Making Markets Work for the Poor

How Cross-market Collaboration Improved WASH Outcomes in Cambodia

Molly Goodwin-Kucinsky | Former Global WASH Knowledge Manager | iDE
Scott A. Roy | CEO & Co-founder | Whitten & Roy Partnership
Greg Lestikow | Director of Global WASH | iDE

Photo credit: Vouchlim Ton

iDEan NGO that creates income and livelihood opportunities for poor rural householdsand Whitten & Roy Partnershipa sales consulting firm that transforms sales, management, and leadership for socially-minded organizationshave partnered for the past decade to generate demand for products like toilets, water filters, and agricultural inputs in developing countries.

To accelerate progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across issues of gender equity, climate resilience, nutrition, food security, finance, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), iDE strengthens local markets to deliver inclusive products and services and believes that market-based approaches result in sustainable behavior change.

In 2011, the iDE Cambodia WASH program faced the challenge of using local sales agents to reach an ambitious goal for selling toilets.  iDE Cambodia piloted the sale of over 21,000 unsubsidized toilets to rural households.

Following the pilot, iDE knew there was consumer demand for affordable, aspirational toilets, and secured grant funding to scale up the sanitation marketing approach, with the target of selling 140,000 toilets in three years. However, they were not sure how to coach and motivate sales agents to achieve this ambitious goal, or how to reach customer segments beyond the early adopters. Program management was also convinced they needed strategic guidance around sales to address problems they had not yet foreseen.

Photo credit: Geoff Greenwood

To address these problems, the iDE WASH program connected with Whitten & Roy Partnership, which designed and supported sales strategy implementations for two of iDE Cambodia’s other programs: Farm Business Advisors and Hydrologic Water Filters Programs. Up to that point, these two programs made up the entirety of Whitten & Roy Partnership’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.

Whitten & Roy Partnership studied the sanitation program’s sales and management capabilities using its RACE™ formula: Results = Attitude + Competence + Execution™. The assessment identified several key barriers to achieving sales success:

  • Attitude: Sales agents and managers believed customers would not buy toilets in the rainy season, and, if toilets were too expensive, customers would not purchase them.
  • Competence: Sales agents pitched the product features instead of learning about customer needs with a consultative sales approach. In some cases, high-pressure, aggressive sales tactics created consumer resistance.
  • Execution: Group and household (direct) sales were not being coordinated and managed effectively to leverage the benefits of both. Sales agents did not see enough people to hit sales targets and covered their sales territory haphazardly, jumping from village to village instead of seeing all potential customers in one area at a time.

Eight years later, the program has sold over 300,000 toilets through local entrepreneurs and has contributed to increases in latrine coverage in project areas from 29% in 2012 to 67% in 2018. The poorest and most marginalized have also benefited from this market-based approach: 20% of toilets were purchased by poor households (as defined by the Cambodian government), compared to a 16% poverty rate in the general population.

Sanitation market sales agents (Photo Credit: Tyler Kozole)

This dramatic progress would not have been possible without Whitten & Roy Partnership’s guidance in designing effective sales approaches, professionalizing the program’s sales force, and recommending sales training strategies that evolved in response to market changes.

Besides the benefits to the Cambodia program recipients, both organizations have gained from this collaboration. Working with Whitten & Roy Partnership was integral to iDE’s ability to exceed its sales goals for the program.

Sales agents adopted a consultative approach to understand the problems customers face, which contributed to higher sales and user adoption.

Whitten & Roy Partnership helped managers learn and institutionalize tiered coaching so that sales agents receive regular feedback and mentoring.

Today, iDE’s programs in multiple countries apply the RACE™ formula to sales of water, sanitation, and agriculture products, as well as in building partner capacity to apply market-based approaches.

Working with iDE also changed Whitten & Roy Partnership, which originally served only Western commercial clients. In 2010, Whitten & Roy’s first CSR project, iDE’s Farm Business Advisor program, won the inaugural Nestlé Creating Shared Value Award. This achievement led Whitten & Roy Partnership to engage more clients in developing markets. Along with iDE, Whitten & Roy Partnership has become one of the pioneers in market-based, private-sector solutions directed at solving poverty issues.

In 2015, Whitten & Roy Partnership pivoted its business model to work almost exclusively with social enterprises and has delivered over 250 projects in over 35 developing countries over the past nine years.


iDE is an NGO that works through markets to create income and livelihood opportunities for poor rural households.

Whitten & Roy Partnership is a sales consulting firm that transforms sales, management, and leadership for socially minded organizations.