The IDEV Practicum Blog is a six part series that chronicles the adventures of second-year IDEV students who take on client projects over winter break as a capstone to their graduate studies.


As part of the IDEV Practicum, our team was paired with the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) in Cambodia. Over the last year, WSP had been working with a consulting firm to develop a national strategy to improve rural sanitation by increasing latrine ownership and usage. Not surprisingly, coming up with a comprehensive solution in a country where rural latrine use hovers around 40% is not an easy proposition.

In the weeks and months leading up to our trip to Cambodia, our team researched local government structure and capacity. We read up on the decentralization process currently underway in Cambodia. We put together surveys to evaluate the potential challenges to district governments taking on increased responsibilities in promoting sanitation.

When we arrived, we had to change everything.

Our initial role in the project was to focus on local government and operationalize the role they would play in the new national sanitation strategy. We prepared by learning about local government capacity, and the (very limited) budget and resources they had to allocate to sanitation. However, a few days before our arrival in Cambodia, the project focus changed.  Our new task was to investigate the prospects for creating a private association of latrine businesses. It was believed that this association had the potential to greatly strengthen the sanitation sector and our job was now to figure out how to get this association past the idea phase. 

It was time for us to quickly rewrite our strategy.

Business associations are not a new concept. A latrine business association had even been created in Indonesia. The question was how this would translate to the Cambodian context – and how we would repurpose our previous work to meet the new task.

From our first day on the ground in Phnom Penh, through five days of interviews and focus groups in the field, to our final presentation at the end of two weeks, it was a process of constant adjustment. We learned how to adapt to new challenges day-to-day.  Aside from the shifting focus of our project, we also had to constantly adapt our survey materials to reflect the operating environment.  For example, questions that we had prepared for latrine businesses such as, “how do you incentivize your staff?” were not relevant in the context of small family owned businesses.  We needed to adjust our approach to ask more realistic and relevant questions.

While the fieldwork presented many challenges, it was not without excitement.  Everyday, we had the opportunity to have long candid conversations with stakeholders in the sanitation sector, and we were invited into people’s homes and places of business to better understand their personal challenges. The chaotic and colorful environments in which we conducted many of our surveys will not be soon forgotten. On our favorite survey day, for example, we were surrounded by four species of babies—piglets, puppies, chicks, and a real live human baby.  It will be hard for any of us to top this survey experience any time soon.

At the end of two weeks in Cambodia, we presented our initial findings to the WSP staff and discussed our tasks moving forward. Forming a private latrine business association in Cambodia will be a major challenge. By analyzing the interests of the latrine business owners, garnering lessons learned from case studies of similar organizations, and developing a potential financial model for the association, we hope to help WSP take the first steps toward making the association a reality.


Yuen Ho is a second year IDEV student at SAIS specializing in development economics. Prior to SAIS, Yuen majored in economics at UNC-CH and also worked with Farm Radio International in impact evaluation. After graduating from SAIS, Yuen will join the JPAL team at MIT as a policy associate, where she will be working with RCTs.

Jessica Tebor is a master's candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where she studies international development and international economics. Prior to SAIS, she worked as the Business Development Manager at Global Cycle Solutions, a social enterprise in Tanzania that develops and disseminates agricultural and energy products. Jessica also worked for a microfinance bank in Fiji and as a business analyst with Axiom law, a legal consulting firm in New York city. Jessica graduated with a BBA from the University of Michigan.

Sean Griffin is a second year student at SAIS concentrating in international development. Before attending SAIS, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine and worked for Poverty Resolutions, a nonprofit based in the Philadelphia area. Over the summer, he completed an internship with the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow. Sean graduated from Penn State University with degrees in international politics and economics.