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Winners of 'Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: India' Announced

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and India's Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council have announced the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge: India.

Six organizations were awarded grants totaling $2 million to develop innovative "next-generation toilets" that can deliver safe, affordable, and sustainable sanitation solutions in India. A collaboration between the Gates Foundation, BIRAC, and the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology, the competition is funded by investments of $1 million each from the Gates Foundation and the ministry's Department of Biotechnology.

Announced at the "Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India" in New Delhi, the grant recipients are Eram Scientific Solutions, which, in partnership with the University of South Florida, will field test a solar-powered modular electronic toilet that is integrated with a mixed-waste processing unit; the Amrita School of Biotechnology, which will test the use of viral agents to kill pathogens and odor-producing bacteria in fecal waste; Pradin Technologies, which will test the viability of using ultrasound to reduce water use in toilets; the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, which, in partnership with Fresh Rooms Life Sciences, will develop a single-household container that uses human feces to incubate black soldier fly larvae, which can be processed into marketable products; the Institute of Chemical Technology, which will evaluate the concept of using fine sand-like material and an air blower to create a water-free toilet interface free of odor and flies; and BITS Pilani K.K. Birla Goa Campus, which, in partnership with Ghent University and Sustainable Biosolutions, will design a septic tank that uses electrochemistry to reduce organic pollutants and improve the quality of discharged effluent.

"Effective and comprehensive sanitation seems an impossible dream for India," said BIRAC chair K. Vijay Raghavan. "Yet today we see a congruence of new and applicable science and technology, its affordability, and sustainable implementation. This congruence is a great opportunity, which we cannot afford to let slip. By implementing effective solutions in each kind of social context, big problems can be dealt with in small units and be catalysts for scaling up."

The Gates Foundation also announced a partnership with South Africa's Department of Science and Technology to field test technologies developed as part of the global Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The foundation and DST will invest $1 million and approximately $2.76 million (30 million rand), respectively, in the effort.

"By applying creative thinking and new approaches to sanitation challenges, we can improve people's lives. And we have no doubt that these new partnerships with India and South Africa will help us achieve this," said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Gates Foundation. "We believe that with governmental leadership, new business models, and innovation, we can dramatically increase the progress made in tackling this global sanitation crisis."

"Indian Researchers Selected to Develop Next Generation Toilets." Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Press Release 03/22/2014.

Gates Foundation, Asian Development Bank Fund Three Sanitation Projects

The Sanitation Financing Partnership Trust Fund, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Development Bank, has awarded three grants to help provide safe sanitation facilities in urban and rural communities across Asia.

Created in 2013 with $15 million from the Gates Foundation and administered by ADB, the fund will leverage more than $28 million in financing over the next five years for non-sewered sanitation and septage management projects across Asia. Grants announced by the fund include $2 million for ADB’s Facility for Pilot and Demonstration Activity, which will test and validate pilot approaches to new sanitation management and water services delivery policies, technologies, and business models, with the goal of replicating and scaling successful approaches across the region; and $1.6 million for pilot innovations in septage collection and treatment systems in eight coastal towns in Bangladesh. Part of a planned ADB loan to Bangladesh for infrastructure improvements, the grant also will support efforts to improve septage operation and maintenance, and to promote private-sector participation in septage management.

In addition, the fund awarded a grant to the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub (k-hub), a network of four research and training institutions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka supported by ADB that works to facilitate information and learning exchange among city managers, utility staff, policy makers, academics, and the private sector.

"We will continue to work with the governments in Asia-Pacific region to make countries open defecation-free and complement their efforts by providing options for small-scale sanitation systems in urban and rural communities," said Amy Leung, director of the Urban Development and Water Division in ADB's Southeast Asia Department. "We are proud to support new testing and pilot implementation of innovative solutions to hasten access to safe sanitation for Asia’s urban poor."

"Open defecation and inadequate toilets, sewers, and wastewater treatment systems lead to massive amounts of untreated human waste in the environment, harming the health and well-being of children," said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Gates Foundation. "We are delighted to have new partners like the ADB applying creative thinking to more effectively managing human waste to improve people’s lives."

"Three New Projects Receive Funding Across Asia to Improve Safe Sanitation." Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Press Release 03/11/2014.

"ADB, Gates Foundation Launch Initiatives to Spur Sanitation Innovation." Asian Development Bank Press Release 03/12/2014. 

WaterAid America in New York City has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of advocacy efforts on behalf of millions of people living without toilets or sanitation facilities.

The organization will use the grant to support initiatives to increase access to basic sanitation services led by the governments of Ghana, India, and Senegal. In addition, the funds will be used to help ensure that the United States, the world's largest donor country, supports improved accountability and data collection with respect to WASH efforts in those countries and is focused on solutions that highlight the linkages between sanitation and other health efforts, including improved nutrition and ending preventable child deaths.

"Investing in advocacy around toilets and sanitation is one of the smartest, most effective ways we have to combat extreme poverty," said WaterAid America CEO David Winder. "Health, quality of life, and poverty levels are radically impacted when people, especially women and girls, have access to toilets and hygiene education."

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated $220 billion would be returned to the global economy each year if the world were to achieve universal access to sanitation. Development aid for toilets and sanitation, however, is significantly less relative to other development sectors such as health and education.

"The sanitation crisis cannot be solved by any one organization alone," said Lisa Schechtman, WaterAid America's director of policy and advocacy. "WaterAid firmly believes that governments have a responsibility to their citizens to ensure that toilets and sanitation are available to everyone. We look forward to continuing to advocate for change exactly where it’s needed most."

Source: "WaterAid Steps Up Advocacy on Lack of Toilets." WaterAid Press Release 01/09/2014.

Editor’s Note: This post was authored by Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In the piece, Brian challenges the notion that high-tech solutions for WASH are inherently more impactful than simple innovations and offers  examples of low-cost approaches in sanitation that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports. The post originally appeared on the Foundation’s blog, Impatient Optimists.

A “Fresh Life” toilet built by Sanergy, which has developed a novel business model based on building and servicing public toilets in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

A “Fresh Life” toilet built by Sanergy, which has developed a novel business model based on building and servicing public toilets in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

For many, the name Bill Gates is synonymous with high-tech. They figure if Bill Gates is involved in a project, it must involve complex advanced technology, in which case it’s probably expensive.

But the fact is that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation doesn’t look for the flashiest solutions, it looks for the ones likely to make the biggest impact on the most people possible.

Those of us focused on Water, Sanitation & Hygiene know that we’ve got our work cut out for us. With 2.5 billion people lacking access to adequate toilets and another 2.1 billion of the urban poor using sanitation services in which waste is disposed of poorly and ends up contaminating their communities, the need for solutions is huge.

So when someone says they can build a plastic toilet pan for just $1.50 to keep latrines more hygienic, we listen. And when someone else comes up with a way to charge cell phones with urine, we listen to that too.

American Standard’s SaTo toilet pan is a simple plastic device that fits into latrines. When water is poured in, a trapdoor at the bottom shuts before all the water flows through, sealing the edges. This contraption not only keeps out flying insects that spread diseases like cholera, it also makes the latrine smell better for users. In fact, Popular Science just picked the SaTo as one of the “Best of What’s New” products of 2013.

A very different innovation is being driven by a group of British scientists who've found a way to produce enough electricity to charge a cell phone by using a microbial fuel cell that runs on urine. While this might seem a bit absurd, the reality is that many people in developing countries have limited access to electricity and struggle to charge phones that have become important in their lives. Therefore, a solution that addresses both human waste management and the need for electricity is worth looking at.

When it comes to sanitation solutions, the question shouldn’t be whether to go high-tech or low-tech. The question should be what is going to do the most for people in need.

A few weeks ago, the first winner was announced for the Sarphati Sanitation Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to global sanitation and public health through entrepreneurship. It went to Sanergy, which has developed a novel business model based on building and servicing clean, modular toilets in the slums of Nairobi.

Sanergy franchises its facilities to local entrepreneurs who earn money through fees or membership plans. Every day, Sanergy collects the waste, takes it to a processing plant, and converts it into organic fertilizer and other products. It’s a model that creates much-needed jobs and profits, while also reducing the incidence of deadly diarrhea and disease.

Another finalist for the Sarphati prize was iDE Cambodia, which also works to bring safe latrines to more people. By providing one-stop shopping and simplified construction at a better price, they are offering households in rural Cambodia access to “Easy Latrines,” which provide a healthier environment and a greatly improved quality of life.

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes, particularly in the area of Water, Sanitation & Hygiene. Sometimes it’s about designing new products, other times it’s about creating a new business model. The key to achieving impact will be to listen to the needs and desires of consumers, who are ultimately the ones who will embrace, use, and sustain safe sanitation.

To learn more about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene strategy, visit here.

World Toilet Day

In June of this year, the UN General Assembly officially designated November 19 as World Toilet Day. This declaration was the culmination of efforts by the World Toilet Organization (WTO), which has been celebrating the day since 2001 to raise awareness of the 2.5 billion people who do not have access to basic sanitation. In August, Jack Sims, the founder of the WTO, wrote a post on describing the events surrounding the UN’s official recognition of World Toilet Day and explaining the tongue-in-cheek strategies that his organization uses to bring greater attention to the world’s sanitation crisis.

In celebration of the day, we’re lifting up recent philanthropic initiatives focused on sanitation:

  • In August, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it will expand its ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’ [PDF] to China. The program, launched in 2011, is aimed at supporting the research and development of inexpensive toilets that process waste into energy and water.
  • In April, Sesame Workshop announced a $2 million grant, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote hygiene and sanitation practices in high-need areas of Bangladesh, India, and Nigeria. The grant supports the development of media that deliver culturally appropriate messages around positive sanitation behaviors.
  • The Stone Family Foundation, based in the United Kingdom, authorized several grants in 2012 for basic sanitation, including a $2.1 million gift to iDE Cambodia for their ‘Sanitation Marketing Scale Up Project’, which supports local supply chains in the production, marketing, and selling of latrines to the rural poor.
  • Another grant from the Stone Family Foundation, also issued in 2012, committed $868,416 to WaterAid Tanzania for two initiatives: 1) a program using a combination of communication around behavior change and sanitation marketing to increase demand for unsubsidized latrines, and 2) a project to develop a local economy in Dar es Salaam for emptying sludge from household latrines.
  • The Laird Norton Family Foundation, a Seattle-based family foundation, awarded several grants in 2012 to expand access to sanitation, including a $25,000 grant to El Porvenir for the construction of double pit latrines in Nicaragua.

These grants illustrate the range of innovative ways foundations are supporting improved sanitation, from developing social marketing campaigns to changing behavior to funding research that will expand options for affordable sanitation services. For more information on how foundations are investing in sanitation, as well as other areas within the WASH sector, take a look at our funding map. New grants are added on a regular basis.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have partnered to set up a joint trust fund to improve access to sanitation in Asia and the Pacific. Announced at World Water Week, the new Sanitation Financing Partnership Trust Fund will receive a $15 million investment from the Gates Foundation and will leverage more than $28 million in investments from ADB by 2017.

The Trust Fund aims to increase non-sewered sanitation and develop septage management solutions through funding innovative projects and supporting policies for low-income urban communities across Asia. The Trust Fund will be part of ADB’s Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF). Over the last seven years, WFPF has invested $2.5 billion in WASH projects. Through initiatives such as Grand Challenges Exploration and Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, the Gates Foundation has funded 85 development and research projects on sanitation.

View the infographic to learn about the Trust Fund’s goals.

Read ADB’s press release for additional details. 

Editor’s Note: This infographic illustrates the toll that Western toilets take on the world’s water supply, as well as the stark facts surrounding lack of sanitation in the developing world. It further showcases the innovations of the contenders of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. The infographic originally appeared here

Lack of Sanitation

Created by

African Ministers' Council on Water

The African Ministers' Council on Water, an initiative of the African Union, has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build its capacity for sanitation policy development, monitoring and evaluation coverage, and WASH-related advocacy across the continent.

Awarded through the foundation's global development program, the grant will be used to provide training and technical assistance in four countries working to develop and adopt effective sanitation and hygiene policies and plans; organize the fourth AfricaSan conference as a mechanism for tracking progress, refining targets, and enabling peer support and advocacy for implementation of the 2008 eThekwini Declaration and AfricaSan Action Plan; and help countries fulfill their obligations to report to the AU.

"We face tremendous challenges of diminishing access to clean water and safe sanitation," said AMCOW executive secretary Bai Mass Taal. "AMCOW is committed to working with partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce this scourge and improve access to safe sanitation, thereby achieving our overall goal of decreasing poverty and disease in the continent."

Source: “African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) Gets US$2 Million Grant to Improve Sanitation Coverage in Africa.” African Ministers' Council on Water Press Release 12/18/12.

University of Toronto

The University of Toronto has announced a $2.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of ongoing efforts to design a waterless hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world.

Engineering professor Yu-Ling Cheng, director of the Centre for Global Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and her team, which includes researchers from Western University and the University of Queensland, placed third in the Gates Foundation's Reinvent the Toilet Challenge last August. Working with partners in Bangladesh, Cheng's team hopes to build an operational prototype by December 2013 that uses readily available materials and equipment that can be maintained locally.

The team's solution uses a sand filter and UV disinfection to process liquid waste and a smolder chamber — similar to a charcoal barbeque — to incinerate solid waste that has been flattened and dried in a roller/belt assembly. The team will work to further simplify the process, reduce mechanical complexity of the device, and minimize odor.

"I am very proud of our entire team and the work we have done up to now," said Cheng. "We have proven that our concept works technically; now we are going to get busy to make sure it will work for the users — some of the 2.6 billion people in the world who do not have access to basic sanitation."

Source: “U of T Engineers Awarded $2.2 Million Grant for Toilet Research.” University of Toronto Press Release 11/28/12.

For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on

Editor’s Note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a press release announcing the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Over the course of a year, eight finalists were chosen and Bill Gates announced the winning team yesterday at the two-day Toilet Fair at the Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. Big congratulations to the winning team and to everyone who participated in this creative challenge.

Bill Gates presenting the first prize award to California Institute of Technology at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Seattle on August 14, 2012. Photo Credit: ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Michael Hanson

Bill Gates presenting the first prize award to California Institute of Technology at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Seattle on August 14, 2012. Photo Credit: ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Michael Hanson

Yesterday Bill Gates announced the winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in Seattle — an effort to develop “next-generation” toilets that will deliver safe and sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have it. The awards recognize researchers from leading universities who are developing innovative ways to manage human waste, which will help improve the health and lives of people around the world.

California Institute of Technology in the United States received the $100,000 first prize for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity. Loughborough University in the United Kingdom won the $60,000 second place prize for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water. University of Toronto in Canada won the third place prize of $40,000 for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. Special recognition and $40,000 went to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user interface.

One year ago, the foundation issued a challenge to universities to design toilets that can capture and process human waste without piped water, sewer or electrical connections, and transform human waste into useful resources, such as energy and water, at an affordable price.

The first, second, and third place winning prototypes were recognized for most closely matching the criteria presented in the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.

Bill Gates with a researcher from California Institute of Technology at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Seattle on August 14, 2012. Photo Credit: ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Michael Hanson

Bill Gates with a researcher from California Institute of Technology at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair in Seattle on August 14, 2012. Photo Credit: ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Michael Hanson

Teams have been showcasing their prototypes and projects at a two-day event held at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle on August 14 and 15. The Reinvent the Toilet Fair is bringing together participants from 29 countries, including researchers, designers, investors, advocates, and representatives of the communities who will ultimately adopt these new inventions.

“Innovative solutions change people’s lives for the better,” said foundation Co-chair Bill Gates. “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest problems.”

Unsafe methods to capture and treat human waste result in serious health problems and death. Food and water tainted with fecal matter result in 1.5 million child deaths every year. Most of these deaths could be prevented with the introduction of proper sanitation, along with safe drinking water and improved hygiene. 

Improving access to sanitation can also bring substantial economic benefits. According to the World Health Organization, improved sanitation delivers up to $9 in social and economic benefits for every $1 invested because it increases productivity, reduces healthcare costs, and prevents illness, disability, and early death.

Other projects featured at the fair include better ways to empty latrines, user-centered designs for public toilet facilities, and insect-based latrines that decompose feces faster.

“Imagine what’s possible if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead,” said Gates. “Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world, but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations.”

Gates added: “All the participants are united by a common desire to create a better world — a world where no child dies needlessly from a lack of safe sanitation and where all people can live healthy, dignified lives.”

The Water, Sanitation & Hygiene initiative is part of the foundation’s Global Development Program, which addresses issues such as agricultural development and financial services — problems that affect the world’s poorest people but do not receive adequate attention. The initiative has committed more than $370 million to this area, with a focus on developing sustainable sanitation services that work for everyone, including the poor.

The foundation also announced a second round of Reinvent the Toilet Challenge grants totaling nearly $3.4 million. The grants were awarded to: Cranfield University (United Kingdom); Eram Scientific Solutions Private Limited (India); Research Triangle Institute (United States); and the University of Colorado Boulder (United States).

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