D. Chaudhary, verfasst vor fast 5 Jahren
Joana Breidenbach on the betterplace WTO workshops
We had visitors come over the last three days, from Singapore. Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organisation, came to Berlin to head two workshops. After I had just missed the WTO in February on a visit to Singapore , we had stayed in touch by e-mail. Deepa, Jack’s project manager, had published two great projects on betterplace. We were particularly enthusiastic about the Toilets for 2.6 billion people project and this spurred us on to support it.
2.6 billion people live without toilets. This is a taboo subject, which is why it is not given the attention it needs. Massive social and health problems are the consequence. Girls do not attend school because the schools do not have toilets; in tropical countries women stop eating and drinking 24 hours before they go to the market so they do not have to deal with uncomfortable situations. In addition, more than 5 million people die each year of illnesses that can be traced back to insufficient sanitary facilities, while rivers and ground water are contaminated by feces.
A market for toilets
Since the global sanitation crisis cannot be solved by donations and the conventional instruments of development aid, the World Toilet Organisation is pursuing a free-market approach, i.e. it considers the 2.6 billion people without toilets to be potential customers. Until recently, people at the so-called “bottom of the pyramid” (i.e. people who earn between US$ 1-2 a day) were not considered to be customers. However, in the meantime, an increasing number of companies as well as relief organization are taking an interest in these people. While they may have little individual purchasing power, they are nonetheless an interesting market segment, even from an economic point of view, by their sheer mass. The WTO approach provides for the production and distribution of affordable public toilets with a sophisticated design. Their operators obtain income from the advertisements on their outside walls and the toilet fees they charge. By skillfully combining forms of centralized and decentralized production, distribution and maintenance, the intention is to take account of special requirements of the country in which the toilets are to be put up while benefitting from locational advantages, global know-how and the advantages of mass production.
The project incubator
Our idea was to bring the WTO together with the designer Werner Aisslinger and his students at the Karlsruhe Hochschule für Gestaltung (College of Design) to conceive reasonably priced but well designed toilets. The 8 students from Karlsruhe were joined by a handful of Axel Kufus’ students from the Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK, Berlin University of Arts). During the three hour orientation session with Jack Sim, the students were given basic insights into the many negative consequences of the sanitation crisis, and Jack also explained why design is so important.
Why do toilets need to be sexy?
Toilets cannot be a priority for many poor people and rational arguments in favor of acquiring and using them often comes to nothing. That is why Jack’s strategy is to market toilets as status symbols and to give poor people the opportunity to earn money with toilets using exterior advertising and users fees at the same time.
I thought the discussion with the students was extremely stimulating and interesting. They discussed portable molds for casting toilet bowls as well as religious and cultural characteristics and copyright strategies (Jack feels the toilet designs should be shareware and not protected by law). The students met with Jack again the next day in Werner’s studio to continue the discussion and to put the product designs required into concrete terms.
That was also where the evening workshop took place with representatives from the industry (Daniel Wall, Wall AG), development work (Sören Rüd, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (gtz)) and politics (Dr. Uschi Eid); Jack explained his vision once again during the workshop. Ullrich Krauss of the Zagreus Projekt kindly prepared the food and Lotta, Jakob, Philip, Vico and Amos from betterplace junior provided perfect service. Many thanks to everyone!
We have had the kickoff meeting; now we need to develop our plans and weave together the many threads we have spun. Jack is back in Singapore and busy sending us information for possible business models for a mass market toilet retailer and is looking for best practice examples. Werner and betterplace are setting up a communication and work structure for the design students. Hearsay has it there’s a toilet design award in the making and the first investors have come forward who are interested in developing a new toilet business for “the other 90%”.
P.S. It’s everybody’s business - we got covered by Germany’s reputable newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The smart article by Johannes Boie was both published on jetzt.de , and as printed version in the newpaper’s “young” supplement.