Category Archives: Economy

Why ‘The Death of Architecture’ May Not Be Such a Bad Thing


Why ‘The Death of Architecture’ May Not Be Such a Bad Thing
by JOHN CARY on FEBRUARY 27, 2012 at 3:00AM PST

The last few years haven’t been kind to architects. The once-booming construction sector has been brought to a near-standstill by the housing bubble’s burst and the economic downturn that followed. But if the last few years were tough, the past few months have been downright brutal, with a barrage of media coverage predicting the outright death of the profession.

“New study shows architecture, arts degrees yield highest unemployment,” a Washington Post headline announced in January. Based on 2009 and 2010 Census Bureau data, the Georgetown University study showed a nearly 14 percent unemployment rate among architecture school graduates. Skeptics questioned if the numbers were too high or too low, but the damage was done.

Weeks later, in a Salon article titled “The Architecture Meltdown,” Scott Timberg effectively compared the storied profession to a delicate house of cards—uniquely vulnerable to economic and market forces. “A once-thriving profession, one that requires considerable education and work ethic, and which has traditionally served a wide range of functions — designing mansions for the 1 percent as well as public libraries — is in trouble,” Timberg wrote.

How did a noble, still-romanticized profession—purportedly licensed to “protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public”—fall so far? The myriad reasons are reminiscent of the problems that have plagued medicine for a century and a half and paved the way for the creation of the public health field—which aims to take a more systemic approach to health care than traditional medicine, focusing on policy and broad-scale community engagement. Public health may provide a viable model for those who became architects in order to make people’s lives better, not just cater to the proverbial 1 percent.

Architecture conjures up all sorts of images in the minds of non-architects: rolls of blueprints, soaring buildings, a life of glamour and fame. But even the most famous architects say the past and present realities of the profession are markedly different. Becoming an architect today requires grueling hours, a disproportionate amount of education, years-long licensing hurdles, and finicky clients, while yielding relatively low pay and career stability compared to other learned professions.

More detrimentally for both the public’s perception and opportunities within the field, architecture remains a luxury available only to a privileged few. The field has long wrestled with its elitism; books have been written, conferences staged, and museum exhibitions mounted around estimates that architecture and good design are accessible to only a select sliver of the population. Yet architecture shapes everyone by creating the environments around us, impacting our collective quality of life. As philosopher Alain de Botton once wrote, “Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or worse, different people in different places—and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.”

Like public health did for medicine, the emerging field of public interest design offers a new direction for architecture, one that takes into account the needs of the other 99 percent of the population that has historically been marginalized or disempowered from shaping their environments. While architecture has divorced itself from related fields like environmental psychology, landscape architecture, and urban planning, public interest design seeks to reunite them—not for the good of the profession, its image, or its bottom line, but for the benefit of society.

Jane Jacobs, in The Death & Life of Great American Cities, spoke to this aspect of architecture and the built environment generally, writing that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Architecture, however, is most often driven by private interests, rather than the public good. This is exacerbated by the way architects have structured their practices, waiting for self-interested clients to come their way rather than actively seeking ways to improve the world (one notable exception is the Via Verde housing development in the Bronx, which The New York Times credited with “rewriting the rules” of low-income housing).

Decades in the making, the public interest design field, with its defiant rejection of architecture’s unsustainable ways, is coming of age. Its emergence is seen most directly in dozens of nonprofit design organizations. Like traditional architecture firms, however, these organizations almost universally rely on low-paying fee-for-service work supplemented by modest philanthropic support from foundations and individuals. The hard truth is that they risk the same vulnerabilities and inefficiencies that have plagued the architecture profession at large, limiting innovation, scale, and social impact. Accordingly, the majority of these efforts are tiny and disparate, while the problems they are tackling—and have the potential to solve—are enormous and interconnected.

After a century and a half, architecture’s fate may be sealed, but the emerging field of public interest design stands on the brink of becoming a self-sustaining profession and making a tangible impact on the world. This is the moment that government agencies, foundations, generations of design professionals, and the public at large (whether they know it or not) have been waiting for. So let’s get to work.

Drawing courtesy of Moh’d Bilbeisi



by Yi Wei | Sep 21, 2011

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the


Over 80 % of Cambodians do not have a latrine; well-meaning subsidies have depressed demand for toilets, stymied private sanitation markets, and discouraged a sense of ownership. Without proper sanitation, diarrheal illnesses kill more children than HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. In response, IDE-Cambodia used human-centered design to develop a latrine that enables all rural households, regardless of income, to purchase latrines. This sustainable market-based sanitation solution seeks input from all stakeholders at every step – from initial concepts, refinement and prototyping, to final design. Grounded in accessibility and affordability, the Easy Latrine revolutionizes sanitation by creating a desirable and aspirational toilet for communities lacking basic sanitation services.

About Your Organization

Organization Name

International Development Enterprises (Cambodia)

Organization Website

Organization Phone

(855) 23 223 541

Organization Address

PO Box 1577, House 126, Street Ta Phon, Boeung Tumpun, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Organization Country

Cambodia, PP

Country where this project is creating social impact


Is your organization a

Non‐profit/NGO/citizen sector organization

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Is the project that you are entering related to this organization?


Entry Form title

RevoLOOtionary: Developing Rural Markets for Sanitation

What change do you want to bring to the world?

Over 80 % of Cambodians do not have a latrine; well-meaning subsidies have depressed demand for toilets, stymied private sanitation markets, and discouraged a sense of ownership. Without proper sanitation, diarrheal illnesses kill more children than HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. In response, IDE-Cambodia used human-centered design to develop a latrine that enables all rural households, regardless of income, to purchase latrines. This sustainable market-based sanitation solution seeks input from all stakeholders at every step – from initial concepts, refinement and prototyping, to final design. Grounded in accessibility and affordability, the Easy Latrine revolutionizes sanitation by creating a desirable and aspirational toilet for communities lacking basic sanitation services.

What are the primary activities of your project?

Although over 80% of Cambodians do not have a latrine, the market for latrines exists, but very weakly. At currents rates of sales, it would take 100+ years to reach open defecation free status. iDE launched a 2-year sanitation marketing (SanMark) pilot project in two provinces to test market-based approaches to improve sanitation coverage.

iDE undertook a 12-week research phase using human-centered design (HCD) to develop a marketable latrine design that would enable all rural households, regardless of income, to purchase latrines. The HCD design process seeks input from all stakeholders at every step – from initial concepts, refinement and prototyping, to final design. Sanitation stakeholders engaged in this project included latrine owners and non-owners, masons, concrete producers, and retailers. The resulting product was the Easy Latrine

iDE’s primary role in the pilot was to create demand for the Easy Latrine while ensuring supply and coordination with the government. This was done through an integrated sanitation marketing program that combines village-level promotional activities and mass media campaigns to generate market-led demand for sanitary latrines. iDE also provided training and support for supply chain actors to ensure adequate supply of sanitation products and services, and collaborated with authorities at all levels to ensure that Easy Latrine promotion is integrated with government sanitation and hygiene activities.

What is innovative about your initiative? How is it a new contribution to the field?

Although SanMark has been done elsewhere, IDE’s experience contributes unique innovations. First, the use of HCD created not just an innovative product, but also a strong value chain to sustainably support demand creation and supply. Second, by leveraging the profit motive for businesses, sales remained high despite operating within a government-challenged environment. Third, although the pit latrine concept is not new, iDE’s modifications not only removed barriers to purchase, but created an aspirational product that turned a traditionally unsexy product into one that signifies a better life, good health, and higher status.

To be a sustainable, the latrine design needed to be: desirable by people used to open defecation; durable—not degrading nor filling up prematurely; affordable and upgradeable to accommodate various incomes; supplied by the local businesses. Insights from the HCD process led to innovations such as:
• A pre-cast concrete mold instead of hiring a mason to construct with bricks, lowering costs;
• A crane system that allows rapid ring production, enabling a high-volume, low-margin business model
• Rice husk ash that increases concrete strength while decreasing costs;
• Marketing training and materials to support the shift from passive to active marketing, increasing sales and awareness;
• Home-delivery by producers, eliminating transportation challenges;
• Self-installation, saving a further 20% on labor.

These modifications have reduced prices from approximately $150 to just $35 for the Easy Latrine: aspirational, accessible, and affordable.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy located in Southeast Asia with a population of 14.8 million. Cambodia was ruled as a vassal between its neighbors during the powerful Khmer empire until it was colonized by the French in mid-19th century. Cambodia gained independence in 1953. The Vietnam War extended into Cambodia, giving rise to the Khmer Rouge, which took Phnom Penh in 1975. The Khmer Rouge’s social engineering policies resulted in widespread famine and genocide. An estimated 1/5 of the population died during the regime. After years of isolation, the war-ravaged nation was reunited under the monarchy in 1993.

Rebuilding from decades of civil war, Cambodia has seen rapid progress in its economy, but much of the wealth has not reached the populace. Wages remain low and the income tax system is lax, rendering a government with very few resources. The war left a population where 50% of the people is younger than 22 years old, with 85% of the population living in rural areas engaged mostly in subsistence agriculture. There are insufficient jobs for a population that already lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the impoverished countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic services. The rural population is very dispersed that infrastructure remains poor. With 30% of Cambodians living below the poverty line, Cambodia has the highest poverty rate in the region. These statistics persist, despite Cambodia being the highest per capita recipient of foreign aid. In sanitation, most of the aid has been in subsidy form.

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

There is not one “founder” for sanitation marketing. Many organizations are adopting this approach and it is continually evolving as the sector learns more. However, the story behind IDE’s leadership in SanMark speaks to the value of bringing in more business and marketing skills to the sector.

When iDE SanMark’s program managers Cordell Jacks and Tamara Baker left their cushy private sector jobs in finance and marketing, sold everything they owned to travel the world looking for more meaningful work, they had no idea their next jobs would be in the “shit” business. They had sent out their CVs to their networks, and a copy happened to land on iDE country director Michael Roberts’ desk. He called them up to ask them to lead the new SanMark program at iDE-Cambodia. “I need you to take the world’s most unsexy product, the toilet, and get people who have very little money, and who don’t necessarily believe in germ theory, to buy it” Roberts told them. They were hesitant at first, with no background in public health, let alone sanitation, or development, how could they be of value to the program? Never ones to shy away from a challenge, Jacks and Baker accepted.

Almost three years after that phone call, Jacks and Baker have helped ignite the private sector in Cambodia as a sustainable solution to sanitation crisis. The Cambodian experience serves as a lab where new ideas and innovations will continually be tested and also as a model for global replication and scale up.

Social Impact

Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

In the program’s two pilot provinces, as of April 15th 2011, households have purchased almost 12,000 Easy Latrines, unsubsidized, in just over a year—a significant increase compared to the historical rate of latrine sales. Notably, sales data shows that in one of the poorest provinces of Cambodia, Svay Rieng, 20% of the purchases were made by households that the government has identified as particularly poor. By treating the poor as customers instead of recipients of aid, they become active agents in the marketplace voicing their preferences and achieving their aspirations.

At an average profit of US$5 per unit, the Easy Latrine is a lucrative opportunity local entrepreneurs eagerly invest in. In the two pilot project’s provinces, 24 enterprises have joined in the latrine market and have on average invested nearly $6000 into their latrine businesses. A number of the 24 enterprises joined the latrine market without any prompting from IDE. They saw the other enterprises making many deliveries and immediately recognized the promising business opportunities. To capitalize on the opportunities, enterprises have formed joint ventures with family members and friends, reverse-engineered the Easy Latrine to begin their own production line, and experimented with innovative financing options for villagers who cannot pay for the latrine in one instalment. Record levels of sales combined with a booming entrepreneurial spirit is revolutionizing sanitation in Cambodia, accelerating sanitation improvement at a rate unseen before. The private sector has even organically expanded into an additional five districts outside the project target.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

iDE is replicating Sanitation Marketing through global consulting contracts in three other countries and tripling geographic coverage in Cambodia.

Task 1

Completion of market assessments and strategy development and piloting in replication countries

Task 2

Tripling labor force and engaging 100+ local businesses

Task 3

Engaging local government to increase demand for latrines

Identify your 12-month impact milestone

iDE will replicate SanMark in 4 additional countries, launch an education platform for global dissemination, provide training to at least 90 enterprises, and achieve 23,000 latrines sold in Cambodia.

Task 1

Completion of market assessments and strategy development and piloting in replication countries

Task 2

Strengthen public private dialogue with government and other NGOs, improve social marketing campaigns, and conduct ongoing value chain engagement.

Task 3

Further develop model for education platform and develop curriculum

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

The pilot demonstrated the viability of a market-based approach. In the next three years, iDE will implement three “sweeps” to achieve greater market penetration. In the pilot (sweep 1), sales were made to the early adopters – the willing and able. For sweep 2, iDE will target the unwilling and able. This might include people who do not yet see value in a latrine, those whose needs are not being addressed by the current design, or those who have money but perhaps not the right financing tools. iDE will design new products and tools like instalment plans to address these needs. For sweep 3, iDE will focus on the willing and unable, who even with financial tools cannot afford a latrine. iDE will explore options like vouchers to make sanitation accessible to all without damaging the market.


What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

The most challenging barrier to success is the presence of subsidy programs. A high level of subsidy for latrine construction has the effect of depressing the market for privately purchased latrines. The pilot project districts with a history and/or high levels of subsidy showed markedly less demand for latrines as households prefer to wait in the hopes of receiving something free or subsidized, even if the subsidy program has ceased or is explicitly directed at the select poor. Efforts could be channelled toward the influence government and aid policies, as these can have a significant impact—positive or negative—on latrine demand. Greater sector coordination and collaboration will also reduce the nullifying effects of having contradictory programs in the field. In the long-term, demonstration of sustainability and superior cost-effectiveness of a market-based approach will be key to convincing other stakeholders to collaborate and participate in SanMark.

Tell us about your partnerships

The two-year Sanitation Marketing Pilot Project was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank. The Easy Latrine was inspired by the alternating pit latrine originally developed in India by Sulabh International. A team of designers, researchers, and advisors contributed to the final Easy Latrine design with major contributions from Jeff Chapin, a design consultant from IDEO who provided human-centered design expertise and Ben Clouet, structural engineering consultant. iDE’s engagement with the latrine producers is integral to the success of the programs. Over 20 Cambodian rural enterprises manufacture, distribute, market, and sell Easy Latrines.

In addition to iDE, there are many organizations in Cambodia working in Sanitation Marketing either as an implementor or funder – WaterSHED, LienAID, the World Toilet Organization, SNV, USAID, WSP, the Stone Family Foundation, UNICEF, and the Cambodian Ministry of Rural Development. All organizations involved meet periodically, learning from each other, sharing successes and failures, and continuing to refine approaches in an effort to make implementation more effective. The learning and exchange, healthy debate, various models and ongoing adaptation have been beneficial to all stakeholders and has been a critical element of the success of the different programs.

Current annual budget of project, in US dollars

More than $1 million

Explain your selections

The pilot was funded by USAID and WSP. Plans for scale up in Cambodia over the next three years will be funded by the Stone Family Foundation and technically supported by WSP. Bilateral, multi-lateral organizations and local governments are also hiring iDE to replicate SanMark in other countries. As mentioned above in “partnerships”, intensive collaboration and dialogue with other stakeholders in the sector is crucial to continually developing new ideas and testing them in the field. Integrating the SanMark program with the national government’s larger development plans helps to build a solid foundation for influencing future policies and creating a strong vision for improving sanitation. Regional government officials help coordinate various stakeholders and have shown to be a powerful model of a sales network as they are often strong influencers in the community. Without a doubt, SanMark’s success depends on the ingenuity, courage, and perseverance of the local enterprises. And perhaps most importantly to the program are the customers, the households who are fastidiously saving and investing in their health and future.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

In order to achieve nation-wide penetration of the sanitation market, several areas need attention. iDE plans to continue the iterative process of research and testing in order to improve affordability and further decrease costs of latrines, increase demand in the absence of strong government support, refine sector collaboration to overcome challenges of subsidy programs, improve enterprise training, facilitate access to financing to enterprises and households, design affordable latrine options for challenging environments like areas with high groundwater, refine monitoring and evaluation processes, and closing the sanitation loop by developing solutions to waste management.

Undisputedly, many opportunities for strengthening the program remain along the way to achieving scale. It is also a moment of great opportunity that the market can capitalize on by further aligning business incentives with the goals of improved public health. The Easy Latrine and Sanitation Marketing is turning a vicious cycle of poverty and poor health into a virtuous cycle of prosperous economic development and improved health.


Which barriers to health and well-being does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Lack of physical access to care/lack of facilities


Health behavior change


Restrictive cultural norms

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

By removing barriers to purchase, the Easy Latrine makes living a healthy, hygienic life easier. Now with a more affordable and accessible option, households who previously had to go through complicated, unaffordable steps can now make the decision to buy, buy, install, and use a latrine all in one day. With the aspirational social marketing element, the Easy Latrine encourages people to adopt a behavior change using motivators like convenience and social status. For a population that sees open defecation as acceptable, the Easy Latrine presents a much more attractive alternative. Not only is the Easy Latrine aspirational, but it is achievable.

How are you growing the impact of your organization or initiative?
Please select up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.


Grown geographic reach: Within host country


Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services


Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

iDE’s plans for scale are two-fold. First, iDE will “go deep” in the original pilot provinces to achieve greater market penetration by introducing new designs for challenging environments, financing tools for households and enterprises, and increased targeting of marketing. Second, iDE will “scale up” by replicating the pilot success in new provinces. iDE will train enterprises around the country and conduct national social marketing campaigns. Other organizations and governments abroad are already hiring iDE to replicate SanMark internationally. iDE has already shifted several organizations’ mindsets from implementing subsidy programs to adopting more market-friendly approaches. We hope that SanMark and the Easy Latrine will serve as inspiration for creatively tackling various problems.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

iDE collaborates with government to spread sanitation awareness, increase demand for latrines, and nurture an enabling environment for sanitation businesses. The latrine enterprises act as the technology provider and for-profit company underpinning the SanMark model. Other NGOs contribute invaluable insights, learnings, and support for continuous development of the sector. iDE is collaborating with students from MIT and Stanford on innovating new designs and business models to make sanitation even more affordable, accessible, and aspirational. iDE is also launching an independent innovation lab that will serve as a hub for continuous design and marketing research and innovation.

Weather = Money

Lazo, J.K., M. Lawson, P.H. Larsen, and D. M. Waldman, 2011:
Sensitivity of the U.S. economy to weather variability. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

This report is focused on the United States – although I hope to find a similar study done for Southeast Asia. The majority of Cambodia’s economy is dependent upon fishing and farming (find source). Therefore, if the logic of the study follows the country is highly sensitive to changes in weather patterns.

Interview with the author: What would you predict are the global implications of these findings?

“The US economy is one of the most advanced in the world, yet it’s still not weatherproof by any means. As would be expected, we found that the agricultural sector is highly sensitive to weather – but in the US the agricultural sector is less than 2% of the economy. Countries with larger agricultural sectors (as a percent of their total economic output) will display a greater relative sensitivity to weather.”