iDE History

Impromptu Dancing at Launch of Toilet Project in Savelugu-Nanton District of Ghana

For over 30 years, iDE has been creating businesses that work for poor yet enterprising people around the world. Using

Results of a Solar Pump in Zambia

market-based solutions to solve problems related to sanitation and farming, entrepreneurs increase their incomes and improve their living conditions, creating real and lasting change. In turn, these new businesses deliver transformative products and services to millions of people who need them. Think nutritious food supplied by farmers who can now irrigate their crops in the dry season and families who can now purchase their first private toilet.



Getting started

Navigating in Rainy Season = Somalia

iDE’s first project emerged from Gerry Dyck of Kalora and Paul Polak’s visit to a Somalian refugee camp in 1982.

Donkey Cart Somalia 1982

They noticed that refugees were carrying supplies by hand or with a very inefficient cart pulled by a donkey.

Using abandoned car parts and working with displaced blacksmiths in the camps, they modified the donkey cart, enabling it to carry more weight.

They then assisted the blacksmiths with selling these improved carts to other refugees, on credit. By renting the cart, owners could pay back the loan with interest in two and a half months.

New Improved Donkey
Cart – Somalia

Five hundred carts were sold producing more than $1million of net income for cart owners in one year. This project set the stage for iDE’s model for development work—help others help themselves—which remains the cornerstone of their guiding principles today.



Small Acerage Farmer – Bangladesh

Building on the success of the camps in Somalia, iDE set its sights on Bangladesh where they began marketing treadle pumps to combat the lack of irrigation in the dry season. Treadle pumps are low-cost foot-powered irrigation pumps that suction ground water to the surface.

Ethiopia – Treadle Pumps at Wprk

As of 2015, more than 1.5 million treadle pumps have been sold in Bangladesh, creating $1.4 billion in net additional income per year. This income benefits farmers who can now grow crops in the dry season when their land would typically go unused.


iDE today

Nepal, selling cucumbers at gathering station

iDE’s initial successes demonstrated that entrepreneurs were everywhere, including refugee camps in Somalia and small farms in Bangladesh. Over the last three decades, iDE has expanded its footprint to engage with local markets in 11 countries:

Cambodia, demonstrating water filter, sanitation project

Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Zambia. Everywhere they work, iDE creates business opportunities unique to the communities they serve. Once they start on a project, they commit to staying for as long as it takes to establish businesses that will prosper.


Cambodia, sanitation teacher, photo by Chris Nicoletti

Along the way, iDE has learned that the key to market-based solutions to poverty isn’t just about technology; it also requires access to markets, financing, capital and a reliable supply chain. Ultimately, success comes from listening to people and using their input to design tailor-made solutions that meet local contexts: social, cultural, political and environmental. They’ve reached 26 million people so far.


To find out more about iDE’s exciting work, visit