We focus our grantmaking in four complementary areas: developing and commercializing transformative sanitation technologies; transforming how cities can provide sanitation as a reliable, inclusive service; policy and advocacy; and measurement, evidence, and dissemination, for scale.
Transformative Technologies & Commercialization
The flush toilet and central sewer systems are considered by many consumers and governments around the world to be the gold standard for safe sanitation. However, decentralized sanitation systems incorporating technologies like the reinvented toilet present alternatives that can be safer, more resilient, more cost-effective, and environmentally-friendly.
A prototype toilet designed by Loughborough University researchers that extracts biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water from human waste.
Since 2011, the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge has worked with leading engineers and scientists to design low-cost toilets that do not require connections to the electrical grid, water supply, or sewers. Several designs debuted at the Reinvented Toilet Expo in 2018 and are now commercially available. These toilets work using internal combustion and chemical treatment systems, and they can be set up in areas that are hard to reach with traditional infrastructure. They can deliver the same benefits as toilets connected to sewers, plus wholly new benefits, including the removal of human pathogens and the generation of useable water and electricity. Some reinvented toilet models provide sanitation for single homes, and others are designed for public or shared toilet facilities serving communities. The foundation has also pioneered new fecal sludge treatment technologies and funded new types of pit latrine emptying solutions so that communities can make existing sanitation systems safer for people and more affordable for private companies, public utilities, and municipalities.
Urban Sanitation Markets
Providing city-wide, inclusive sanitation requires new service models and market structures, as well as different approaches and technologies to serve different community needs and settings. We are working with local governments, service providers, and community-based organizations in select cities to foster environments that support the use of community-responsive, non-sewered sanitation products, delivery methods, and business models. We see particular promise in models that rely on public sector agencies to provide regulation and oversight, and that allow private sector providers to deliver sanitation services and profit from byproducts that have market value, including energy and fertilizer. This is a sustainable partnership model that offers natural incentives for innovation and long-term delivery of safe sanitation to communities.
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 also support initiatives that help stimulate market and community demand for improved sanitation in order to accelerate development of productive sanitation market conditions. 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, especially the needs of women and girls. For example, in India, our work includes support for a national campaign to promote 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
We work to improve the policy and regulatory environment for sanitation through partnerships across all levels of governments, multilateral organizations, community-based nongovernmental organizations, service providers, and others. With our network of partners, we advocate for policies and international standards that set guidelines for safe sanitation services at the local and national levels, as well as how to adequately fund these systems to ensure healthy outcomes for people.
As a part of this work, we support initiatives that can help accelerate gender equality for women and girls. We invest in initiatives that can generate gender-disaggregated data to inform the development of programs and products that increase women’s participation in sanitation decision-making, at the household and policy level.
Measurement, Evidence, and Dissemination, for Scale
We invest in research 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. This information is vital for helping national governments meet the Sustainable Development Goals, including goal 6.2, which calls for ending open defecation and providing adequate, equitable, and safely managed sanitation for all people by 2030.