We focus our grantmaking in five complementary areas: transformative technologies, urban sanitation markets, building demand for sanitation, policy and advocacy, and monitoring and evaluation.
We are working to help develop and deploy innovative and affordable technologies that can radically improve sanitation in the developing world, particularly in densely populated urban areas. A key part of this effort is our Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, which is funding research to develop waterless, hygienic toilets that do not require a sewer connection or electricity and cost less than five cents per user per day. Most of these projects use chemical engineering processes for energy and resource recovery from human waste.
A prototype toilet designed by Loughborough University researchers that extracts biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water from human waste.
In August 2012, three prototypes from the first round of grants were selected as winners of the challenge. California Institute of Technology in the United States received first place for a solar-powered toilet that generates electricity. Loughborough University in the United Kingdom won second place for a toilet that extracts biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water from human waste. University of Toronto in Canada won third place for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. We are continuing to fund additional grants through the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.
At the same time, we are developing market-driven ways to stop the dumping of fecal sludge into the environment. The Omni-Ingestor program is developing technologies to make servicing and maintenance of existing sanitation infrastructure—including latrine pits, cesspools, and septic tanks—easier and more affordable for private companies, public utilities, and municipalities. The Omni-Processor program is developing cost-effective approaches for processing fecal sludge and the combined processing of fecal sludge and urban organic waste. The goal is to develop a processor that supports 1,000 to 5,000 urban residents. Ideally, processed waste will be converted into products that can generate revenue and thereby offset waste collection costs, encourage technology acceptance and use, and increase urban standards of living.
Urban Sanitation Markets
New sanitation technologies require new market structures and service models. In key urban markets, we are testing innovations for their appeal to people in real-world settings.
These toilets in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, are distributed through local entrepreneurs, who collect the waste for use in generating electricity and producing fertilizer.
We are also working with local governments, service providers, and community-based organizations to foster a policy and regulatory environment that supports the use of new sanitation products and delivery methods.
We see particular promise in innovations that generate revenue for private-sector providers who can profit from byproducts that have market value, such as energy and fertilizer generated from fecal sludge. We also recognize that in the near term, such revenues will not fully cover treatment costs or generate traditional rates of return, and that the public sector will always have a role to play—not only to provide regulation and oversight but also to supply some of the services.
Building Demand for Sanitation
A household toilet built as part of a community sanitation project in Badsu village in Himachal Pradesh, northern India.
In addition to investing in improved technologies and urban market conditions, we support initiatives that help stimulate demand for improved sanitation, with a focus on the rural poor. Part of this effort involves working with sanitation providers and partners to help them adopt more evidence-based practices so they can deliver sanitation services that meet people’s needs. It also includes promoting incremental shifts in social norms around toilet use that will lead to higher demand for better sanitation products and services as they become available.
Policy and Advocacy
Our policy and advocacy work is designed to encourage and support sanitation policies that work for poor people. Part of our strategy involves efforts to improve the policy and regulatory environment for sanitation through partnerships with governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs, and other advocates.
Monitoring and Evaluation
We invest in monitoring and evaluation to understand the effectiveness of various sanitation approaches. We use this information to report on our progress, assess the impact of our grantmaking, and share lessons that we learn with our partners.