Systems Thinking Builds Markets

200,000 latrines sold by microentrepreneurs in just 18 months

We are celebrating a major milestone: 200,000 latrines sold by microentrepreneurs in Bangladesh in just 18 months. This achievement comes after three years of laying the foundation: research, product design and development, and putting business-thinking to work. The iDE Bangladesh team stuck by the principles of systems change but tailored the process using adaptive management.

A systems approach to sanitation drives scale, sustainability, and social welfare.

When market actors are connected and incentives aligned, the whole system benefits—improving health and social outcomes for consumers while increasing the market’s economic sustainability. The Bangladesh program encourages private sector service providers to produce high-quality products that respond to the sanitation needs and demands of rural Bangladeshis. Working with market actors across public, private, and civil sectors to engage the whole system drives improved sanitation.

A systems approach: Bringing the public, private, and development sectors together to address sanitation.

Building a business case for improved latrines.

How do all the different approaches used to tackle sanitation challenges fit together to drive progress?

When contracts are not enough: adaptive management and private sector engagement.

Rethinking sanitation in Bangladesh started with redesigning the toilet.

The SaTo pan, prototyped by American Standard in the U.S. and then tested by iDE in Bangladesh, sparked a new evolution in affordable, hygienic latrines—the ingenious trapdoor design requires less water than a traditional P-trap. This innovation was conceived by engaging with end-users—understanding why they did (or did not) use sanitation products and what they prefer. This upfront investment in research and design strengthened the viability of the final product in the marketplace.

Adaptive techniques for marketing at the last mile.

Markets are dynamic—the Bangladesh program employed an adaptive management approach to address shifting perceptions, unforeseen challenges, and new opportunities. By identifying unknowns upfront, running mini-pilots to keep experimentation flowing, taking time to find and fix leaks in the supply chain, and documenting each stage of the process, the team built a robust process of questioning, learning, and exploring that keeps them nimble throughout the project. Improving sanitation at the last mile takes a willingness to learn, a flexible mindset, and the courage to shift course when necessary.

Four ways to increase experimentation in your theory of change.

How can small businesses leverage their collective skills and buying power?

Adapting marketing approaches to today’s evolving consumers.

How market segmentation can increase latrine uptake among hard-to-reach consumer segments.

Journey to cost-effectiveness.

After three years of investment and innovation, it costs iDE and our donors $11 to empower a family to buy a latrine. With a solid systems foundation in place, we are experiencing rapid sales growth, driving down per-unit latrine cost to even lower levels than in the pilot. Families who purchase a latrine are seeing $205 in health and work-related savings per year. At this rate, we will reach 200,000 more households by 2019, outpacing our original target by more than 100,000 toilets.


For more information on iDE’s sanitation programs, please visit

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