Philanthropy Advisory Fellowship: Water, Sanitation, and Handwashing

by egastfriend21st Jul 20163 comments


Global health and development

By Jeff Glenn, Monica Kwok, and Zhihan Ma.

This is the Executive Summary of the final report from a Philanthropy Advisory Fellowship project on identifying innovative organizations in the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) space. The full report (redacted for client confidentiality) is available here. This research was conducted on behalf of PAF client Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation.

WaSH Market Analysis

Summary of Recommendations

  • Water
    • One example of a good Solar water disinfection (SODIS) organization is PotaVida, which has a two-fold mission to provide SODIS technology and to track its effectiveness and usage  through cloud data.
    • We want to avoid water conservation interventions such as eco-friendly shower technology and leak monitors, because for-profit organizations are already in this space and it is more of a priority to provide safe drinking water to those who lack proper sources
    • Although there are many intervention types when it comes to disinfecting drinking water, not all of them are suitable for low-income, rural, or nomadic populations. One intervention that translates well to these populations is SODIS. 
  • Sanitation
    • Among the many approaches through which non-profit organizations can improve sanitation outcomes, building low-cost sanitation facilities attracts the most amount of innovation and is sometimes under-funded. In addition, there is scientific research comparing the cost-effectiveness of different sanitation facilities, making evidence-based funding possible.
    • One example is Toilets for People (TFP), an early stage organization aiming to build low-cost, composting toilets in developing countries. TFP’s business model is scalable and the organization is currently under-funded, preventing it from reaching its full potential.
    • This research also identifies other promising organizations which focus on education, financing, and waste management, although many of which are well-established and have received significant funding.
  • Hygiene
    • The handwashing space is highly saturated by large aid organizations and private sector partners. Sustainable and scalable integrated behavioral change interventions initiated by entrepreneurs are rare.
    • There are dozens of innovative menstrual hygiene management (MHM) organizations but there is a gap in organizations that have taken their interventions to scale. 
    • There is an opportunity to have an impact by identifying early stage MHM organizations that have the potential for scale.

The full report is available here.

3 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 7:59 PM
New Comment

You should probably explain what SODIS is.

This is really cool work you're doing! How much money has been donated more effectively as a result? I bet GiveWell and Open Phil would be interested in seeing the evidence generated as a result of your recommendation.

Unrelated and less interesting, I remember hearing a few years ago that the lack of benefits from providing safe drinking water (reduction in illness from water-born bacteria) was not due to a lack of technological solutions. In fact, the technology exists and is inexpensive to supply. However, there are societal and cultural difficulties in convincing people that there is any benefit to using the technology. After all, for generations they have viewed diarrhea as a part of life instead of as a symptom of unclean drinking water. I wonder what you've found related to changing social and cultural attitudes in lake or river communities.

Thanks! We only presented this report to Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation about a month ago, but we do plan to do a long-term follow-up to see if/how they act on our recommendations. The foundation has substantial (>$100M) resources at its disposal.

As for the behavior change aspect, that's definitely a problem. I recommend GiveWell's report on Development Media International, which is one of the leading organizations working on the behavior-change aspect of this problem: So far, the evidence is mixed on DMI, but we chose to recommend them to another PAF client:

Part of our recommendations in this WaSH report are based on whether we think these new technologies will be able to achieve widespread adoption, based on the underlying technology, marketing strategy, business model, and team. One example of a social enterprise that has done this successfully is Sanergy: