Category: Human Centered Design -

4 December 2014 | Posted By: iDE

Shifting the Focus from Prototyping Techniques to a Prototyping Mindset

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,, BRAC SIL, World Bank Innovation, Unicef Innovations, and inCompass Innovation Lab, among others. 

8 August 2014 | Posted By: iDE

iDE and American Standard: See big business in toilets at the bottom of the pyramid

By KC Koch

SaTo-1This 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.”

28 April 2014 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Focused on the Human Element

Why does one product work in one country, but an exact replica doesn’t sell in another? What aspects of your toilet do you care about? Is it culturally appropriate? Why or why not?

To answer these questions and many more, iDE uses the Human Centered Design (HCD) methodology to develop products and business models, explore new markets, and solve problems. By placing the users at the core, HCD helps us to create solutions that are truly designed for people, so they have a higher probability of success. Funders and users of HCD find it is the most cost effective methodology to find a working solution that will have the potential for growth and sustainability.

Why does it matter?

Each HCD process is specific to the context in which it is applied so that, regardless of the size or duration of a project, iDE can be sure that the most appropriate solutions are being offered to the rural poor. Dedicating the time to complete HCD research ensures that all actors on the supply and demand side are being heard, their issues addressed, and that only technologically feasible and economically viable solutions are carried forward. This saves iDE and our donors time and money. Being an HCD innovator has allowed iDE to improve the lives of millions of people around the world, offering them desirable and affordable products to address their unmet water and sanitation needs.

How does it work?



Each HCD process is specific to the context in which it is applied so that, regardless of the size or duration of a project, iDE can be sure that the most appropriate solutions are being offered to the rural poor. Dedicating the time to complete HCD research ensures that all actors on the supply and demand side are being heard, their issues addressed, and that only technologically feasible and economically viable solutions are carried forward. This saves iDE and our donors time and money. Being an HCD innovator has allowed iDE to improve the lives of millions of people around the world, offering them desirable and affordable products to address their unmet water and sanitation needs.


Hear: Through in-depth interviews with the target market, potential influencers, and decision makers, the hearing phase helps gather stories and conduct field research. Interviewers lead conversations without judgment or predetermined answers to uncover the context in which individuals operate.  This ‘Deep Dive’ produces user insights and design principles that guide the project. Create: The design team works together in a series of interactive idea generation and rapid prototyping rounds to translate what was heard from people into useable solutions. The process moves between concrete data to more abstract thinking for identifying themes and solutions. This fosters efficient designing as the team is able to test all solutions but only feasible solutions are carried beyond the ‘product and business model prototyping’ phase. Deliver: Through feasibility and viability assessments, a model for financial sustainability and an innovation pipeline are developed. These help to develop pilots, measure impact, and create a learning plan. The Deliver phase complements existing implementation processes, but results in a tailored implementation plan. This ‘sales test/pilot’ phase ensures an appropriate solution is created.


iDE is both an leader and innovator in applying the HCD methodology to water and sanitation initiatives. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2009, iDE collaborated with design firm IDEO, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), and Heifer International to create the HCD toolkit for individuals and organizations working to find sustainable solutions to community problems. The toolkit won the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and BusinessWeek Magazine’s 2009 IDEA Gold Award.

textHCD diagram

26 March 2014 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Demu Bikila: A Proud Landowner and Empowered Business Women

TuluBolo, Ethiopia Demu Bikila

Meet Demu Bikila from Tulubolo, Ethiopia. She is a proud mother of five, and with a smile on her face she says, “I am a successful businesswomen.”

Before iDE, Demu could only grow food during the rainy season and harvest once a year. She tells you that she had “no previous knowledge of farming” and didn’t have any connections to the local market. To make matters even worse, Demu had no savings. This means she would have a hard time getting a loan from a local bank.

With a little help from iDE, Demu turned her life around, she:

  • Connected with a local rural bank, with a program specifically for farmers
  • Bought a treadle pump, good seeds, and dug a shallow well
  • Received training in good agricultural practices
  • Was linked to a buyer who would move her crops from her farm to the market at a good price

With a treadle pump and access to ground water Demu can harvest four times a year. With this, she now has a consistent income and her family can eat nutritious food throughout the year.

2.2014 TulluBollo, Ethiopia Demu Bikila (24)_edited


What will she do next?

Demu knows she has a hard road ahead of her as a single mother. Her husband died some years back and all she has left is the land that was once his and her kids. Had s

he been younger she would have lost the land completely because traditionally it would have gone to his brother. Being a female landowner, she is now a minority in Ethiopia, BUT she is empowered and knowledgeable.

She has plans to continue to work with iDE so she can continue to learn and pass the knowledge onto her children. Demu wants to make even more money so she can send all of her children to school.

Demu is thankful for what she has and is ready to work hard so her children can have a better future.




19 November 2011 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

iDE Launches New Toilet Project

Happy Cambodian Family with New Latrine

Lack of access to sanitation is a major problem affecting the developing world. Poor sanitation is a major cause of diarrheal disease, lost labor productivity for adults, missed school days for children, and additional financial burdens for families requiring medical treatment. In Cambodia alone, diarrheal diseases account for 17 percent of deaths in children under five. The World Bank recently estimated the annual economic loss due to poor sanitation there to be $448 million a year, which is equivalent to 7.2 percent of GDP.

Existing markets for rural sanitation in the developing world are woefully underdeveloped. Low demand and weak supply chains hinder the availability of sanitation products and services. Publicly funded sanitation projects often make extensive use of hardware subsidies with disappointing results; typically, only a fraction of the subsidy reaches the intended target group, and recipients often do not use or maintain their latrines over time.

For a number of years now in Asia, iDE has been at the forefront of Sanitation Marketing developments to address these challenges. iDE recently completed a pilot project in Cambodia that exceeded expectations by enabling 9.6 percent of the rural population to purchase sanitary latrines in eleven target districts over a 16-month period.

Now, a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made it possible to expand these achievements on a national scale, improving the sanitation conditions of tens of thousands of rural households while stimulating vibrant and sustainable sanitation markets. Over a three-year period, the Cambodia Sanitation Marketing Scale-Up Project will build on the original pilot project by working directly with some 90 local enterprises, encouraging them to invest their own resources into addressing the demand for sanitary latrines.

The project will enable 115,000 households in 60 districts of Cambodia to purchase affordable sanitary latrines. Other outcomes include:

• Improved latrine designs for two “challenging environments”

• Sanitation financing mechanisms for consumer households and supply chain enterprises

• A research and training center to become a global dissemination platform for Sanitation Marketing experience

The total cost of the project is estimated at $6,942,199. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded iDE a grant of $3,987,717. Other key partners in the project include the Stone Family Foundation, the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program, PATH, and the Royal Government of Cambodia.

Sanitation Marketing has emerged as a highly effective approach for rapidly and sustainably improving rural sanitation at scale by connecting consumers with products that they want and can afford. Evidence from a number of recent projects demonstrates that stimulating private enterprises to address the untapped rural sanitation market can have a revolutionary impact on the uptake of sanitary latrines—with associated health and financial gains for rural households.

The Sanitation Marketing model leverages the advantages of private sector entities, civil society, and government to reach large numbers of rural households in short time frames. Donor funds are not used to provide direct subsidies for hardware or installation. Instead they are invested in laying the foundations for demand-driven, self-financing market systems.

Broadly, Sanitation Marketing applies iDE’s market-based poverty alleviation approach to the related problem of inadequate sanitation. First, we develop a deep understanding of the target group’s needs and aspirations, and adapt or design affordable technology options to meet those needs. We strengthen the capacity of local enterprises to manufacture and deliver the technologies, conduct social marketing campaigns to encourage the purchase and proper use of the technologies, and coordinate with NGOs, microfinance institutions, and government agencies to extend scale and to reach poorer households.

27 July 2011 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Designing for the Rest of the World

From Paul Polak’s Blog, guest blogger Kali Friedmann gives an overview of the Design for the Other 90%, with some ideas about how to (and how not to) design for the developing world:

“Design for the Other 90%” Comes to Denver
By Kali Friedmann

The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt “Design for the Other 90%” exhibit has arrived at RedLine Gallery in downtown Denver, showcasing products designed explicitly to fit the needs and circumstances of the world’s poorest customers – the “other 90%” who are bypassed by current design processes.

The exhibit, organized in part by International Development Enterprises (iDE), showcases products from an array of designers, engineers, and organizations focused on development, including the Design Revolution (D-REV), the non-profit technology incubator co-founded by Paul Polak. D-REV is an outgrowth of Dr. Polak’s vision of fomenting a revolution in how companies design, price, market, and distribute their products, to produce radically affordable income generating technologies for customers living on less than $4 a day.

Products like D-REV’s Jaipur Knee (a simple prosthetic knee that costs $25 to make and retails for $80) and low-cost ceramic water filters from iDE and other organizations, help illustrate the types of technologies that – at the right price and combined with appropriate mechanisms for marketing and distribution – have the potential to leverage the power of the market to reach large-scale impact.

Kamal using the Jaipur Knee (YouTube)

True to RedLine’s mission of merging art, education, and community, these low cost technologies are displayed throughout the gallery along with the creative responses of seven local artists to poverty, waste, and the challenges of design for development. One such work, created by RedLine resident artist Viviane Le Courtois, emphasizes the disparity between the bottom 90% of the world’s citizens in dire need of practical design solutions, and the top 10% who are served by the majority of designers and live surrounded by excess. The product of several weeks of work, many gallons of Elmer’s glue, and the waste from a covey of Le Courtois’ friends, it is a round thatched-roof hut made entirely of shredded junk mail.

On the exhibit’s opening day, reporter Ryan Warner from the Colorado Public Radio program Colorado Matters met Dr. Polak at the gallery for a walk-through interview. True to form, Dr. Polak provided both a clear description of the design process required to create meaningful and effective tools for development, and an honest critique of the difficulties inherent in doing so.

Dr. Polak highlighted the importance of talking to customers and building not only radical affordability into design – a primary and thoroughly non-negotiable requirement – but also taking into account the much less obvious cultural and lifestyle factors of the communities being served. Failure to take into account details about social structure, cultural preferences, and the subtleties of life at the local level often results in the failure of the project as a whole. As an outsider, this requires a deep cultural understanding that can only be attained by spending time on the ground listening to the needs of users early on in the design process. A full explanation of Dr. Polak’s 12 Steps for Practical Problem Solving can be found in his book, Out of Poverty, but the first three are crucial, and, while they seem obvious, are often overlooked:

  • Go to where the action is.
  • Talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they say.
  • Learn everything you can about the problem’s specific context.

For example, there’s the Q Drum — a doughnut-shaped water transportation vessel that can be rolled to and from a water source with a rope tied through the center. Sounds great, looks cool, but, 1) at more than $70 per unit it’s too expensive for poor customers, and there’s no way for it to pay for itself, 2) the ropes tend to wear out quickly, and it’s unusable without a way to pull it, and, 3) the opening in the container is too large, making the water vulnerable to contamination from hands reaching inside or dirt finding its way in (80% of the contamination of bad water occurs during transportation between source and end-user). These sorts of problems can only be understood and solved by designing for affordability, spending time on the ground with users, doing a lot of listening, and continually iterating in response to feedback.

Developing countries are littered with well-intentioned but eventually useless products ostensibly designed with poor people in mind, but without their consultation or true knowledge of their needs. A classic example in this category is the PlayPump, a product that is not part of the Cooper-Hewitt exhibit. Designed like a manual merry-go-round, as children run and spin on it the device pumps water into a storage tank for later use. Harnessing the power of children at play to pump water for the village conjures up a lovely image of a type that often appeals to Western donors. As a result the project (run by PlayPumps International) received tremendous press coverage and raised over $60 million dollars to build 4,000 pumps in villages in Southern Africa.

Yet in just a few months it became clear that the project was an abject failure. In the absence of expertise or funding for maintenance of the devices, technical malfunctions were never resolved, and water ceased to flow. After a period of initial excitement, children for the most part lost interest and stopped using the toy, leaving women to spin the PlayPump themselves. Imagine a seventy-year-old woman, after a full day’s work, having to single-handedly spin this large toy that replaced her simple hand-pump just to get the water she and her family need. It’s this type of problem, rooted in the failure to connect with the customer, which designers working for the bottom 90% must avoid by beginning the design process on the ground, listening to the people for whom the product is being created.

By contrast, the treadle pump created by iDE has proven to have a higher output of water than the work put into it. As a result of that efficiency, of its low cost (around $25), and an effective marketing and distribution system involving troubadours singing its praises and local artisans manufacturing and selling the pumps, over 3 million units have been sold throughout the developing world, helping many millions of people increase their incomes by cultivating higher-value, off-season fruits and vegetables. It’s affordable, reliable, leads directly to increased income (and pays for itself several times in the first year), and it’s so efficient it allows men, women, and children alike to pump water without breaking a sweat.

Which brings me to my one and only point of contention with Mr. Warner: I was witness to the fact that at age seventy-seven, Dr. Polak was able to consistently and almost effortlessly operate the treadle pump, and simultaneously talk about it without skipping a beat – much less “appearing out of breath.”

The Cooper-Hewitt Design for the Other 90% exhibit will be at RedLine through Sunday, September 25th, 2011. RedLine is located at 2350 Arapahoe Street in downtown Denver.

Click here for the full interview with Paul Polak that aired on Colorado Matters Wednesday, July 13.

20 January 2011 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Success: It’s in the toilet

10,000 of them, actually. Congratulations to IDE Cambodia, for facilitating sales of 10,000 IDE EZ Latrines in just over a year.

10,000 Easy Latrines sold

IDE Cambodia staff celebrate the 10,000 Easy Latrine milestone

Here’s the full story from IDE Cambodia:

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – January 14, 2011 – In only a little over a year, IDE’s Sanitation Marketing Project in Cambodia has reached a landmark of 10,000 latrines sold. This marks more latrines sold in the project areas in the past year than in the last four years combined, a tremendous step forward in public health for a country where only 18 percent of the rural population has access to a toilet.

What is even more remarkable about the Sanitation Marketing Project’s success is that all the latrines were sold without any price subsidy. Instead, the Sanitation Marketing Project has applied market principles and world-class product design to the challenge of rural sanitation in Cambodia.

A common local latrine, which could run up to $150, was well beyond the means of the average rural Cambodian, whose average annual income is a mere $135. With help from IDEO designer Jeff Chapin, IDE redesigned the latrine to make it more user-friendly—easy to buy, easy to build, and easy to use. The resulting “Easy Latrine” costs only about $35 and can be assembled by the families themselves in a day.

“The project began by treating people as customers rather than beneficiaries of charity,” said Michael Roberts, Country Director for IDE Cambodia, “and we have seen that many rural Cambodians are able and willing to pay for something that delivers real value.”

The latrine redesign is integrated with a social marketing campaign to stimulate demand. By marketing the latrine as a status product instead of lecturing people about the health woes of defecating in the fields, the Sanitation Marketing Project triggered people’s universal desire for “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Previously an unsexy product, the rapid growth in demand is now being met by local entrepreneurs in the latrine supply chain who have been trained by IDE in efficient production methods, business skills, and proactive methods for generating sales. There are now 22 Easy Latrine producers, who have inspired ambitious competitors to also join in the booming latrine market.

Not only has the Sanitation Marketing Project made tremendous strides in improving rural sanitation in Cambodia, it has done so by leveraging the market and improving the livelihoods of local entrepreneurs. The program has been recognized internationally for its success, winning the International Design Excellence Award and recently being inducted to the World Toilet Organization’s Hall of Fame.

4 August 2010 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

An Art Gallery Growing Tomatoes?

The Art of Dirt

A two-part gallery exhibition of affordable water technologies and artwork from developing countries where Denver-based IDE works to cultivate prosperity, The Art of Dirt opens August 6 at the EventGallery 910 Arts, running through September 25. The show allows visitors to experience how simple, affordable technology design can improve the incomes and lives of the millions of people at the base of the economic pyramid through The Art of Dirt. The exhibition includes photographs, videos and a tomato garden growing in the gallery that is irrigated using IDE water technology.

IDE is dedicated to creating income opportunities for poor, rural households in the developing world. “The Art of Dirt” showcases some of the simple technologies, such as the foot-powered treadle pump, low-pressure micro-sprinkler and affordable drip irrigation that IDE has made available to poor, rural families, allowing them control over their water supply and opening up a new world of income-generating possibilities.

Many of the technologies in the show were selected by the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum for its recent Design for the Other 90% exhibition; this is the first time that they have been exhibited in the Denver area. The Art of Dirt incorporates photographs and videos of farms, farmers and irrigation in some the countries where IDE works; after Sept. 1, the exhibit will also include artwork by artists in these areas, which will be available for purchase through a silent auction benefiting IDE’s programs.

During the show’s run, IDE and 910Arts will host a number of special events, including First Friday open houses, film nights, and a gala event honoring IDE founder Paul Polak. For more information on these events, please visit

EventGallery 910 Arts is located in the heart of Denver’s art district at 910 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, 80204.

24 June 2010 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Easy Latrine Wins IDEA Award!

IDEA Award Winning Easy Latrine

Users and schematics for the award-winning IDE Easy Latrine. Photos courtesy Jeff Chapin and IDE Cambodia.

What do a consumer technology product, an ecologically responsible laundry detergent, and a simple design innovation for an age old product have in common? They were all selected as winners of the prestigious Best in Show Award at the 2010 IDEA Awards for international design excellence.

Latrines are a decidedly unsexy topic, more likely to induce uncomfortable giggles than provoke innovative thinking. People in the developed world take access to sanitation for granted. Yet in most of rural Cambodia, lack of adequate sanitation causes more deaths than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Despite this fact, many villagers view purchasing sanitation equipment as an unnecessary luxury, partly because of the expense and difficulty of installing traditional latrines.

Jeff Chapin, a designer on sabbatical from IDEO worked with our IDE Cambodia team to tackle the problem. The solution? A low-cost sanitation system that villagers could build themselves using cheap, locally available materials. Each latrine costs about $25, and more than 2,500 have already been purchased and installed by villagers.

The award judges appreciated the Easy Latrine’s integration of product design, social strategy, and sustainability. In the end, they decided that excellence in affordable technology deserved equal status with the other two winners, the Slingbox 700U and Method Laundry Detergent with Smartclean Technology™. Judge Anton Andrews, of FrontEDGE Experience Planning for Microsoft Entertainment, said, “We’re choosing all three because it’s a sustainability story. All three tell the same story from different angles. One is cloud computing, the other is behavioral change, and the third is applying design thinking at its best to an extreme problem in another part of the world.”  Industrial Designers Society of America’s Chief Executive Clive Roux explained, “Design works across the spectrum of human needs and issues and can produce excellence at both extremes.”

We couldn’t agree more. Congratulations to Jeff Chapin and the entire IDE Cambodia team on this well-deserved recognition.

The Sanitation Marketing Pilot Program, from which the “Easy Latrine” design resulted, is funded by USAID Cambodia MSME and the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank, and is implemented by IDE.

Learn more:

2010 IDEA Awards Gallery

Fast Company story

Best in Show judges video at

9 February 2010 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Toilets: Business is Booming

ceramic latrine

Photo courtesy Jeff Chapin (

Though most of our projects are focused on the agricultural value chain, even seemingly unrelated projects like our water and sanitation project in Vietnam can create new, sustainable sources of income for poor rural families.

The Dutch organization IRC – International Water and Sanitation Centre tells the story of Thuy Thanh Ky, a 43 year-old mason in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. Unable to support his family through farming alone, Thuy started a successful business as a toilet mason, helping meet the increased demand for affordable, effective sanitation in rural Vietnam.

It’s interesting to note that Thuy was not initially chosen by his commune to be part of the group trained by IDE’s project. Not to be deterred, he was able to train himself after coming across IDE’s training manual. What a great example of the way IDE projects often spark rural entrepreneurship even outside of those we are able to directly impact within the original project itself.

Learn more at IRC’s website.

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