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Social Issues
Canadian Couple Honoured For Their Work Selling Low-Cost, Easy-To-Install Toilet
December 21, 2012
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Two Canadians are being recognized today for their humanitarian work in Cambodia.

Cordell Jacks and Tamara Baker are receiving the 2012 Dubai International Award for Best Practices, which is supported by UN-Habitat.

The award is in recognition of "impact in improving the living environment of people, particularly the poor and disadvantaged."

Jacks and Baker work with a non-profit organization called International Development Enterprises, based in Winnipeg.

The couple runs IDE's water, sanitation and hygiene program - helping poor farmers in Cambodia to develop sustainable technologies.

They got into it about four years ago. After graduating from the University of Manitoba business school, they both had corporate jobs making good money.

But something wasn't right. So, they quit, ended up at IDE and set off for Cambodia to sell low cost, easy-to-install toilets.

It might not sound like a big deal, but it makes an enormous difference in a country where a toilet is often a luxury.

Get this: as of 2010, more people in Cambodia had a cell phone than a toilet.

A lot of people in rural areas have to go to the washroom in fields - which creates a huge public health problem.

Not only that, but a regular toilet costs about $150 - pretty much unaffordable for the average Cambodian. And it takes an entire day to install it, with several contractors.

By comparison, the toilets that Jacks and Baker sell cost $25-30. It's called the EZ latrine and it can be installed in a few hours, because the components are prefabricated.

Here's a video of Jacks explaining more about it. The audio is a bit low, but you'll get the idea.

And here's a CBC radio interview with Baker talking about the impact the EZ latrine has had.

Another key is how Jacks and Baker decided to market the toilets. They went around village by village, selling people on the idea that a toilet is a status symbol.

canadian-couple-honoured-with-international-award-for-selling-low-cost-easy-to-install-toilets-feature3.jpg As Baker told the Globe & Mail in 2010, "Keeping up with the Joneses is as much of a concept in Cambodia as it is here in North America."

"So we sold sanitation as something that will make you feel proud, something that fits the budget, as achievable aspiration."

It worked. And since then, businesses all over the country have been asking to be trained in how to build the toilet.

Jacks and Baker work with local entrepreneurs to make the parts, so they can start selling them and make money.

It's all about the local market, working with local retailers and local manufacturers so they can all make a profit.

The program started two years ago. In the first nine months, businesses sold more toilets than they had in the previous four years. In fact, Jacks said one entrepreneur went from making $50 a month, to over $600 a month.

Overall, IDE's goal is to bring 20 million poor, rural families in Cambodia out of poverty by 2020.

Here's a video from their website, explaining more about what they do.

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