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.

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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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Steven - can you expand on that point? Perhaps with some examples from your organisation?

Hi All,

My name is Ashley Thomas, and I am the Engineering Manager for Evidence Action, a sister organisation of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). 

I've been working on WASH product design and dissemination for the last 5 years, and am currently working on a chlorine dispenser to allow rural people to treat their water. I'm very interested in how to build product supply chains and how that can determine product designs. I'm looking forward to a great discussion! 

I agree that it is sometimes hard to generalize about water and sanitation as technologies and delivery models can be very different.  However, in a general sense I think businesses can play a strong role as innovators of technology, products and services.  There is clearly representation of that here especially on the product side.  We are also are well-placed to deliver more market based solutions such as introducing innovative retail schemes for WASH products and to find those opportunities.  Businesses can also play a strong role in seeking out developing new financing models that add more  investment in the sector.  This is something we have done with Carbon for Water, making use of an available carbon financing methodology and investing big in that concept.    

That's a great point, Fanny - one of our biggest challenges is building agreement with commercial firms on "taking up" social awareness and behavior change communications in their overall advertising and marketing strategies. Generally, we expend a significant amount of energy on building strong personal relationships and "joint venture agreements" with lead firms in our projects in WASH, and work on co-developing value and marketing propositions with each firm that balance a) our core development and public health objective with b) their typical marketing propositions, staff capabilities, and financial resources.

I would love to hear more about your experience in addressing and succeeding in embedding these social awareness messages in commercial marketing channels!

I am glad you mentioned the certification part of the product, Fanny.  I do think businesses are well placed to deliver high quality products and that is important because we are dealing with health.  Outside of the role of business, however, it is important to have International bodies like WHO can provide the independent role of testing products and ensuring they meet a certain level of quality standards.

We tend to work in countries with less mature markets. Can you give an example where crowding-in has achieved scale in Africa? In either Water or Sanitation?  

Let's move on now to the second question:

Q2: 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'?


I think there is a clear pitch here for strong operational research. The role of operational research is to be able to give you empirical feedback to enable evidence based decision making, allowing you to design your business model to scale while still being locally relevant. 

I think products designed to meet BOP needs can be scaled to a variety of countries without reinventing the wheel each time.  When we create our LifeStraw filtration products, we simultaneously field test them in several different settings and regions and then make modifications necessary for them to fit those different contexts. Then the marketing, education, instructions, etc. become context specific.  We use regional sales managers and distributors that can develop locally based marketing and behavior change strategies. I am also constantly working with partners to develop and adapt training and education materials.  However, our products still span multiple countries and continents.

Well, we have a national scaling programme now in place in Guinea with chlorination flask. It started as a really small project 4 years ago via a social entreprise and is now reaching a national scale with the full commitment of the Guinean government. There are still lots of struggles, but having the governement really behind and proud of a national production has been helping a lot.

Another area we find that is increasingly important in-country for increasing the role of business in BoP WASH is building their capacity to shift from pure engineering to full-fledged design in their R&D departments/functions. Typically, SMEs and lead firms in the countries where we work are used to weak intellectual property rights and thus acquire new products in their portfolios through copying.

The problem with this is approach: no understanding of the BoP end user/consumer/customer, whatever you want to call them. As a result, both the NGO and the company find themselves surprised when the technology or service developed doesn't organically diffuse and low adoption rates result.

Better, we find, is to use an approach like HCD that is battle-tested and the secret behind the success of the largest and most successful firms worldwide to focus on what every management school has been saying for decades: customer-oriented products and business models get better results, everytime. For iDE, we have mainstreamed that thinking into all our work in WASH, use the approach to build that thinking in our private sector partners, and we think it's paying off with solutions that are more desirable for BoP consumers, and demonstrate profitability and scalability to our business partners both big and small. 

Here more details of this social entreprise for your reference:

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