To celebrate World Water Day, the Academy held a peer-led discussion on the value of WASH-related innovations across its programmes. Kelvin Gacheru (Mobi-Water), Alex Patto (Waterscope) and Vikram Gulecha (Oceo Water) from Africa Prize, Enterprise Hub and LIF respectively, share with us their WASH innovations, experience and insights from the event.
Can you briefly describe your innovation and tell us what inspired you to create it?
Kelvin: Mobi-Water is an online water monitoring and management platform that allows users to remotely monitor their water availability and water consumption, giving them full control over their water availability, usage and billing. Mobi-Water consists of sensors placed along the pipe network and storage tanks, an online cloud platform and analytics database, online dashboard and mobile app.
Alex: Globally, over 2.2 billion people lack access to a safe water source in which more than 2000 children die each day from diarrheal diseases. Existing field-testing methods are complex, prone to error, and slow. WaterScope is developing a rapid, simple, digital, bacterial testing kit to enable anyone to conduct a test in any location. The kit consists of a disposable cartridge to allow for easy sample collection, preparation and testing that quantifies bacterial microcolonies. Data is automatically uploaded for real-time mapping and intervention. Our approach enables data-driven decision-making while empowering communities to bring about sustainable change.
Vikram: Deteriorating water quality and its rising cost is one of the biggest problems the world is facing, and led to the creation of OCEO Smart Water Purifier. OCEO devices are IoT enabled and are offered as a pay-as-you-go water purification system. Each device is installed at a user's location with no upfront cost or recurring maintenance expenses. We provide Water Purification as a Service and hence OCEO users pay only for water purified by the device.
What did you learn from the World Water Day event?
Kelvin: A key takeaway was the need for WASH Entrepreneurs to work together and for WASH Technology transfer between countries. It was amazing to interact with other WASH participants and hear about their ongoing research and innovative solutions being implementing globally.
Alex: I learnt about the diverse and interesting initiatives all trying to solve water inequality.
Vikram: The opportunity to partner with fellow innovators and entrepreneurs across borders is immense. Every region has its own water challenges and with mutual collaborations, the impact can be larger and faster.
What impact has your innovation had so far in your country or abroad?
Kelvin: Our platform is currently used by three major utilities to manage reservoirs serving over 500,000 people, in 65 public schools to manage water for over 45,000 children and in over 250 businesses across Kenya to monitor and manage their water usage.
Alex: There are currently ten WaterScope testing kits being piloted in five field locations, in low-and middle-income countries. Sixteen individuals have been trained in using the system, 40% who are women. Our approach includes participatory training for end-user stakeholders to use the system, and builds local capacity in water quality and access, using the test as a segway to promote community-led advocacy for water quality monitoring at a local level. Our approach includes a strategy for the participation of women and marginalised groups.
Vikram: Our winning solution emerged as the winner of the India-Israel Innovation Challenge for Innovation in Drinking Water and received the recognition from Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Israel Mr Benjamin Netanyahu. With our unique positioning in serving the growing demand for safe drinking water, we are optimistic about the business prospects in the Indian market. Our impact goes beyond the water access. We employ local people, generate monthly savings of up to 80%, reduce co2 emissions, generate new opportunities and promote sustainable development.
What are your next steps for your innovation or business?
Kelvin: To build a distributor channel that will see us increase our device deployments from 100 to 500 devices monthly in 2022. We are also working on R&D for a Real-Time Water Quality Monitoring Solution and Ground Water Monitoring Solutions.
Alex: In the next 12 months, we will finalise the prototype and begin conducting large-scale manufacturing trials and demonstrate the post-production prototype in the market. We were recently awarded a grant from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund which will enable systematic testing of the system in Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp, Bangladesh, with Aquaya, Oxfam and Tearfund in September 2021. This will help us to understand the system's efficacy and resilience in field settings, which builds on data we have from the University of Cambridge, as well as the previous field trials.
Vikram: OCEO digital solutions have the power to engage with consumers more closely than ever before, save billions through operational efficiencies, improve service levels and reliability, and map water quality data for social good. We aim to make consumers, stakeholders and regulators view water as more advanced than energy.
How do you think other WASH entrepreneurs help you develop your innovation?
Kelvin: As a IoT company, our goal as a company is to integrate ‘Smart’ Water Technologies into the existing water infrastructure in Africa. We aim to work with other WASH innovators to integrate these smart technologies into their solutions, this will help them to track how their innovations serve their end users and to make smart data driven decisions.
Alex: working with other WASH entrepreneurs helps us learn how to conduct effective field trials and understand the market and space we are working in.
Vikram: The co-creation of the future water experience is at the forefront of all our partnerships and the support from researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs enhances our ability to build a better world, drop by drop.
What one tip for success would you give to your fellow WASH innovators?
Kelvin: Don’t try to walk the journey alone! Solving the world’s water challenges is a multi-faceted problem that needs different stakeholders to work together towards the same goal.
Alex: Networking and social capital is extremely important, as you never know who may help you in which circumstances; some of the best opportunities have come along when I have not expected it.
Vikram: Fail Early, Fail Fast and Fail Often