Online forum discusses Gates Foundation sanitation grants

Milestone reached – 50 grants showcased on online discussion forum as part of sanitation project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation | Source: SEI News, July 5, 2013 |

Photo: Lab reactor for biogas production using low cost nanoparticles (Universitat Aut​ònoma de Barcelona).

Photo: Lab reactor for biogas production using low cost nanoparticles (Universitat Aut​ònoma de Barcelona).

Sanitation experts and enthusiasts around the world from the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance with the assistance of a team from Stockholm Environment Institute are openly discussing the outcomes and progress of the Gates Foundation’s sanitation science and technology grants. After 6 months of the project just over half of the 83 sanitation research grants made by the Foundation have been introduced and discussed on the SuSanA Discussion Forum. The Forum, hosted by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), has seen an increase in activity since the grant holders were invited to contribute information and participate in discussions organised into 5 thematic topics:

  • Resource recovery from excreta or faecal sludge
  • Processing technologies for excreta or faecal sludge
  • User interface
  • Faecal sludge transport
  • Enabling environment and others

The project team of community moderators has until April 2014 to engage with the grantees to introduce and discuss their research results with the wider sanitation community. So far 50 grantees and their colleagues have presented their projects and results on the SuSanA discussion forum and engaged in discussions with the community.

Observations after the first six months of activity

After six months of working with the 83 grantee organisations the following observations have been noted by the community moderators:

  • The grants are full of creative and innovative solutions in order to attempt to meet the criteria of toilets with no water and sewer pipe connection, no power grid connection and a combined capital and operational cost of 5 cents per user per day (criteria stipulated for the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge grants).  
  • Many of the grants have shown promise and have already been provided funding for a second phase while others have not been as successful. A number of publications in peer-reviewed journals have resulted from the research efforts, and some patents are now under development. Also, the research has translated into a number of PhD and MSc theses on these sanitation-related topics.
  • Critical questions as well as encouraging comments from other grantees and SuSanA members have helped the grantees to rethink their approaches to and get new ideas for improvements.
  • Learning from both the successes and failures in research and development is extremely important. Nevertheless, talking about failures is still difficult and almost a taboo, even on this discussion forum, for obvious reasons (such as fear of not getting future grants).
  • Some grantees are not yet ready to engage in this sharing process on the discussion forum, because it is still too early into their research, there are patent considerations, they have a preference for peer-reviewed journal publications or simply because they are not used to of sharing in this more informal way.

Read more about the project here.

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