In the belief that the government’s efforts alone are not sufficient 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 creating job opportunities at the same time.

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


In the belief that the government’s efforts alone are not sufficient 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 creating job opportunities at the same time.


By redefining the role of sanitarians, Sumadi has shifted the attitude and behavior of sanitarians from a passive employee mindset to one of a community entrepreneur. Together with his 38 sanitarian community entrepreneurs, who also play the role of marketers, Sumadi has been able to engage village midwives, construction workers, building material suppliers, and community members to bring about 5,000 units of household toilets serving over 25,000 poor people in the Nganjuk District, East Java, among other cities in Indonesia.
Sumadi envisions each sanitarian as a community entrepreneur, a professional who can perform above their duties and act beyond only 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 with construction workers and building material suppliers. Through the Indonesia Association of Sanitation Management and Empowerment (APPSANI), he connects the Sanitation Works Association (Asosiasi Karya Sanitasi) with construction workers, material suppliers, and the Association of Sanitation Entrepreneurs (Asosiasi Pengusaha Sanitasi) to join efforts in facilitating the emergence of sanitation demands across different villages in Indonesia.
His model has been replicated across at least 38 districts and associations have been set up in nine cities in Java, Lombok, Sulawesi and Papua islands. His model has also inspired the village youth in South Kalimantan to become community sanitation entrepreneurs. Now Sumadi is approaching Schools of Health Polytechnic in Aceh and Surabaya to include entrepreneurship curriculum in order to build a community of future 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 common practice among 19% of the urban population and 40% 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 damages, which include water pollution and a reduction in the productivity of the land, the problem has caused serious outbreaks of preventable diseases such as diarrhea and cholera, resulting in major losses to the country.
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 a population of 10,000-20,000. Not only is this number below the number of people and communities that need to be served,, but sanitarians are also not keeping pace with changes in health conditions in Indonesia and fail to make the appropriate adjustments. With a supply provision mindset, sanitarians are not able to see local potential, mobilize communities and other professionals to collaborate in order to address the problem. 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 communities’ problems with innovative solutions.
In addition to the human resource challenges, the government has not put sanitation as a high priority on their agenda. Although aiming for communities to be 100 percent open defecation-free has already been set as one of the government’s five-year goals, the government’s limited support on provisions for sanitation construction has failed to stimulate the community to voluntarily build their own facilities. Even those receiving the stimulant packages have often failed to build the toilets by themselves due to lack of information and skills and the government’s lack of investment in supporting healthy behaviors. Worse, by and large, international and local NGOs and donors have followed suit with these supply driven models, which undermine people’s willingness to pay for the facilities. To a large extent, sanitation programs are still driven and financed as a part of donor-funded water and sanitation loan programs and national level budgets in Indonesia. Not only has the approach created dependency on the government’s subsidies, it leaves the facilities unmaintained and therefore unsustainable due to a poor sense of ownership. Not surprisingly, even when these public toilets are available, many still continue to practice unhealthy behaviors.


Sumadi uses a unique model to change people’s 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 who have 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, 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 that also saved on construction costs. Later, he 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).
He modified different sanitation products and provided the clients with an Informed Choice Catalogue containing different cost options with access to flexible financing facilities. 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 efforts. 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. He believes that people can afford and take charge of their personal sanitation needs. Once the community realizes the problems with open defecation behaviors and the negative consequences on the environment and public health, they will make more informed decisions and choose to build appropriate facilities based on Sumadi’s model.
Through the World Bank’s World Sanitation Program, Sumadi accessed sanitation marketing training and was awarded as East Java’s best motivator. In order to improve behavior, Sumadi utilizes a social marketing approach, not merely to change the behavior of his target markets, but also to provide solutions: product branding, product presentations at community meetings (including screenings of educational video dramas that display the importance of sanitation and hygiene practices in the family), 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 the production costs through bulk purchases.
Sumadi also 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 or local banks to provide working capital for toilet constructions. Sumadi also applies a cash-back program to the clients as a part of his profit sharing mechanism. The money for the cash-back is taken from the profits gained after having deducted the pay for the operational costs (5-7%). The cash-back, which is approximately 30-40% of the normal price (Rp 450.000), is returned to the client, and the toilet construction ends up only costing  60-70% (Rp 975.000) of the original price (Rp 1.435.000).
To scale up, Sumadi offers a franchise model for his toilet design, technical expertise, and the information on how to run 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. Currently, his model has been replicated with independent local financing programs, with over 5,000 toilets that provide sanitation access to underserved families in over 45 districts in six big islands across Indonesia.
He received the national Kalpataru award as an Environmental Pioneer in 2010. Currently, this model has been adopted in WSSLIC (water and sanitation for low income community) programs 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. He also aims to cultivate more sanitation entrepreneurs down to the sub-district and village level. This is why he is now working with the School of Health Poly-techniques of Aceh and Surabaya where he instills practical experience about entrepreneurship into the curriculum.


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 was teaching during the daytime and working in a rice mill in the evenings. Little Sumadi learned how to be a hard worker and a risk taker from his father. He was expected to continue the family’s small enterprise ever since he was in the 3rd grade.
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 a financial shortage both for his living and for his education expenses, young Sumadi and his friends had to be bus hawkers. Every Sunday, when he returned home, he actively joined village youth activities, the community lottery, and religious activities. After completing high school, he secretly applied for a course at the Academy of Health Assessors, and paid the 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, Nganjuk. Seeing the sanitation problems, and the community that was unable to solve these problems, he felt the need to learn more and pursue a university degree. He wrote his final paper on the design of septic tanks. Combining the business knowledge he learned from his family business and his technical knowledge, he started to serve a market potential of 100,000 houses without sanitation facilities in his community. Through this, he tries to leverage the role of sanitarians and creates a win-win solution for the community, the masons, the workers, and the construction material shops.