Toilet revolootion: Harnessing business to respond to demand for attractive and affordable sanitation in rural Cambodia

Toilet revolootion: Harnessing business to respond to demand for attractive and affordable sanitation in rural Cambodia

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Our team works to stimulate the local private sector in Cambodia so that it can respond to the sanitation needs of Base of the Pyramid (BOP) consumers and so that Cambodia can reduce its donor dependency. We also work to encourage demand among low-income populations for sanitation products and services that improve public health and hygiene.

The team wants to change the world so that BOP consumers can sustainably access improved sanitation facilities in line with their desire for dignity, safety, status, and well-being for their families. We want to change the norms of behavior in rural SE Asia so that open defection is no longer acceptable and so that women don’t have to feel shame when they can’t use a toilet. And ultimately we want to eliminate child death due to diarrheal disease.

About Project

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Based on in-depth market research, our project developed as a strategy to engage and enable local government and the private sector to effectively partner in a ‘Hands-Off’ model for sanitation marketing. ‘Hands-Off’ refers to the behind-the-scenes role played by WaterSHED-Cambodia, as opposed to the more conventional ‘hands-on’ type intervention in which an NGO might take the lead but compromise sustainability. This is one of the key innovations in our initiative. Working with existing actors, we designed targeted interventions to improve demand, supply and the enabling environment for local sanitation markets. We strive to minimize external intervention and to reduce the barriers to market entry so as to increase the likelihood that demand creation and growth of supply will continue after the project interventions cease. Commission-based sales agents hired by local suppliers promote low-cost latrines to households both independently and at village sanitation promotion events sponsored by village leaders. Purchased latrines are manufactured, delivered to homes, and installed by local producers at a negotiated price. Financing (consumer and working capital) is offered to buyers and sellers. Government officials at multiple levels play a strong enabling role, including the joint development and dissemination of a social marketing campaign that emphasizes emotional appeal rather than knowledge and awareness to encourage latrine adoption.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our ‘Hands-Off’ Sanitation Marketing program focuses on engaging consumers, private business and entrepreneurs, and local governmental authorities to remove the barriers that prevent access to improved toilet products and services. We also strive to encourage the motivations and factors that lead consumers to express their demand for improved products and services. The main activities endeavour to: 1. Improve the supply of safe, sustainable, and affordable sanitation products and services available through local market channels (addressing the cost, distance, trust, delivery, ease of installation, etc.) 2. Increase consumer demand by identifying motivators to prioritize household use of sanitation products and services (safety, convenience, privacy, pride, health) 3. Improve the enabling environment for toilet production and sales as well as for consistent and proper use; and in so doing promote government responsibility, accountability, and satisfaction in increased sanitation coverage and the concomitant contribution to improved health outcomes.
About You
About You
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About Your Organization
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Organization Address

#13-B St. 500

Organization Country

, PP

Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.

In rural Cambodia, water and sanitation coverage is very low. Approximately 6.5 million people – nearly half of the population – do not have access to potable water. Groundwater sources are known to contain high levels of arsenic and magnesium, and surface water sources tend to be of very poor quality.

Lack of sanitation infrastructure, coupled with poor sanitation practices, contributes to the contamination of drinking water sources and act as a major source of disease transmission. Only 23% of rural Cambodians have access to improved sanitation. The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) found that poor sanitation in Cambodia was responsible for roughly 9.4 million cases of diarrheal disease in 2005 and that economic losses of USD$450 million, or 7.2 percent of GDP.

To date, efforts to improve the water, sanitation and hygiene conditions have had limited success. NGO water, sanitation, and hygiene (WSH) projects have tended to provide subsidized hardware, such as free latrines and community water systems. This approach has often resulted in a lack of maintenance and eventual failure of the hardware provided, preference to wait for subsidized products, and elite capture of benefits. The ‘Hands-Off" approach avoids these pitfalls by empowering the consumer rather than treating him/her as a beneficiary.

Early assessments reveal that demand for WSH products exists but is constrained by preferences for expensive, high-end designs, and by the limited capacity of local supply chains to provide attractive, affordable options. To this end, WaterSHED seeks to strengthen local supply chains and to use proven, market-based principles to promote a range of attractive low-cost WSH technologies for consumers to choose based on their income level and need.

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Mr. AUN Hengly is the Executive Director of WaterSHED-Cambodia and the driving force behind WaterSHED’s ‘Hands-Off’ sanitation marketing project. He grew up in Cambodia in the immediate post-Khmer Rouge era in which education, security, health, and other services were very low. However, from a young entrepreneurial start, Hengly realized that many Cambodians like him could achieve significant results in line with the development of their country based on their resourcefulness, tenacity, and dedication to the continual improvement of their well-being.

Hengly brings to the project a strong emphasis on creating a viable business environment for WSH products and services. Hengly believes that consumers at all levels make investment decisions according to their circumstances and that improving access to sanitation relies on understanding the existing barriers and the motivators for prioritizing household purchases.

Hengly has over 5 years of experience in the Water and Sanitation sector in Cambodia. Graduating in Computer Science Engineering in 2006, Hengly found an opportunity leading an innovative local organization working on rainwater harvesting. Hengly soon realized that his strengths lay in entrepreneurial development. He embarked on an MBA program and through this has been able to bring his business acumen to what has been up until now an aid-based sector.

Hengly has been featured in a documentary to be released later this year focusing on young entrepreneurs in Cambodia. He has also been interviewed on Cambodia Television Network and Radio Free Asia.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

WaterSHED has developed a highly successful sanitation-marketing program, known for its ‘hands-off’ approach to catalyzing market-based distribution and consumer adoption of latrines. In conjunction with implementing partner Lien Aid, the program applies social and commercial marketing techniques to scale up the supply and demand for improved sanitation facilities. Specifically, the program has worked with local suppliers to design and sell latrines for as little as USD 35, and has engaged local government to organize village level sales events where sales agents commissioned by suppliers market products to local households (WaterSHED 2011).

Pioneered in Cambodia, the “hands-off” approach recognizes that with creative social marketing, targeted support to local enterprises and the brokering of effective public-private partnerships, sanitation markets can grow without ongoing external intervention.

Over the 9 months from Dec 2010 to Aug 2011 and selected districts within 3 provinces in rural Cambodia, over 15,000 latrines were purchased which is equivalent to more than 70,000 people accessing and using an improved latrine.

• 77% of rural Cambodians are without access to improved sanitation
• 130 local sanitation enterprises trained and supported
• 400 sales agents doing village-level promotions
• 22 districts touched by social marketing messages and commercial sales events
• Over 15,000 toilets sold by project-supported enterprises – more than 70,000 people now defecating with dignity
• USD 35 average household investment in a new low-cost ‘core latrine’ model
• 1:1 ‘Knock on impact’ ratio: For every 1 toilet sold by a project supported enterprise, another toilet is installed

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Expand to 10 additional districts in at least 2 new provinces; complete testing and rollout specialized savings and loan products at the village level.

Task 1

Recruit and “kick-start” enterprises in new areas, support the recruitment of enterprise commissioned sales agents, and conduct government buy-in meetings in 10 new districts.

Task 2

Hire and train provincial-level project staff in new provinces; support the training of enterprise’s new sales agents.

Task 3

Establish and report monthly to a microfinance advisory committee.

Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Over 125,000 new people have been motivated to purchase, install, and use their own latrine, thereby contributing to forever-changed defecation norms in Cambodia.

Task 1

Recruit and “kick-start” 250 local enterprises to actively sell the low-cost latrine; support the hiring and training of nearly 1,000 new commission-based sales agents.

Task 2

Undertake consumer surveys to better understand consumer preferences, barriers, and motivators to further improve consumer uptake; implement findings from microfinance evaluation and study.

Task 3

Hire and manage a core WaterSHED team of 9 staff, plus mentor and develop roughly 41 young interns as market facilitators.

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Having already delivered proof of concept for the role of the local private sector in delivering aspirational, low-cost sanitation products and services, the project will:

1) scale up geographic areas of implementation and expand the customer base by three fold (from 21 to 57 districts);

2) strengthen the sanitation value chain by working with input suppliers to reduce bottlenecks

3) test microfinance products and services to enable consumers to create saving plans, receive credit from microfinance institutions, or trade credit;

4) analyze other factors influencing sanitation adoption such as how communities reach open defecation free (ODF) status, synergies with Community-Led Total Sanitation programs, and alternative mechanisms for reaching the poorest.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

1) Human resource capacity in Cambodia is weak: typically government and non-governmental organization (NGO) staff lack business acumen and skills. WaterSHED has developed a program that seeks to build skills locally (i.e. from rural communities) by recruiting young Cambodians who have an aptitude for business. Through this project they hone their skills in sales, marketing and business management. Over 20 interns have been through the program to date of which several have already gone on to set up their own business or secure sales position with the private sector. In the next 12 months, a further 41 (approx.) will be recruited.
2) Supply chain bottlenecks can hinder roll out: Delivering product on time to the consumer is a key to enterprise credibility. If input components are delayed to the manufacturer, sales orders may be forfeited and consumers may spend their savings on something else. This project will work more closely with input suppliers to assist them in recognizing critical business relationships with retailers and in developing creative solutions to avoid disruptions.
3) Government intervention: Cambodia is facing election in July 2012 which will restrict ability to conduct community meetings. WaterSHED will work with government to minimize the impact on the private sector to enable them to continue sales meetings and door to door sales at village level throughout this period.

Tell us about your partnerships

WaterSHED-Asia is a regional alliance of public-private partners led by the University of North Carolina. In Cambodia, WaterSHED has had significant partnerships with the World Toilet Organization and Lien Aid in the early development and implementation of this program and remains in active partnership with Lien Aid to scale up the program and undertake ongoing testing and refining of new ideas.

In addition, WaterSHED has collaborated with the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme, International Development Enterprises - Cambodia, Development Alternatives Inc., and SNV. Outputs from collaborative efforts have included the low-cost latrine core with its innovative chamber box, as well as the ley inputs into the development of the “Hands-Free” concept where the private sector is empowered to take the lead.

WaterSHED has joined DIAGEO’s exciting new CSR program “Champions for Change” which will provide technical expertise as well as financial support to the roll-out of sanitation marketing and associated product marketing.

Government is a key player in the development of the strategic approach to ensuring progress in sanitation coverage. WaterSHED works with the government at all levels, but instead of providing financial incentives to encourage government participation, WaterSHED recognizes officials for demonstrated leadership. Credit is given to government partners for the increases in sanitation coverage.

Explain your selections

Foundations: WaterSHED’s partner, Lien Aid is supported by the Singapore based Lien Foundation

Business: WaterSHED has joined the DIAGEO Champions for Change program which not only contributes financially to the program but enables expertise in business management, sales and marketing to be shared to develop a nascent sanitation marketing environment

National government: This project contributes the Royal Government of Cambodia’s national strategy to reach 50% sanitation coverage by 2015 and 100 coverage by 2025. The government enables the testing of new approaches and the roll out of proven methodologies.

Regional Government: The regional or district government play a critical role to enable rollout to take place.

Customers: Customers are central in contribution. Consumers fund the total purchase of the latrine product, motivated by personal drivers to own and use affordable aspirational latrines. The project is closing in on a 1:2 leverage where for every $1 contributed by the donor $2 is contributed by the consumer.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Undertake further analysis of factors which will assist in understanding alternative mechanisms to support sustainability and enable greater penetration into the market to drive sanitation coverage up to meet MDG targets (50% coverage by 2015), these include: understanding more about consumer adoption practices; developing synergies with participatory open defecation free approaches such as Community-Led Total Sanitation; increasing access to savings and finance options for businesses and consumers, researching business opportunities for associated services such as pit waste emptying which may include te development of saleable by-products; development of latrines options for difficult areas such as flood areas and testing of subsidy mechanisms to reach the poorest of the poor that do not distort the market.

Which barriers to health and well-being does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Other (Specify Below)


Health behavior change


Restrictive cultural norms

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

1) Access to affordable sanitation options: without it, changing to fixed place defecation is impossible. With this project, the private sector is enabled to provide attractive, affordable products. This barrier includes price, distance to suppliers, complexity of purchase and construction, lack of trust, and difficulty transporting products.

2) Commission-based sales agents motivate consumers to invest in latrines. Commercial grade, innovative social marketing tools are used to tap emotional motivators, rather than just to increase knowledge and awareness.

3) Currently it is culturally acceptable in rural Cambodia to defecate in the open. This project increases sanitation coverage to a point where the norm is transformed, which has already happened in several villages.

How are you growing the impact of your organization or initiative?
Please select up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices


Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

1) Scale up is currently underway from pilot stage of 3 districts in 2010 to 21 districts in 2011 and 36 additional districts to come online in 2012.

2) WaterSHED frequently presents at sector conferences, shares best practices on our program website, and hosts visitors interested in learning about the ‘Hands-Off’ model on a regular basis.

3) Collaborative research with the UNC and The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is currently developing business models for complementary services such as pit emptying and waste reuse.

4) Repurpose the model: a pilot program is already initiated to adapt this approach for household drinking water filters that are produced locally.

Near future:
5) Multi country: Preparations are underway to introduce this approach in Lao PDR.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

The program has fostered effective public-private partnerships between enterprises and local government – the latter acting as an honest broker between enterprises and consumers – and has found incentives for business and government to work together.

Local government plays a major role in generating latrine demand and actively engaging communities to stop open defecation and instead build or buy new low cost latrines.

Our collaboration with academia enables the project to tap into renowned expertise to hone the approach, share experiences as well as providing a platform for wider dissemination.