If you thought toilets and shit aren’t popular topics of conversation, you would have been in for a big surprise if you were anywhere around the recent Reinvent the Toilet Fair (RTTF) that happened in March 2014 in New Delhi. In the second edition of the fair (the first was in Seattle in August 2012), more than 700 participants from about 47 countries gathered to discuss how to bring safe sanitation to the 2.5 billion people who lack access to it. The fair in India was co-hosted by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with the support of India’s Ministry of Urban Development, and it showcased innovative products and approaches from various Gates Foundation grantees from across the world that aim to bring safe, affordable and sustainable sanitation to those who need it most.
The fair showcased prototypes from several of the research grantees of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, where innovative approaches are being used for the safe and sustainable management of human waste. In addition to these there were also several other projects from other investment areas of the Gates Foundation’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program – Urban Sanitation Markets, Building Demand for Sanitation, Policy & Advocacy, Monitoring & Evaluation. As part of this, Project Sammaan was also showcased at the fair by Quicksand.
It was very exciting for us to see the huge progress made by so many of the grantees from the last fair. What were basic prototypes in Seattle in 2012 were now much more evolved, and were a lot closer to practical working solutions. On the other hand, it was also genuinely hard to miss the buzz of innovation all around. There was a varied and interested group of people all talking about science, ideas, practical applications, and real world challenges of the very complex world of sanitation. While the exciting technology innovations were what took centre stage because they brought together cutting-edge science with a radical rethink of the boundaries of possibility, it was also exciting to see other projects such as ours trying to innovate on basic design of sanitation facilities, business models and partnerships with the government. We met several folks who had both pertinent questions to ask as well as relevant expertise and experiences to share with us.
It is often easy to get isolated within the struggles and small successes of our own project and this was a vital opportunity to connect with a larger community, all of whom are attempting to address various challenges within the space. Unless we openly discuss challenges and actively learn from other projects and people, it would be virtually impossible to make any headway with the myriad complexities that are characteristic of the space. And the spirit of open sharing, collaboration and genuine curiosity and interest that almost all the participants at the fair brought forward was truly inspiring and encouraging. If the aim was to stimulate discussion and spur partnerships to enable bringing affordable sanitation solutions to the many in need, the Fair truly did a stellar job at it.
You can read more about the RTTF on the Gates Foundation’s blog: http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2014/04/What-Happened-at-the-Reinvent-the-Toilet-Fair-India-and-Whats-Next