IDEO.org + Unilever and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP)
Unilever and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP)
Product and service rolled in: retrofitted, low cost, scaleable. Gives dignity to people. Public toilets to private toilets at price points that the villagers can afford.
No mention made of processing of waste–an opportunity for the future.
Clean Team is an affordable in-home sanitation system in Ghana that offers residents an alternative to unsanitary public latrines. Essentially, a portable toilet is delivered to customer homes and serviced three times a week. Families pay on an incremental basis.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Some 1 billion city dwellers worldwide lack adequate sanitation facilities in their homes. In Kumasi, Ghana, a city of 2.5 million people, less than 20 percent of the population has an indoor toilet. Many people walk long distances to use public latrines; others resort to “flying toilets” (plastic bags that they simply toss outside after use). Unilever, a multinational maker of consumer products, and WSUP, a nonprofit working to improve access to safe, affordable water and sanitation, hired our design firm to help develop a sanitary toilet and collection service that’s suitable for an impoverished urban environment.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Unilever and WSUP challenged us to find the best human-centered approach to developing new products and services for the urban poor. Our mantra: Every family deserves a toilet. People of all ages, regardless of their economic circumstances, deserve the right to perform their necessary bodily functions in safety, without the risk of spreading or contracting disease. The challenge was to ensure that as many people as possible could exercise that right by developing a complete in-home solution. We started in Kumasi, Ghana, with the potential to extend to other, very low-income communities. We worked with the local community and tailored our solution to its needs, providing employment and a sustainable business model along with a unique in-home sanitation system.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Conventional sanitation—a flush toilet connected to a centralized sewer system—relies on a sewage infrastructure that is expensive to build, and not necessarily practical for the developing world. For the 2 million people who live in Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city and the project’s initial focus, access to acceptable sanitation facilities is extremely low. The worst affected are those on low incomes living in densely populated, unplanned settlements. An estimated 60% of the population makes at least daily use of public toilet blocks, the unhygienic conditions of which give rise to the local joke that “the smell is so bad you can hear it.” The over-riding reason for this crisis is a lack of profitable, or practicable, sanitation business models. In addition, the belief that everybody should have access and be able to use a toilet with dignity is not universal. Many people assume that there is no practical alternative to the status quo of the urban poor when it comes to sanitation, particularly in-home sanitation. Walking significant distances, waiting in lines daily, and unclean facilities had all become acceptable or expected norms around sanitation and the urban poor. Many people also think that portable toilets are unclean and a hassle. No one would want to work with them or want them in their home. Through in-depth analysis of the needs and aspirations of Kumasi, Ghana’s urban poor, and the markets in which they exist, we created a model for a profitable social business that seeks to scale through the modest investment of return-seeking capital. To do this, we relied on a mixed-methods approach, in which we interviewed a range of individuals, from locals in need of sanitary toilets to entrepreneurs and NGOs. Some of the design team's specific research methods included: • Enacting micro-pilots that replicated how the service would actually work by putting toilets in people’s home, having them serviced, and interviewing family members about the value of the experience. • Staging a pre-tender meeting before piloting the social enterprise portion of the business, where we met stakeholders and entrepreneurs potentially interested in franchising the business before it existed. By prototyping the business to feel as real as possible, the design team was able to elicit people’s concerns and financial interest at an early stage in the design process. • Met and worked with “power players” across Kumasi, from Ashanti chiefs to Kumasi Municipal Authority officials. • Led discussions during interviews on brand and brand perceptions that completely reversed our intuition on what the brand should be in Ghana. Extensive background research on various sanitation businesses with for-profit and nonprofit business structures as a benchmark. We also considered publically available quantitative data that helped us learn more about the local population, the problem, and the potential market. Based on our findings, we came up with the concept for a service toilet. We prototyped various working toilets in Kumasi households, revealing people’s true in-home sanitation needs. With user feedback, we iterated our designs and arrived at a practical, functional commode.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The Clean Team portable toilet addresses a basic human need and contributes to healthier, happier community. Through in-depth analysis of the needs and aspirations of Kumasi, Ghana’s urban poor, and the markets in which they exist, we created a model for a profitable social business that seeks to scale through the modest investment of return-seeking capital. Final deliverables were a research report, a structure for how the service would work, branding details (logo, uniforms), and a 3-D prototype of the toilet and waste tank. How its designed to work: A service rents portable toilets to families and charges a weekly or monthly fee to collect the waste. Unilever trains and distributes franchise opportunities to local operators to run the service and eventually manufacture and supply the toilets. Operators can lease-to-own the toilets, growing own business over time. The brand strategy of the Clean Team toilet service is to position it not just as a sanitation business, but also as a social business and sanitation solution set on redefining the status quo. It aims to educate people through radio spots, posters, business cards, toilet stickers, and more.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
See #4. In addition, Unilever conducted a 6-month pilot test of Clean Team in 100 Kumasi homes. By the end of 2012, Clean Team counted 106 households—each occupied by 15 to 30 people—as customers and had produced 1,000 new toilets. The first shipment of 384 toilets arrived in Kumasi in January 2013. Clean Team aims to serve 1,000 households this year and 10,000 households in 2014.7. How will your project remain economically and operationally sustainable in the long term?
Clean Team plans to prepare a full business plan by 2014 to attract additional investment and expand the service to other cities in Ghana and beyond. Parts, such as the blow-molded container inside the toilet, are produced locally whenever possible. The shell is injection-molded overseas to save cost.