Leveraging mobile networks for more toilets and higher incomes for Cambodians

Clean Water and Sanitation

This is a guest blog by Gordon Lau, the Information Systems Architect for iDE. He is responsible for the build and implementation of business and monitoring systems for its international development programmes, specialising in mobile, to link together clients in remote communities with field staff and the rest of the world.

This is a story about how the zeros and ones sent from smartphones play a big part in reducing the number of people who take care of their ‘number two’ out in the open.

One out of three people on the planet lacks access to proper sanitation, causing widespread diarrheal diseases that increase childhood mortality and stunting from chronic malnutrition, sap adult productivity and pose grave financial stress on families due to medical costs.

It is International Development Enterprises’ (iDE’s) mission to create income and livelihood opportunities for poor rural households. Experience has shown us that profit is the most effective force to solve poverty, which is why our approach to development is to give people a chance to earn an income and buy aspirational products designed specifically to meet their needs.


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Source: iDE


iDE Cambodia Sanitation Marketing Scale Up Project

Cambodia has gone a fair way in recovering from the Khmer Rouge regime and decades of civil conflict. Its gross national income per capita is $1020 per person per year, SIM penetration is 165 per cent and over 90 per cent of the landmass is covered by 2.5G networks or better. Yet by 2012, only 29 per cent of the rural population had access to sanitation. At iDE, we set out to determine how we could leverage market forces to solve this problem.

We started by taking the time to listen to those people, treating them as customers and learning about their ideal toilet: clean, comfortable, and dignified to use. Our human-centered design group developed a concrete ring pit latrine that met 80 per cent of the ideal design at 20 per cent of the cost. We tailored the construction process so that local masons could easily be trained to produce the parts at a profit and recruited commissioned sales agents called Sanitation Teachers, who educate villagers on how an investment in a latrine yields health dividends and financial savings.

In the first three years of our project, Sanitation Teachers and masons sold and delivered 140,000 toilets—in the provinces where we work, this means that 40 per cent of the population now has access to proper sanitation. This is an unprecedented success in the sector and one that we are keen to scale up in the next three years, where we aim to reach 233,000 more households.

To hit this ambitious target we need to overcome intertwined obstacles in the supply chain. Sanitation Teacher turnover can be high if they fail to make sufficient sales – reducing orders sent to the masons. On the production side, masons build other concrete products and often have their own fields to plant and harvest, reducing their ability to supply latrine parts on demand. And when customers experience a long delay, they are more likely to be dissatisfied and cancel their order. Our solution was to digitise the process with a Salesforce custom app that tracks every sale from the day it is ordered by the customer, to the day it is assigned to an available mason, to the day it is delivered.

How mobile helps improve latrine supply chain management

Using TaroWorks, an app designed specifically for social enterprises and non-profits, our 250+ sales agents log orders with key information, including GPS coordinates and customer photos, using Android devices—even when disconnected from the internet—and sync orders to our Salesforce database once they are in network range. Supply chain coordinators check for available masons and distribute orders via office computer and confirm delivery of individual orders using Android phones.

Throughout the process, dashboards and reports allow project leaders in Phnom Penh to monitor everything in near real-time. Thanks to the customisable nature of Salesforce and TaroWorks, it took only two months for the first pilot, and now over 6000 orders flow through the system each month. Training and communication is the key in getting staff with different roles to coordinate advanced workflows remotely without having to meet in person frequently.

Our Cambodia Sanitation Marketing program shows how this capability can transform the way we work. Project teams create ad-hoc reports to drill down on a problem and have hard conversations around data. Our monitoring and evaluation and marketing teams in Denver no longer need to chase field staff for the latest impact figures. Donors are more confident, knowing that we have a high degree of transparency and accountability not common in our sector.

Some lessons learned thus far

  • Executive leadership is crucial – our approach represented a very different way of working together, so it was important for someone to keep an eye on the overall vision and ensure energy is focused and roadblocks are removed.
  • Choose the right tool – for iDE, TaroWorks is compatible in many languages, offlline capable and friendly to use, even for those who have never seen a smartphone before. The ease with which it can be modified reduces frustration and bad data in the field.
  • Test, learn, train, iterate – tools are only one part of the equation. It is important to see how people use them in real life and to use the learning to refine operation models, procedures and training. It is easy to be complacent when you see data coming in everyday, but it is crucial to check if staffs share the same understanding as you.
  • Decentralise to scale – with operations across the country heavily dependent upon the system, tasks of issuing devices, setting up users and recharging data plans were devolved from headquarters to provincial offices to avoid bottleneck.


Leveraging the existing architecture, we are now managing a controlled trial in Salesforce to investigate the effect of financing to boost uptake of latrines by the poorest households. Across iDE, we seek to roll out similar management information systems for Sanitation Marketing programs in Ghana and Ethiopia and to apply the lessons learnt in our agricultural and clean water programs around the world.

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