On the diffusion of toilets as bottom of the pyramid innovation: Lessons from sanitation entrepreneurs

S.V. Ramani*, S. SadreGhazi, G. Duysters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


There is an emerging body of literature on product innovations for the poor at the bottom of the income pyramid. However, there is little on why delivery systems succeed or fail in this context and the present paper attempts to fill this void by examining why and how sanitation entrepreneurs are succeeding in India to diffuse toilets an innovation for rural households, which never had access to one before. The literature is analyzed and confronted with the actual field practices. We demonstrate that the common thread that unifies progressive sanitation entrepreneurs is their adoption of a 'market based approach'. There are market failures stemming from the demand side due to problems in expression of demand and its mismatch with the perceived value of the innovation. In response, sanitation entrepreneurs go beyond the standard linear model of assessing need and appropriateness of technology. They create innovations in 'technological design' as well as in the 'delivery platforms' to include practices for 'accompaniment', 'sustainable maintenance' and 'generation of knowledge'. Thus, they make-up for sluggish or missing markets and informational asymmetries to ensure sustained use of toilets. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)676-687
Number of pages12
JournalTechnological Forecasting and Social Change
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • Pro-poor innovation
  • Rural sanitation
  • Bottom of the pyramid
  • Diffusion
  • Delivery platform
  • POOR

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