Design Expo 2014: Online Discussion - Delivering Water and Sanitation

This online panel discussion at 3.30 UK time on Friday 13 June will explore the following questions:

  1. What role can business play in delivering water and sanitation at the BoP?
  2. How can WASH products, services and business models scale rapidly and yet remain appropriate for the local context in multiple countries; are we constantly going to have to 'reinvent the wheel'?
  3. What are the next big challenges facing the WASH sector?

Panelists include: Jason Kass, Toilets for People; Fanny Boullard, Antenna; Tara Lundy, Vestergaard; Conor Riggs, iDE Bangladesh; Martina Nee, Peepoople; Yi Wei, iDE WASH; Rob Whitby, DFID; Ashley Thomas, Evidence Action.

Editor's Note:

This is a text-only, written discussion.  To post comments you will need to sign in / sign up to Business Fights Poverty. A list of recent comments is shown in the right-hand side bar and will refresh every 5 minutes. To refresh more often, please click on the refresh icon in your browser.

This event is part of the Business Fights Poverty Design Expo 2014. Running from 9 to 13 June,  the Design Expo is an online celebration of products, services and business models transforming the lives of poor people.  The Design Expo is a collaboration with iDE UK and is being supported by the UK's Department for International Development.

The Expo will include a vibrant mix of blogs, Google Hangouts, online panel discussions, a Twitter Jam and a virtual exhibition zone. Each day we will focus on a different sector: Energy (9 June), Health (10 June), Communications (11 June), Livelihoods (including enterprise, finance and agriculture) (12 June) and Water & Sanitation (13 June).

From Monday 9 June, you will be able to access all the activities via the Design Expo landing page,  Participation in the Design Expo is free.  You will simply need to sign in (or sign up for free) to Business Fights Poverty.


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I would say operationalising the vast amount of information and data that exists in silos. I would like to plug sharing data and being able to adapt programs to respond to the vast amount of information out there. Even within the WASH sector, I feel that we tend to silo program (toilets, hand washing, water, etc) and disregard the learnings from another sector. 

With sanitation the size of the problem is so large that push will be too painfully slow and will struggle. It has to become a pull product and generally people are quite uniform in their opinions as to the attributes of a beautiful toilet. It just that the supply chains to allow to acquire one are dysfunctional. 

Hi Fanny,

I completely agree that strong human resources are so important and often left out of the discussion.  It is the people on the ground that make these programs work and you need great, organized, motivated people.  In some ways, I think businesses are often able to sustain human resources better over the long-term because they are not subject to grant cycles which require short term contracts and uncertainty.  In Kenya, several of our staff have been with us for 20+ years and have been able to build incredibly valuable and sustained relationships.

I'm new to WASH, but am particularly interested in menstrual health and think the challenge of dealing with increasing amounts of menstrual hygiene product waste as (hopefully) more women have access to them as a challenge; and how menstrual health can be mainstreamed into WASH

I agree! Safe disposal of human excreta is a huge problem. We need to take responsibility for the waste, otherwise it will end up in waterways and spread disease anyway. And then it won't matter how many people you can say have been supplied with sanitation.

Fanny - I think you bring up a very important point about HR. In a lot of the contexts we work in, HR is a HUGE challenge - recruiting, developing, and retaining talent. We've found that developing the right CULTURE is first and foremost. It may seem fluffy, but if you get it right, it can overcome so many obstacles, from those specific to your country context, to just general management challenges. It really requires strong, visionary, humble leadership to create a space that nurtures this kind of culture. What have you guys done to overcome this challenge?

Yep - our experience as well, especially in in urban areas.  Where another constraint to uptake is " What do we do when it is full?"       

One example of a recent success we had in this area, however, was leveraging iDE Cambodia's product innovations developed under the award-winning "Easy Latrine" that recently crossed 100,000 sold in 2 years.

While the Cambodian and Bangladeshi market contexts couldn't be any different - Cambodia immature with a focus on basic open defecation reduction, and Bangladesh 97% ODF but with 46% of 150 million people not accessing JMP "improved" (read: hygienic) facilities - in Bangladesh we were able to utilize a key technology component of the Easy Latrine to fit the SaTo Pan onto offset latrines -  a problem we had previously been unable to solve while working with American Standard on the product. The market context was different, but the basic technology and user experience was similar enough that we could replicate Cambodia's innovation in Bangladesh.

I am interested to hear about issues you have faced with micro finance in your programs.

Fanny, I completely agree, and I like the national/local dichotomy to frame the technical/implementation challenges. I think a key way to address most of these elements head on is to find the right commercial partner(s) and invest significant programmatic resources in developing a rapport that can deliver a "build-transfer-own" style partnership between the NGO and the business. If we challenge ourselves in the devt. sector to only demonstrate/pilot on the ground once we are confident issues of maintenance, after sales services, and investment have at least conceptual likelihood with a partner with whom we are engaging, the  likelihood of failure when we begin to pilot on the ground diminishes and the likelihood of sustainability/scalability is maximized. Easier said than done to be sure, but I think we need to hold ourselves to a harsh level of preparedness before we pilot in the field.

Yes! That is an interesting challenge that will require some creative thinking to solve.

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