Category: Country Program News -
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.”
30 September 2013
Michael Roberts from iDE Cambodia will be attending and presenting at Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) 4th Annual Meeting, 2013.
The conference theme for this year is the Role of Private Sector and Producer Organizations in Rural Advisory Services and will be held September 24-26 in Berlin, Germany
Monday 23rd September 13:30 – 15:45 (CEST)
Swiss Forum on Rural Advisory Services (SFRAS) Side Event: Embedded services as modality for sustainable RAS
Case studies based on the experience of SFRAS members are presented that demonstrate the diversity of Rural Advisory Services provision in the form of embedded services as an approach for sustainability. Key themes addressed include:
- Embedding advisory services with input sales, processing and marketing
- Financial and ecological sustainability
- Comparative importance of embedded services in a pluralistic advisory services
Michael Roberts from iDE Cambodia will present the case study of the Farm Business Advisor model that embeds sales of quality agricultural inputs with professional training and support through ethical, relationship-based sales.
Peter Schmidt from Helvetas Swiss Interco-operation will moderate the session that will also feature case studies from CABI, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and Helvetas’ experiences in Bangladesh and Tanzania.
Tuesday 24th September 12:00 – 12:50 (CEST)
Parallel Session: Sustainability and cost-effectiveness in private sector and producer organizations
Michael Roberts will share lessons learnt from the Farm Business Advisor model developed by iDE in Cambodia and currently being rolled out by iDE programs in Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique and Nepal. Michael will be joined in the session by Stefan Kachelriess-Matthess from GIZ-Compaci and Souvanthong Namvong from the Department of Agriculture Extension and Cooperatives. The aim of this session is to identify sustainable and cost-effective approaches to providing rural advisory services, identify opportunities for transferability and garner lessons from existing public-private partnerships.
See photos on our Facebook page.
More details at, the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services.
6 September 2013
Horticultural production is the main activity during dry season in Burkina Faso (October to June), a country where agriculture is the main sector of the economy, it employs 80% of the population. In the context of water scarcity that faces the Sahelian region, drip irrigation technology is one of the best alternatives to develop horticulture and enhance rural population income. iDE Burkina is developing the market of drip irrigation technology with a social entrepreneurial model to increase smallholder farmers’ income. One main constraints in developing iDE’s activities is access to finance for the poorest farmers and particularly women small-scale farmers. Smallholder farmers interested in purchasing drip irrigation kits do not have the access to financial means to secure loans from local banks.
2 July 2012
Ms. Aida Ganaba, head of iDE’s Technology Center, talks about drip irrigation innovations at the first anniversary celebration.
On June 12, iDE’s newest country program celebrated an important milestone. iDE’s Burkina Faso team was joined by esteemed delegates from the Burkina Faso Ministry of Agriculture at a ceremony to observe the first harvest at the Center of Technology at Yamtenga. Speakers included several key iDE Burkina Faso staff, as well as Abdoulaye Compari from the Ministry of Agriculture, and Paul Bayili, who spoke on behalf of SDC on the importance of the partnership to advancing drip irrigation in the country. The event was attended by representatives of key partners including SDC, AFD, CIDA, GIZ, JICA, UNICEF, Swedish Corporation, FAO, WFP and IFAD. Various NGOs including Self-Help Africa, ACDI/VOCA, SNV, PlanetFinance, and HKI helped us to mark the occasion.
iDE Burkina Country Director Laurent Stravato discussed the organization’s efforts to implement low-cost drip irrigation technologies in a region with severely limited water resources, setting forth three issues which iDE has been working on in Burkina Faso: scaling up drip irrigation in the region, developing innovations to make it more affordable to Burkinabé farmers, and iDE Burkina’s distribution model and the advisory role of twelve farm business advisors currently working in four provinces of the country: Boulkiemdé, Kadiogo, Sanguié, and Yatenga.
Ms. Aida Ganaba, head of iDE’s Technology Center, explained in detail the work being done with drip irrigation kits of varying sizes as well various innovative prototypes being tested at the Center, such as a 1000-liter, ferro-cement reservoir, a 150 liter clay jar constructed by local masons, and a wood support system housing a 1,000 liter tank, created by an iDE farm business advisor.
iDE Burkina’s Center of Technology was created to serve as a facility where affordable water technologies could be developed, tested, and demonstrated to local farmers. The team faced many challenges in getting the center underway, including poor soil quality, the 400 meter distance from the nearest water source, abundance of plant disease, and a need for system uniformity. Addressing these problems, which are shared by many of the farmers iDE serves, has helped validate the effectiveness of drip irrigation in the local context.
iDE Burkina Faso’s business model builds upon the successful Farm Business Advisor program, originally piloted by iDE Cambodia. iDE Burkina employs twelve farm business advisors who act as liaisons between iDE and the small producer. Located throughout each of the 4 current project areas, they provide demonstration sites for technologies, after-sales assistance, and a focal point for the smallholder farmer customers. They also direct potential customers to distributors and dealers who specialize in iDE drip irrigation kit sales.
The Center also functions as a base for development of rural marketing strategies, including publicity panels, t-shirts, and informational documents. Other activities, such as engaging local theater to promote the use of drip irrigation technologies, are planned and implemented here. “Why is it that products such as soft drinks and telephones are so well advertised in rural markets, while products used to better the lives of smallholder farmers, such as drip irrigation, are not as well advertised?” asked Program Officer Sean McKinlay.
Perhaps most importantly, the Center of Technology is a functioning farm. Mr. Désiré Yerbanga, Business Development Manager, presented economic results of the Technology Center’s inaugural harvest. In a single 3-month production cycle, 378 kilograms of okra were harvested from a 200 square meter plot, netting 36,000 F CFA with one month in the harvest still remaining. A similar return for the two remaining cycles in the year is expected, for a total return of 108,000 F CFA on an initial investment of 50,000 F CFA. That same 3-month production cycle also yielded a 90 kilogram peanut harvest netting another 36,000 F CFA. In addition, iDE has found that substantial farm income can be earned from the sale of peanut leaves, thus shedding light on the need to look more closely at potential markets for agricultural by-products.
As iDE’s first francophone country program, Burkina Faso has achieved important initial success in reducing market prices for technology, reducing producer labor, and achieving substantial gains in time and revenue for smallholder farmers in its first year.
iDE Burkina Faso has experienced challenges in creating partnerships with micro-credit institutions and finding local partners to assist with product transformation. iDE Burkina Faso continues to adapt and grow accordingly, and as such the June 12 ceremony represents an important opening for drip irrigation in the country. The presence of the government, donors, and all major media outlets there presented an especially strong case to the public.
29 March 2011
From Raisa Chowdhury, here’s a report from iDE Bangladesh’s annual staff retreat.
iDE Bangladesh recently hosted its Annual Retreat for 2011 for all 76 staff from different field offices around the country. The 3 day workshop, from 14th to 16th March, was hugely successful in bringing about organizational integration and, it is hoped, will lead to significant performance improvements in the future.
The theme of the workshop was “A school of iDEas”. This sought to promote iDE Bangladesh as an organization which nurtures and creates innovation and new ideas. To make the learning and the team development process more effective, all staff including directors, officers, specialists, coordinators, administrators, interns, guards, drivers and friends, were divided into four different teams of Green, Blue, Red and Black to undertake group presentations, workshops, tasks and competitive sporting events.
The retreat harnessed the talent, experience, wisdom and logic of all members of the iDE Bangladesh family. This enabled staff to successfully complete team building activities including making presentations to generate intra-IDE knowledge exchange, designing posters representing staff expectations for the retreat, and also cultural events including singing, poetry recitals and mime! The cultural events were for many the highlight of the retreat.
iDE Bangladesh always seeks to continually improve its performance, and staffs were asked to provide feedback and recommendations regarding any aspects of their work. These comments will be addressed in four project management team meetings over the course of the year. The retreat proved to be an excellent opportunity for everyone to meet and tackle existing issues, address queries, perceive future challenges and to think about ways of improving how the organization performance. iDE is a collective of distinctive minds, and by joining together under the umbrella curriculum of poverty alleviation, we found we could establish a solid foundation for future successes.