Gaming for Profit: Using a Game to Learn About Market-Based Sanitation

Credit: Jesse Shapiro
Credit: Jesse Shapiro

This blog originally appeared on Climatelinks.


Climate change worsens familiar challenges to water and sanitation services, including limited access and poor infrastructure. Innovative approaches, such as games to inform sanitation enterprise development, have the potential to catalyze local solutions for sanitation.

USAID’s Market-Based Sanitation game teaches the fundamentals of a sanitation market system and how an enterprise’s choices affect their viability as a business. Based on USAID’s market-based sanitation framework, the game asks players to select the kind of sanitation enterprise they want to develop, such as a concrete manufacturer or hardware store. Players select their target market, the product they want to sell, a marketing strategy, a model for delivering products, and the type of entrepreneur who will be selling these products. These decisions are based on a demographic, geographic, and economic scenario provided to the player. A complementary Excel-based module allows players to plug in their choices and find out if the outcome is a profitable business.

USAID originally developed the game as a training tool for its Global Water and Development Workshop, held in Bangkok in May 2019. It was then used at the Environment Officer’s Conference in Washington, D.C., and shared with field-based implementing partners working on market-based sanitation in Indonesia, West and East Africa, and Haiti. The recently-added Excel tool provides outcome-level feedback on the choices made in the game so that players can modify their selections and understand how their business could be improved.

The game employs an iterative approach to enable learning and strategy improvements. At the 2019 University of North Carolina Water and Health Conference, USAID’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability (WASHPaLS) activity led a session where over 50 conference attendees played the market-based sanitation game. Each group had a facilitator who guided the groups as they made selections for each part of the game. Once the group filled out the game board, the facilitator ran the Excel module and gave the group their results. Groups then revisited some of their choices to see if they could improve the profitability of their business. They discussed trade-offs such as reaching more customers versus having higher profits, or the need for start-up capital versus long-term revenue potential.

Participants appreciated the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the framework and see how the choices they made across the market system impacted the ability of an enterprise to stay in the sanitation business. The Market-Based Sanitation game, along with facilitator materials and the Excel tool, is available to anyone wanting to use it. Organizations thinking about how to support sustainable markets for sanitation products and services can use the game to explore options and encourage group discussions of tradeoffs.

For more information or to access the game materials, visit www.globalwaters.org/WASHPaLS, and learn more about USAID’s approach to increasing access to sustainable basic sanitation services in the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy.

By Jesse Shapiro and Liz Jordan, USAID Water Office