Jeff Chapin first learned of Cambodia's sanitation problem when the head of the not-for-profit International Development Enterprises, Cambodia, emailed Ideo seeking help. Chapin was told that villagers would simply squat in rice fields to defecate, a practice that often led to infestations of flies, diarrheal illness, and contaminated food. Modesty discouraged women from using the fields during the day, yet venturing out at night brought the risk of sexual assault.
The solution: a low-cost sanitation system that villagers could build themselves from locally available parts. It consists of a pan, a bucket of water with a ladle, and pipes to connect a hut to a latrine buried in the ground. The latrine itself has three receptacles made of rings of concrete bound by the ash of rice husks — material that's readily at hand and much cheaper than cement. Once a receptacle is full, it can be capped, and after two years, the sediment can be used as compost.
One latrine costs about $25, and since 2008, 2,500 villagers have installed them. "I wouldn't consider [using] the latrines a luxurious experience," says Chapin, who took a sabbatical from Ideo to work on the project, "but relative to going in the field, it's a lot better."
The IDEA jurors loved the clear thinking behind every aspect of the design. Chapin and his team "understood how to bring the idea to the community, how the product would be made, and how it would be sustained," says jury head John Barratt. "It's an integration of strategy, service design, and product design." Indeed, a winning one.
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.