actually works—has gained credence as an indispensable approach to strategy creation. But I worry that all the buzz around prototyping can lead to a false promise: that using a prescribed set of prototyping techniques will guarantee social innovation as an outcome.
The first step toward mastering prototyping is to embrace it as a creative mindset, not a deep dive into techniques. In fact, no manual prescribes when to use which techniques, as prototyping does not involve a clear-cut set of rules.
At inCompass, a human-centered innovation lab based in Cambodia, we set our minds on designing products and services that serve the poor and can flourish in a market-based system. The starting point and final check for every project is the user. If users do not find a solution to be desirable, affordable, accessible, and usable, it will fail in the market.
Prototyping is a creative exercise in finding the best way to manifest an idea in order to support our learning. It’s a tool for us to get closer to our users, to more deeply understand what they desire, and to test and adjust our ideas with their input. This involves turning ideas into something tangible—like an object, a visualization, a role play, or a script—out of whatever materials or approaches best fit the circumstances.
As we design, we move through three phases of user understanding and commensurate shifts in our prototyping mindset: initially we explore user needs, then we generate ideas to address those needs, and finally we validate the ideas.
Exploring user needs: As we explore user needs, we build prototypes to facilitate deeper engagement with those needs. For example, to stimulate conversations with Vietnamese families about water purification, our team used parts from plastic bottles, mesh strainers, showerheads, and deconstructed correction fluid containers. Similarly, we added wheels and a storage cabinet to an existing water filter product to stimulate discussions at Cambodian schools about transport and storage of water filters.
Generating ideas: As we generate ideas, we build prototypes to communicate them and to advance them as a team. Expressing ideas as prototypes forces the design team to work through misinterpretations and to uncover details that can be fleshed out or iterated. Our team used simple materials—plastic tubs, tubes, and spigots of various shapes—to prototype three ideas for hand-washing stations. We experienced these objects first-hand during a week-long trial, while analyzing and iterating on ideas for improvement. We recognized that refilling the station reservoirs required a lot of physical effort, and that the volume of the container and the flow rate of water significantly impacted this pain-point. The next prototypes incorporated these findings into the revised design.
Validating ideas: To validate our ideas, we build prototypes that we can test with users, focusing on aspects most critical to their needs. Then we observe whether the prototypes truly meet user needs, or did we fall off the path somewhere along the way?
During a project to design a sustainable drinking water solution for rural Cambodian schools, we observed that schools have snack-vendor entrepreneurs onsite. We saw an opportunity to entice them to include drinking water as part of their offering. Our hypothesis: If we offer the vendors a means to increase sales of complementary products, they would offer clean drinking water in return. Our prototypes focused on a beverage-station attached to a water filter that could be rented or purchased with financing by the vendor. The beverage-station would be central to the business-owner’s sales, while the water filter would provide students with clean drinking water. We prototyped the idea and we learned that the vendors liked the concept of a beverage-station, but that the station itself was too heavy and difficult to refill, store, and keep clean. Armed with this feedback, we could begin adjusting our idea to better align with vendor needs.
No two projects will ever follow exactly the same prototyping process. We adjust our prototyping mindset to assess our users’ needs at every stage of the design process and to translate ideas into a tangible form.
Today, Human-Centered Design is being embraced by people in many sectors and industries, a welcome movement that testifies to the growing interest in sustainable social innovation. Yet, I fear that looking for cookie-cutter approaches to prototyping without first mastering the prototyping mindset will deliver mediocre ideas. That’s because the prototyping mindset is of paramount importance to delivering sustainable social innovations. In effect, the technique is the mindset, a mindset of continuing improvement and iteration by getting closer to user needs.
Mariko Takeuchi is the founding director of inCompass Human-Centered Innovation Lab at iDE and based in Cambodia. The lab is a non-profit consultancy that pioneers and advocates to bring the best practices in innovation to serve the poor in developing nations.
InCompass contributed this blog post as part of a November-December 2014 series on innovation labs, a joint project between Bridgespan and The Rockefeller Foundation. Please visit the Innovation Lab Insight Center during the coming four weeks as they publish a broad range of insights from innovation lab practitioners, funders, and participants.
inCompass was one of five labs from around the world invited to join the recent “Lab Initiative” led by the Rockefeller Foundation and Bridgespan. The resulting discussions and learnings of this initiative will form the basis for the new Innovation Lab and Insight Center. Other labs contributing on an ongoing basis include Stanford Change Labs, iDEO.org, BRAC SIL, World Bank Innovation, Unicef Innovations, and inCompass Innovation Lab, among others.
19 November 2014
Make interventions fun and follow up with an easy way to act.
On a Sunday morning, rural villagers gather in the village meetinghouse. A respected member of the local commune committee calls for the group’s attention. She leads them in games and stimulates lively conversations about proper sanitation. People wave fans in the air decorated with colorful photographs and consult one another to solve puzzles. There is laughter, joking and occasionally a little embarrassment. She introduces the village chief, who encourages them to adopt the new ideas they have learned. Inspired and motivated, many wait in line to place their order for a latrine and make a deposit. This is what an innovative behavior change campaign looks like today in rural Cambodia.
Behavior Change Pilot
Over the past several years, behavior change interventions have become widely used as a tool to increase the prevalence of health-enhancing behaviors. Many questions remain, however, about the best way to design and implement them for the purpose of promoting sanitation.
What makes behavior change campaigns effective? How can they be measured? Who should facilitate? How does the audience act on what they learned?
These are some of the questions that fueled a recent investigation into the best way to design and implement a behavior change campaign (BCC) for maximum latrine uptake. In a collaborative effort, iDE, with technical support from the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank, conducted a one-year pilot to uncover the keys of successful behavior change for sanitation. In this document, we outline our approach to this test, and share a few key takeaways.
To narrow the scope of our investigation, we focused on two questions.
1. Will the additional intervention of a behavior change campaign increase latrine uptake?
2. Is the Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC) a recommended government partner body for implementing this intervention?
Project Background: A User-Centered Approach
Prior to this pilot, iDE conducted program activities in sanitation market development in Cambodia. Among these activities was a deep dive—a 3-4 week immersion into the lives of the people and communities we want to reach. In partnership with our design lab, inCompass, we gathered insights from villagers, concrete ring producers, masons and retailers. During the deep dive, we uncovered the primary drivers that motivate villagers to act. A desire for status, the safety of women, inconvenience, and satisfying the needs of their daughters were among the top drivers. Improved health was a surprisingly weak motivation, just as it is in the developed world for changing health behaviors such as smoking or exercising.
Test Design: Grounding Behavior Change in User Insights
We partnered with 17 Triggers, a Cambodia-based firm with expertise in behavior change. Together, we developed innovative behavior change tools that are grounded in the user insights described above. According to behavior change theory, people move toward action through a series of triggers. Therefore, the campaign is comprised of two phases designed to yield multiple touch points. Both phases are hour-long interpersonal communications sessions, in which the audience is led by a facilitator through an engaging experience that triggers progress on the path to behavior change.
Education Through Social Games
Many of the games we developed were designed to use community influence as a positive driver of behavior change. Community influences play a large role in shaping individuals’ beliefs. It is important that the experience is fun, social and interactive to support an open and safe space for participants to share and discuss their experiences.
BCC Phase I: This phase focuses on messaging about “losing face without a latrine” and correcting misperceptions on affordability.
Puzzle Game: Participants discuss common scenarios in which not owning a latrine can lead to losing face. Examples include hosting a wedding, raising a teenage daughter, and receiving visitors from the city.
The Price is Right Game: Participants match the correct price with the product. The objective of the game is to show that a latrine is not as expensive as they might think and show that it is more affordable than other purchase priorities such as a motorcycle, cell phone or TV.
BCC Phase II: This phase focuses on messages about the inconveniences of not having a latrine and overcoming common objections to adopting a latrine.
Gallery Walk: Participants react to posters with provocative imagery depicting moments of inconvenience, embarrassment, and disgust. Examples include open defecation during the rainy season, an elderly parent open defecating at night, and a teenage daughter being spied on by men.
Overcoming Objections: Participants voice their objections about why they do not have a latrine. Then they are brought to the realization that all their objections are equivalent to saying that they are content with a life of inconvenience and embarrassment. The facilitator then encourages participants to make a commitment to change their situation and to start using a latrine.
Implementation Through Local Government
The CCWC was among several government bodies that could potentially act as facilitators of this campaign. We chose them over others for two reasons. They have an existing mandate to facilitate education on WASH topics. And they have a pre-existing network across the nation that can be leveraged for a broader BCC effort. In partnership with 17 Triggers, we developed a program to train, coach, and monitor the government facilitators throughout the one-year pilot period.
Question 1: Will the additional intervention of a behavior change campaign increase latrine uptake?
The behavior change process moves a person further along their individual decision path, which may not involve taking a specific, measureable action. In the absence of a baseline study on attitudes and beliefs, our test cannot report hard evidence of progress. Using anecdotal observation, however, our study recorded a significant transformation of attitudes and beliefs. Overwhelmingly, participants were engaged in the activities, openly discussed a readiness and desire to change, and inquired about how to obtain a latrine for their family.
Access to a desirable product makes it easier for villagers to adopt the intended behavior change. Villagers were presented with two latrine options: the Easy Latrine, and a dry pit. Almost no participants were interested in the dry pit option. Even the extreme poor preferred to save up for the Easy Latrine, which was designed through an iterative process involving users. We concluded that any promotion of a product should be matched with clear information about how to access supply.
Question 2: Is the CCWC a recommended government partner body for implementing this intervention?
The level of training and monitoring required to engage CCWC successfully is comparable to iDE’s experience with sales agents and latrine businesses in the private sector. Although CCWC has an existing mandate to promote WASH education among rural villagers, very few had previous training in facilitation, good hygiene practice, or the causes of disease transmission. Throughout this pilot, CCWC was supported with training, coaching and continuous monitoring, with iDE staff checking in once every two weeks. This intensive support was key to the success of the CCWC as effective facilitators of the intervention.
A behavior change campaign that effectively moves an audience toward latrine uptake requires the following to be successful:
1. Ground the campaign tools in user insights.
2. Make it fun, social and engaging.
3. Follow up with an easy solution that participants find desirable.
4. Ensure that facilitators are adequately trained, coached and monitored.
The Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank technically supported this project.
Video—“Cambodia: Growing Momentum for Sanitation”
iDE’s Global WASH Initiative
Water and Sanitation Program
17 November 2014
iDE congratulates the people of Cambodia in a new video:
“Cambodia: Growing Momentum for Sanitation”
The great progress in rural sanitation is something for Cambodia to be proud of.”
—Chreay Pom, Director, Department of Rural Health at Ministry of Rural Development
The rate at which sanitary toilets are being installed in rural Cambodia has increased dramatically since the Government of Cambodia made rural sanitation a priority in 2008. In the past six years, hundreds of thousands of rural families are experiencing the benefits of improved sanitation for the first time. This video celebrates Cambodia’s progress in sanitation and highlights the people who have made it possible—government officials, local business people and rural families.
“In 2008, the government set sanitation as a priority in order to improve people’s standard of living. Since then, we’ve noticed a huge change in rural communities. People have latrines at home and they understand what good sanitation is, and actually practice it within their families.” —Dr. Chea Samnang, WSSCC National Coordinator
Many national and international organizations have also contributed to the sanitation movement happening in Cambodia. One of these organizations is iDE. iDE is dedicated to outsmarting diarrheal disease by making sure that quality toilets are accessible through local markets at an affordable price.
“…We are helping the private sector learn what people want and helping them produce and sell it at an affordable price. The last few years have been a turning point across the country, with annual toilet sales increasing four-fold since 2008.” —iDE
iDE’s three-year Sanitation Marketing Scale-Up (SMSU) project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Stone Family Foundation, and technically supported by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank. The project is supported by the Ministry of Rural Development.
iDE is an international non-profit organization dedicated to creating income and livelihood opportunities for the rural poor. In addition to worldwide programs in agriculture, iDE implements programs in Africa and Asia in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. iDE’s WASH programs focus on creating markets around aspirational and effective WASH products and services that reduce diarrheal disease among poor households. iDE has impacted more than 23 million people globally to date through its WASH and agriculture interventions. Watch the video.
15 October 2014
September 27, 2014
iDE’s annual fundraiser was held on September 27, 2014 with a focus on smallholder farmers. Guests heard from our fabulous emcee from the evening, Anne Trujillo, on what is means to be a mom and the importance of being able to feed her family. Guests also heard from two of iDE’s Country Directors, Carlos Urmenta (Honduras) and Kebede Ayele (Ethiopia). Each told stories of farmers who have benefited from partnering with iDE.
iDE was so thrilled to continue our partnership with Toro Irrigation and recently received a grant from the Toro Foundation to continue our work in Honduras, working with smallholder farmers. See more from Toro.
Finally, iDE would like to thank all of our event vendors, supporters, and donors who made the night possible. Your donations raised over $30,000 to support smallholders farmers throughout the developing world. Because of you, our work is possible.
See photos from iDE’s Global Harvest.
8 August 2014
By KC Koch
This is the story of a successful partnership between two organizations that share a passion for toilets: an NGO with 30+ years of making markets work for the poor and the largest toilet manufacturer in North America. Eventually, they made more impact together than either organization could make alone.
Combining diverse expertise
The idea of a partnership started back in 2011 at a water and sanitation conference in Delhi. Cordell Jacks, the co-director of iDE’s Global WASH Initiative, and Jim McHale, VP, Research, Development, & Engineering for American Standard, met for coffee. It didn’t take long before Cordell and Jim realized that they had the makings of a perfect partnership.
iDE would bring local expertise of rural supply chains and last-mile distribution in Bangladesh, as well as a host of sanitation market development experience gained from projects in other countries. American Standard would bring 140 years of state-of-the-art product design, computerized fluid dynamic engineering & modeling, as well as global sourcing, manufacturing and state-of-the-art product testing.
Together they had the right combination of skills and knowledge to make a difference for the 2.5 billion people who live without improved sanitation in developing countries.
Cordell remembers the potential of the partnership: “American Standard and iDE are two organizations with complimentary skill sets. Both are dedicated to increasing and improving sanitation globally. Together, we demonstrated that there is a sustainable and profitable business model in the heart of one of the most challenging market conditions in the world. It is an amazing example of impact that can be had with innovative public private partnerships.”
Accepting the challenge
American Standard saw a whole new market in the 2.5 billion people who are typically overlooked by big business. Too many corporations assume the poor have no purchasing power. But the most forward-thinking brands, like American Standard, are starting to take notice of the enormous potential in the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) customers. With a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, American Standard accepted the challenge to create a new latrine product for poor people in Bangladesh.
A local understanding from iDE
As far back as 1982, Paul Polak, iDE’s founder, walked and talked with small farmers in their one-acre fields. He spoke with them about their challenges and their dreams. iDE is still inspired by Paul’s approach of asking questions first. Today, iDE practices human-centered design (HCD), a methodology that identifies solutions to various challenges by placing users at the center of the design process.
In 2012, iDE led American Standard through the human-centered design process in Bangladesh. iDE was working under a grant from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank (WSP) to implement the “SanMark Pilot project in Bangladesh.”
Tamara Baker, co-director of iDE’s Global WASH Initiative, recalled, “We opened new doors and ways of thinking for each other.” Together they spoke with small producers, salespeople, customers, and merchants. They field-tested prototypes, gathered customer feedback and ideated on product design. They also understood the potential market dynamics that could be strengthened to form a sustainable business model.
Product expertise from American Standard
American Standard joined iDE in Bangladesh for a deep dive to ensure their solutions would be feasible, desirable and affordable. The designer from American Standard, Daigo Ishiyama, provided the big “a-ha.” He noticed something only a fluid-dynamic engineer would notice. Previous latrine products use too much water. Meanwhile, Bangladeshi are accustomed to carrying a very small amount of water into the latrine. When you have less water, you need a smaller trap. The confined space creates a whirlpool effect and provides the needed flush power.
Then, American Standard created an ingenious counterweight trapdoor solution that effectively sealed off the feces from the open air. And, of equal importance, the trap hid the feces from view of the user. Customer feedback revealed that people didn’t know it was possible to not have to see feces when inside a latrine. They were thrilled! The resulting product was named the SaTo pan (pronounced SAH-toh, derived from “Safe Toilet”).
The American Standard team also provided plastics knowledge, the ability to rapidly prototype in plastic, as well as the financial resources and influence to support iDE’s longer-term engagement with domestic plastics manufacturer RFL Plastics Ltd. “Thanks to our partnership, we suddenly saw plastic as a very interesting material for scalable, sustainable products for improved sanitation,” said Conor Riggs, Technical Director – Programs at iDE Bangladesh. “It was the spark that led to other innovations in our program, particularly the development of a fully upgradeable, mass-producible latrine system that includes the SaTo Pan that will go to market in the fall of 2014.”
The case for the BoP
BoP business models can and do work. iDE staff see it daily. iDE operates programs in 11 countries across Africa, Asia, and Central America, that are laying the groundwork for corporations to enter this new frontier. iDE asks private enterprises to think beyond charity. A sustainable business model benefits both the private corporation and the people they serve. Armed with the right insights, private corporations can make an impact and make a profit. These are some of the foundational principles of iDE, which emanate from its founder, Paul Polak.
Paul recently expressed his approval of the collaboration that led to the SaTo pan: “Since poor sanitation is a key source of illness in developing countries, I am delighted to hear that iDE has collaborated with American Standard, the biggest toilet manufacturer in North America, to produce and start to distribute a radically affordable product to prevent the spread of diarrheal disease. I am particularly impressed with the price of $1.50, which could make it accessible to millions of people. It is simple, affordable devices like this that make the biggest impact.”
There is still a lot of convincing to do out there. American Standard is a pioneer. Their next horizon? Zambia—where they know it’s not a question of “if” the markets will be profitable, it’s only a question of “who” and “when.”