Recording: Steering a behavioural transition: from open defecation to toilet usage for sustainability

June 7, 2024

Recording from SweDev and SEI’s dialogue series on development research on 29 May 2024.

Photo: A toilet celebration // Friend in Need India Trust

SweDev and SEI’s Development Policy and Finance Team proudly present Dr. Shyama V. Ramani as the keynote speaker for the Dialogue on Development Research held on 29 May.  


Join Professor Dr. Shyama V. Ramani as she discusses her research focused on steering behavioural transitions from open defecation to toilet usage for sustainability. For decades, low- and middle-income countries have been trying to address the problem of open defecation (OD) by building basic low-cost toilets and coupling this with education drives for behavioural change. Though OD has reduced drastically overall, progress is deemed too slow in 30 countries, and OD has increased in another 10. Dr. Ramani’s research contributes to understanding tipping points for social norm transitions around defecation behaviour. The study shows how village characteristics, existing social norms, sanitation programs’ features, and the evolving confidence of community members in using toilets drive the dynamics. Some villages transition to open defecation free, while others stagnate or even revert to OD. This highlights the importance of targeted interventions to influence tipping dynamics and achieve sustainable open defecation free communities.    


Dr. Shyama V. Ramani is a Professorial Fellow at the United Nations University (UNU-MERIT) with over three decades of research and teaching experience. She holds a PhD in economics from Cornell University. She founded the charity “Friend in Need India Trust” and the social enterprise “SITE4Sustainability“, which explore how to drive positive change through charitable and market-based solutions.   

Dr. Nicholas Igwe, founder and National Coordinator at OPS-WASH (Organized Private Sector in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and a member of the Continental Africa Water Investment Programme (AIP) panel and the National Task Group on Sanitation in Nigeria representing the Private Sector was the discussant for this dialogue. He is a chemical engineer with specific qualifications in polymer and water engineering. He founded Zenith Water Projects Limited, which aims to provide innovative water technology solutions across Africa.   

Welcoming remarks by Carly Evaeus, Project Manager at SEI  

Watch the recording here.