Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy located in Southeast Asia with a population of 14.8 million. Cambodia was ruled as a vassal between its neighbors during the powerful Khmer empire until it was colonized by the French in mid-19th century. Cambodia gained independence in 1953. The Vietnam War extended into Cambodia, giving rise to the Khmer Rouge, which took Phnom Penh in 1975. The Khmer Rouge’s social engineering policies resulted in widespread famine and genocide. An estimated 1/5 of the population died during the regime. After years of isolation, the war-ravaged nation was reunited under the monarchy in 1993.
Rebuilding from decades of civil war, Cambodia has seen rapid progress in its economy, but much of the wealth has not reached the populace. Wages remain low and the income tax system is lax, rendering a government with very few resources. The war left a population where 50% of the people is younger than 22 years old, with 85% of the population living in rural areas engaged mostly in subsistence agriculture. There are insufficient jobs for a population that already lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the impoverished countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic services. The rural population is very dispersed that infrastructure remains poor. With 30% of Cambodians living below the poverty line, Cambodia has the highest poverty rate in the region. These statistics persist, despite Cambodia being the highest per capita recipient of foreign aid. In sanitation, most of the aid has been in subsidy form.
Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project
There is not one “founder” for sanitation marketing. Many organizations are adopting this approach and it is continually evolving as the sector learns more. However, the story behind IDE’s leadership in SanMark speaks to the value of bringing in more business and marketing skills to the sector.
When iDE SanMark’s program managers Cordell Jacks and Tamara Baker left their cushy private sector jobs in finance and marketing, sold everything they owned to travel the world looking for more meaningful work, they had no idea their next jobs would be in the “shit” business. They had sent out their CVs to their networks, and a copy happened to land on iDE country director Michael Roberts’ desk. He called them up to ask them to lead the new SanMark program at iDE-Cambodia. “I need you to take the world’s most unsexy product, the toilet, and get people who have very little money, and who don’t necessarily believe in germ theory, to buy it” Roberts told them. They were hesitant at first, with no background in public health, let alone sanitation, or development, how could they be of value to the program? Never ones to shy away from a challenge, Jacks and Baker accepted.
Almost three years after that phone call, Jacks and Baker have helped ignite the private sector in Cambodia as a sustainable solution to sanitation crisis. The Cambodian experience serves as a lab where new ideas and innovations will continually be tested and also as a model for global replication and scale up.