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I had the pleasure of attending the first Lipman Family Prize Unconference 2012 here in Philly last Friday. The Lipman Family Prize, affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School,  is an annual global prize that celebrates leadership and innovation among organizations creating positive social impact. During the unconference, the three finalists: iDE, Komaza, and MedShare, each shared the powerful work they are doing to address significant social and economic challenges. I most appreciated the prize's emphasis on transferability and impact of practices–each organization's model had the potential to be scaled or translated to a new sector. At the unconference they announced the 2012 winner–iDE. Here is a brief video explaining iDE's mission to address water and sanitation issues in developing countries:

To me, the most interesting insight that iDE spoke about was the power of a market-based approach–versus a charity or "hand-out," which they found to be ineffective. In their words, they are "unleashing the power of innovation and market forces for poor rural households in the developing world, helping them access the tools and knowledge they need to increase their income."

During the unconference, the attendees divided into three teams, each addressing specific challenges identified by the finalists. I participated in the ideation session with iDE and our challenge was how to overcome "the last mile" for adoption of their latrines. This took on two main meanings: the first, is that the lack of transportation infrastructure to carry supplies to the ultra-poor proves to be a huge barrier; the second, is that without 100% use of the latrines in communities, the health benefits are not nearly as effective. My work group decided to address the issue of "demand," and brainstorm ways to encourage the last 20% of people in the community to buy a latrine. Our discussion revolved around the key ideas of:

  • Identifying the community leader to influence behavior change
  • Offering discounts for multiple family purchases, modeled after the western version of a tupperware party
  • And the more long-term idea, involving a re-design of the latrine to include composting for growing food, as well as methane for cooking and other electricity needs–providing additional benefit to the family beyond the health benefits (which most are not influenced by currently)

It was an exciting, mind-stimulating morning, and a big congratulations to iDE on winning the Lipman Family Prize! I hope some of our ideas will be helpful as they continue to inspire and empower entrepreneurs all across the world.