With the belief that government efforts alone will not to fix Indonesia’s acute sanitation problems, Sumadi, a sanitarian, is cultivating sanitation entrepreneurs to help rural Indonesia have better access to proper sanitation and reduce water pollution, while also creating job opportunities. 

This profile below was prepared when Sumadi Sumadi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.


With the belief that government efforts alone will not to fix Indonesia’s acute sanitation problems, Sumadi, a sanitarian, is cultivating sanitation entrepreneurs to help rural Indonesia have better access to proper sanitation and reduce water pollution, while also creating job opportunities. 


By redefining the role of sanitarians, Sumadi has shifted their attitude and behavior from passive employees to community entrepreneurs. Together with his 38 sanitarian community entrepreneurs, who also play the role of marketers, Sumadi has engaged village midwives, construction workers, building material suppliers, and community members to about 5,000 household toilets which serve over 25,000 people in the Nganjuk District, East Java, among other cities in Indonesia. 

For Sumadi, each sanitarian is a community entrepreneur; a professional who can perform above their duties and act beyond implementing a sanitation campaign. By using a market-based approach, Sumadi’s sanitarians have reduced inefficiencies in the supply chain. Like doctor-pharmacist-drugstore partnerships, Sumadi helps sanitarians’ build relationships. Through the Indonesia Association of Sanitation Management and Empowerment, he connects the Sanitation Works Association (Asosiasi Karya Sanitasi) with construction workers, material suppliers, and the Association of Sanitation Entrepreneurs (Asosiasi Pengusaha Sanitasi), to facilitate the emergence of sanitation demands across different villages in Indonesia. 

Sumadi’s model has been replicated across 45 districts and associations have been set up in nine cities, including Java, Lombok, Sulawesi, and Papua islands. His model has also inspired the village youth in South Kalimantan to become community sanitation entrepreneurs. Sumadi is approaching Health Polytechnic Schools in Aceh and Surabaya to include entrepreneurship curriculum in order to build a future community of sanitarians.


From a population of 250 million, 70 million Indonesians still live without access to basic sanitation facilities. Open defecation or direct river defecation is still a common practice among 19 percent of the urban population and 40 percent of the rural population. National data claims that around three-quarters of households are discharging raw sewage into paddy fields, ponds, lakes, rivers, and the sea; only one-quarter are connected to septic tanks or improved pits. In addition to the environmental damage, which includes water pollution and a reduction in land productivity, these problems have caused serious outbreaks of preventable diseases, such as diarrhea and cholera. 

District governments fund sanitarians, a functional position at Community Health Centers (Puskesmas). Their main responsibility is illness-prevention through environmental health and hygiene initiatives in the dedicated villages within sub-district areas. One sanitarian is usually responsible for covering eleven villages or serving 10,000 to 20,000 people. Not only is this far below the number of people and communities that need to be served, but sanitarians are not keeping pace with changes in health conditions, and fail to make appropriate adjustments. With a supply-provision mindset, sanitarians are not able to see local potential, or mobilize communities and professionals to collaboratively address the problems. New health school graduates wish to become civil servants and public service providers, which is what the school prepares the students to become, rather than skilled workers ready to tackle their community’s problems with innovative solutions.

In addition to the human resource challenges, for the government sanitation is not a high priority. Although aiming for communities to be 100 percent defecation-free is one of the government’s five-year goals, their limited provision support for sanitation construction has failed to stimulate the community to build their own facilities. Those receiving the stimulant packages have often failed to build their toilets due to a lack of information and skill. Worse, by and large, international and local citizen organizations (COs) and donors support supply driven models, which undermine people’s willingness to pay for facilities. To a large extent, sanitation programs are still driven and financed as part of donor-funded water and sanitation loan programs and the national budget. Not only has the approach created dependency on government subsidies, the facilities are not maintained and unsustainable due to a poor sense of ownership. Not surprisingly, even when public toilets are available, many still practice unhealthy behaviors. 


Sumadi expanded the traditional sanitarian role to emphasize marketing skills as well as improved communication skills for household latrine construction. As sanitarians do not work alone, Sumadi coupled their expertise with those of building material suppliers with finance skills, and construction workers with technical skills. As all three work together and share their knowledge (technical, financial, and communication), they build the body of knowledge necessary for a sanitation entrepreneur. 

To equip the sanitarians, Sumadi implemented a 4P (Product, Price, Promotion and Place) marketing strategy to serve clients’ needs and interests in sanitation provision services. He started with product development and experimented with a cylindrical septic tank design to answer the challenge of unstable land conditions, which also saved on construction costs. Later, Sumadi expanded the service to allow for the reuse of waste, which included implementing biogas technology, and the use of excreta for fertilizer. To generate demand for his sanitation products and services, Sumadi introduced an Integrated One-Stop Sanitation Service by offering various upgradable latrine product options, after-installation warranty (5-year repair guarantee for construction damage), pit emptying services, and flexible payment terms (including 3, 6, or 10-month credit installments). 

Sumadi modified different sanitation products and provided clients with an Informed Choice Catalogue, containing different cost options with access to flexible financing. To his surprise, the community’s favorite product was not the cheapest one, but the most expensive, due to flexible financing, after sales services, and good marketing. With this “no government subsidy” model, Sumadi has been able to bring about collective behavior changes that have moved the community away from open defecation habits. As the community realizes the problems with open defecation behaviors and the negative consequences on the environment and public health, they make more informed decisions to build facilities based on Sumadi’s model.

Through the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program, Sumadi accessed sanitation marketing training (and was awarded as East Java’s best motivator). Sumadi utilizes a social marketing approach, to change behavior, but also to provide solutions: product branding, product presentations at community meetings (i.e. screenings of educational video dramas that explain the importance of sanitation and family hygiene practices), and brochures and flyers about four types of upgradable toilets with pricing calculations for each. Hand-in-hand with building material suppliers and construction workers, Sumadi has managed to lower production costs through bulk purchases.

Sumadi works with village sanitation committees, sanitarians, and community figures in order to assess sanitation needs, the village’s budget, and tap into local resources, such as community cooperatives and local banks to provide working capital for toilet constructions. He also applies a cash-back program to clients as a part of his profit-sharing mechanism. The cash-back is taken from the profit after deducting operational costs (5 to 7 percent). The toilet construction ends up only costing 60 to 70 percent (Rp 975,000) of the original price (Rp 1,435,000).

Sumadi offers a franchise model for his toilet design, technical expertise, and information about how to manage a sanitation social enterprise. Together with the sanitarian community entrepreneurs, workers, and masons, he set up the Sanitation Works Association and Association of Sanitation Entrepreneurs in every district or city where his model is replicated. He also set up the Indonesia Association of Sanitation Management and Empowerment at the national level. 

Sumadi received the national Kalpataru Award as an Environmental Pioneer in 2010. Currently, this model has been adopted by Water Supply and Sanitation for Low Income Communities in Bone—South Sulawesi, Lombok—Nusa Tenggara Barat, and Cirebon—West Java. In the future, Sumadi expects to expand his field to domestic waste water treatment, particularly septic tank sludge, as he projects that once the latrine market is saturated, other sanitation related services should be ready to sustain future social endeavors. 


Sumadi was born in 1970 and is the third of four siblings from a modest village family in East Java. His mother owned a rice kiosk, while his father taught during the day and worked in a rice mill at night. Sumadi learned how to be a hard worker and a risk-taker from his father, and from childhood, was expected to continue the family’s small enterprise.

Despite his parent’s opposition, Sumadi, attended high school in Nganjuk, the nearest town to his village, through a foster parent scholarship program. However, due to continued financial need, Sumadi and his friends became “bus hawkers.” Every Sunday, when he returned home, he joined village youth activities, the community lottery, and religious activities. After completing high school, Sumadi secretly applied to the Academy of Health Assessors, and paid his tuition with a 3-year work contract in Kalimantan.


When Sumadi returned home to Java in 1994, he was appointed as a sanitarian at the Jatikalen Health Center, working as a civil servant at the Nganjuk District Health Office. Seeing the sanitation problems, and how the community was unable to solve them, he felt the need to learn more and pursue a university degree. Sumadi wrote his final paper on the design of septic tanks. Combining the business knowledge he learned from his family with his technical knowledge, he started to serve a market potential of 100,000 houses without sanitation facilities in his community. Through this, Sumadi leverages the role of sanitarians and creates a win-win solution for the community, the masons, the workers, and the construction material shops. He is using his network of district health offices and community health vocational schools to spread his work nationally.