Strategic Exit

WaterSHED's Strategic Exit in 2021

The challenge isn’t in shutting down a program or an organization. It’s in shutting down and ensuring that service delivery is sustained.

In 2009, only 2 in 10 rural Cambodians had access to a toilet. WaterSHED helped to jump-start the rural market with a range of interventions:

  • developing a profitable enterprise model with rural businesses,
  • lobbying policy groups to build supportive business environments,
  • facilitating greater inclusion of women in the WASH market,
  • incubating businesses to fill gaps in sanitation product offering,
  • coaching locally elected officials to drive sanitation demand,
  • conducting ongoing research that informs the design of our activities.

All this so that aid organizations (including us) could get out of the way.

Rural sanitation in Cambodia is now a unique success story. Today, more than 70% of rural households have access to a toilet. Having shown that markets can deliver, we then focused on equipping the government to take the lead going forward as we exit the sector. 

“Nonprofits need to account not just for the impact they hope to achieve, but also for the sector-wide change they aim to promote. ‘Scale,’ in this context, takes on a new meaning.”

— Alice Gugelev & Andrew Stern (“What’s Your Endgame?”, 2015, Stanford Social Innovation Review)

“We are not children. We can lead this now.”

– Deputy Provincial Governor, in response to a Provincial Director’s concern that it was too soon for WaterSHED to exit and for government to take the lead (Provincial Working Group meeting, November 2019)

Program evolution: Hands-Off market-based sanitation

Phase 1

Phase 2 

Phase 3


Start-up Design and Piloting

We started with formative research to identify opportunities for market development in WASH. In rural sanitation, the initial focus was on rings 1 & 2 with interventions at the firm and consumer level, for example:

We engaged elected commune councilors before launching market facilitation activities in each commune – including them in the design of the new approach from the start.


Expansion and Consolidation

In Phase 2, the Hands-Off market-building model was proven to be robust and scalable. By expanding from four to 54 districts across eight provinces, we helped build a market that serves 40% of the total population of Cambodia. Because we leveraged local systems, Phase 2 was very efficient, with a total cost of 0.75M USD per year.

Investigations into the factors driving high levels of sustained access to sanitation led to the development of a leadership training program for local government officials, which was a critical piece of our exit strategy. Delivering the Civic Champions program at scale enabled continuous and significant increases in toilet adoption–independent of our assistance.

In-depth research revealed addressable product gaps in the areas of infant and young child sanitation, handwashing, and the laborious process of building a latrine shelter.



Provincial Action: In 2018, having exited from direct market facilitation, our provincial teams worked towards government-led ownership of key roles in market facilitation, multi-stakeholder coordination, and data collection and monitoring that are critical to achieve Cambodia’s plans for universal sanitation access by 2030.

National Action: Concurrently, WaterSHED worked to institutionalize key elements of the Civic Champions program at the national level. The Ministry of Interior sees Civic as a highly effective enabling program that could support decentralization across multiple sectors – not only in sanitation.

Collective Action: Phase 3 also provided structured facilitation of collective action in order to weave a cohesive WASH sector at the provincial level – comprising government, civil society, the private sector, and academia – that is collectively accountable for shared goals.

None of this would be possible without this inspiring team…

They live in the provinces where they helped local businesses knock on doors and sell toilets, and now they work closely with their respective provincial government officials to take the lead in providing sanitation services…

Best of all, many tell me their families are proud of them.