Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet (and: After 10 Years few pay-offs from Gates's Grand Challenges) - Updates

  • Florian
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Re: NYT critique - Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet

muench wrote: ops OK, you will say "this is not a technology issue, this is a management issue".


Yeah exactly :) It may have to do with people not knowing about technologies, not knowing how to install them, not knowing how to get support to install them, or not seeing the point of making an effort to install them in the first place. All of which can't be solved by University labs in Europe or the US inventing new technologies.

PS: I am also an engineer ;)


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  • KeithBell
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Re: an interesting talk should be advertised (BlueTech Forum 2012 - Re-Inventing Sanitation for the Bottom of the Pyramid Market, Carl Hensman)

Excellent overview by Carl Hensman; makes me feel much better about BMGF making sanitation a priority. These projects should receive publicity as much or more than Reinvent the Toilet. It would help to stir interest by showing how complex the problems really are . . .

Instead, the NYT article portrayed BMGF negatively. It's also said there's no such thing as bad publicity. But the current media for Reinvent the Toilet makes the project look like a publicity stunt hiding the true BMGF agenda of vaccination. The same can be said of their Reinvent the Condom project. Of course, this is not true, at least I hope not.

What percentage of BMGF budget is devoted to sanitation compared with vaccination in concert with major pharmaceuticals? I'd estimate about 2% or less. Carl Hensman should be receiving a much larger piece of the pie.

The Great Sanitation vs. Vaccination debate continues. Here's a new book detailing how sanitation trumps vaccination every day of the week:
www.naturalnews.com/042946_Dissolving_Il...modern_medicine.html

Indeed, an argument might be made that sanitation and vaccination are opposed to one another. There are no comprehensive studies about collateral damage to flora by vaccination. Yet we have the nerve to vaccinate newborns within 12 hours of birth. Of course, vaccination is a highly controversial subject. The polio vaccine is actually thought to cause polio while the virus is harbored in sewers. Polio appears to be more a sanitation issue than a vaccination issue, yet BMGF budgeting hardly reflects this . . . or does it?
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Re: NYT critique - Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet

When I read the NYT piece, I immediately created a letter of response (which was not printed). For what's it's worth, I am copying it below.
..Steve
....
Jason Kass’ piece , Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet, gets some of the facts right but is a bit off the mark on others. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded both high- and low- tech projects including some that are specifically applicable to the developing world. The Global Sustainable Aid Project (formerly the Ghana Sustainable Aid Project) received funding to get the Microflush technology out of the lab, married to a filter-digester that uses a macro-organism enhanced aerobic digestion of the solid waste and into the field where the toilets were tested in a village in Ghana. Cost of the prototypes was high but the S-Lab at Providence College has succeeded in getting the cost down through a locally sourced and fabricated model. The GSAP-Microflush toilet now costs a fraction of a cent per use (less than the Peepoo bag) over the lifetime of the system; it is off -grid, nearly closed, sustainable, producing a useful compost after 2 years of 15 uses per day. It flushes on just a cup of water from the previous users handwash and isolates waste from human contact; it has no odor or flies. As a result of funding by the BMGF, we have a locally implemented system that creates a solution to community sanitation while also contributing to community development by creating a small business for the local MAKER, as we call the toilet builder. MAKERs have already been trained in Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal and soon in Haiti, where Kass notes the success of SOIL, a program that has brought low price toilets there but not without significant outside subsidies. Kass correctly urges toilet ownership for the lowest income families but his challenge – “What they need are the kind of toilets that they can buy or build with a few weeks’ savings” – is not feasible. There are no savings for families earning $2 per day! That is why Water.org co-founded by Matt Damon and its water credit program extended to microcredits for household toilet ownership is a key for solving the menace of sanitation in our world.
Stephen Mecca is a professor in the Department of Engineering-Physics-Systems at Providence College

++++++++
Note by moderators: This post was made by a former user with the login name smecca who is no longer a member of this discussion forum.
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  • stilmans
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Re: NYT critique - Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet

smecca wrote: MAKERs have already been trained in Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal and soon in Haiti, where Kass notes the success of SOIL, a program that has brought low price toilets there but not without significant outside subsidies.


Steve,

We applaud your collaboration with local makers, but it's important to point out that the toilets we (re.source) developed in Haiti (also with funds from BMGF, as discussed on the forum here and here ) for SOIL's household sanitation service were also designed with and built by local carpenters and craftsmen (makers). Our first 150 units cost $75US each to produce, but these makers have since adapted designs that bring the cost to as low as $35/unit. We continue to work on mass-producible designs that can be deployed at large scale and low cost in various markets, while SOIL is working to optimize and de-risk the service's business model in Haiti such that it can operate long term without subsidy.

One of the biggest failures of the NYT article is that it launches with an attention-grabbing headline disparaging the efforts of BMGF, and then praises SOIL without mentioning that one of SOIL's flagship projects was made possible by funding from BMGF through re.source's collaboration with SOIL. Such omissions spread dis-information and undermine the objective, nuanced public discussions that will spur progress in our sector.
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  • dorothee.spuhler
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Re: NYT critique - Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet

Dear Elisabeth and Florian

To deliver a product successfully to its client has always to do with technology. But of course there many other things and at least with the guidelines for the RTTC grants, the technology had to be designed accordingly to the user needs and not the user needs accordingly to the technology product…
However, I think we all agree that there are many other issues to serves these 2.5 bio people and that these people do include different customer segments.

I think the foundation can also learn and is open for suggestions from the community (us :) on how to direct their strategy and there are grants addressing product design as much as technology development (see for instance: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/106-us...tzerland-and-austria ) or management issues ( forum.susana.org/forum/categories/97-ena...n-dakar-senegal-onas )…

Anyhow, Florian, you asked how much money actually has been spent for the RTTC grants compared to the whole WASH strategy of the foundation…
When we posted an article in SSP last year, we wrote

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) committed more than USD 265 million to the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector during the period 2006 to 2011

(Elisabeth got the number, I do not remember where you find it online anymore).

But I tried to make some additional calculations based (based on the foundations' database which is actually public: www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quic...n%2C%20and%20Hygiene ).
Grants in the WASH category, 2013 only: 50 million $ (34 projects).
Total grants grants to be discussed on the forum (not only 2013): 95 bio $ (approx 90 projects)
From them, RTTC: 20 bio $ a (12 projects).
GCE (which are also rather technology focused…): approx 5 bio $ (approx. 60 projects)
The rest (70 bio $) is for only (!) 22 projects in the category “OTHERSs” and most of them (not exclusively) do have another aspect then technology in their main focus.. :)

So let’s hope these efforts contribute to solve the sanitation and water crisis and keep on discussing them and giving them inputs here on the forum :)


Have nice day, Dorothee

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  • AquaVerde
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Re: "PLASMA-toilette"!?

(note by moderator: moved to here from another thread)

Dear Hans,

Thanks for the video.


I found an old comment on the mentioned R&D project "PLASMA-toilette", I am "endorsing" and like to share with you:

Rickland Neal Ungerleider 2 years ago

Bill and Melinda Gates truely are American heros of our time. And this sounds like a super endeavor but, curious to know how much $ will it cost to make one of these Super Toilets. With 45 million pledged for producing these toilets, how many will that make? Do they come with detailed "How to Use" instructions? Hydrogen Fuel Cells need security teams, right? Just playing Devil's Advocate.
Rickland,RS


www.fastcoexist.com/1678292/the-toilet-o...turn-poop-into-power

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  • muench
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Re: Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet - and After 10 Years few pay-offs from Gates's Grand Challenges

There was an interesting article in the Seattle Times on 20 December 2014 entitled:

After 10 years, few payoffs from Gates’ ‘Grand Challenges’
Despite an investment of $1 billion, none of the projects funded under the Gates Foundation’s “Grand Challenges” banner has yet made a significant contribution to saving lives and improving health in the developing world.


Full article:
seattletimes.com/html/localnews/20252792....VKudQxuSMWx.twitter

It fits into this discussion thread where we had discussed these issues in the past.

I found it interesting that toilets and sanitation was mentioned quite prominently in this article (even though the Grand Challenges grants cover a large range of topics). E.g. here:

When several Gates-funded, high-tech toilets were installed in the Indian city of Raichur last year, at a cost of about $8,000 each, residents refused to use them. Many of the other toilet prototypes funded through Grand Challenges are so complex, with solar panels and combustion chambers, they would never prove practical, said Jason Kass, founder of Toilets for People, a company that sells simple, composting toilets to nonprofits in the developing world.

“If the many failed development projects of the past 60 years have taught us anything, it’s that complicated, imported solutions do not work,” Kass wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed entitled “Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet.”

But senior program officer Doulaye Koné said the foundation is looking beyond technology this time. The goal is to mass-produce the toilets to bring the price down, then foster a self-sustaining system in which private companies install and service the units for a small fee.

Those toilets in India mentioned in the article actually link to here:
www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-nationa...s/article4764796.ece

And this surprises me because it is the e-toilets which I thought had been successful overall, see this discussion thread:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/170-pu...cientific-india#3663

Perhaps the non-use was an isolated case.

And there is also this part of the article that mentions toilets:

But five years in, Gates said he could see that it would be at least another decade before even the most promising of those projects paid off.

Not only did he underestimate some of the scientific hurdles, Gates said. He and his team also failed to adequately consider what it would take to implement new technologies in countries where millions of people lack access to basic necessities such as clean water and medical care.

While continuing to support a handful of the “big science” projects, the foundation in 2008 introduced a program of small, highly focused grants called Grand Challenges Explorations.

With headline-grabbing goals like condoms that feel good and waste-to-energy toilets, the explorations initiative has probably garnered more media attention than anything else the giant philanthropy has undertaken.

But none of those projects has yet borne fruit, either.


What I like is that there is no glossing over these facts, the difficulties are openly being acknowlegded. With regards to toilets, some of us may secretly think "told you so!" but in any case, these are long-term efforts and time will tell. One thing it has achieved for sure is to raise the attention that the media is paying to sanitation these days.

Regards,
Elisabeth

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(Funded via consultancy contract with Skat Foundation funded by WSSCC)

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  • dietvorst
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Re: Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet - and After 10 Years few pay-offs from Gates's Grand Challenges

Without access to formal evaluation studies it is difficult for outsiders to really know how effective the Gates sanitation programme is - so far the foundation has awarded 220 WASH grants . The website does mention that programme's focus is much broader than just technology alone, as it includes "Urban Sanitation Markets, Building Demand for Sanitation, Policy and Advocacy, and Monitoring and Evaluation".

The Gates Foundation is "maturing" as a sanitation donor, but still has some way to go in terms of transparency and accountability. This despite their intentions in 2011 when the new HQ building arose "with benches, bike racks, an outdoor screen for video art and a viewing pavilion for the public to look in on the inner campus", so that the foundation would "feel transparent to people when they came here".

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  • joeturner
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Re: Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet - and After 10 Years few pay-offs from Gates's Grand Challenges

Seems to me that the problem is even more fundamental than that, Cor. Unless there have been parameters set for what would be considered 'success', I can't see how it is possible to say whether the programme has been a success or not.

If success is simply measured by press and the number of projects looking at a range of different ideas, I think it is hard to say it is really a failure. I don't know that anything has ever had the level of press coverage that the Gates projects have had before.
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Re: Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet - and After 10 Years few pay-offs from Gates's Grand Challenges

This complains about limited R&D results are soooo „normal“ … :dry:

Because, if you are most of the time looking for survival, most results are very limited and just part of permanent raising campaigns and justifications for further R&D-demands = money. Solution-orientated R&D can not be generated just by supplying more money!

In my educated guessing: real solutions will generate more money for more solution-orientated R&D’s and so one.

And by the way, many decades of global & local socio-economic injustices you can not be overcome just by better toilets & sanitation & capacity building & shaming-blaming (CLTS) and so on…

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  • jkeichholz
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Re: Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet - and After 10 Years few pay-offs from Gates's Grand Challenges

Is this about grants/money in the WASH sector, or is this about getting people to rethink their sanitation concept and to invest in an upgrade?

What about the other billions that already have a toilet but would still like to upgrade to a high-tech solution? I never see this side of the medal being addressed, we only ever talk about the billions without any sanitary facilities.

Juergen Eichholz
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Toilets in Frankfurt/Main www.facebook.com/ffmtoi
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  • arno
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Re: Article in New York Times: Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet - and After 10 Years few pay-offs from Gates's Grand Challenges

Seems most people (especially the press) miss the whole purpose of research funding. The point is to advance the stepping stones of knowledge, understanding and learning. Without that there will never be large scale implementation and sustainable development. And failures are just as important as successes in that process. If one were to examine all the research projects across the world funded by the hundreds of agencies spending bilions of dollars each year, very few of these projects have led to instant upscaling. So when it comes to the sanitation sector, it is the probing and discussion between interested parties for example through this very discussion Forum where learning and further discovery can take place. So keep the questions coming.

Arno Rosemarin PhD
Stockholm Environment Institute
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