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How might we use market-based approaches to expand water and sanitation solutions among low income households in India?

Let’s develop solutions that support households and market-based suppliers as they invest in rapidly improving access to safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation in India.

What’s the situation?
Access to safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation are true necessities for healthy families. Yet access rates for water and sanitation remain stubbornly low in most low-income countries. In India alone 77 million people lack access to safe water 769 million lack accesses to hygienic sanitation. With the Water and Sanitation Challenge, we aim to disrupt these statistics completely and reimagine how everyone thinks about water and sanitation.

The role of financial inclusion
The vast majority of the Indian population lives on less than US$5 a day. Think of this as a design constraint when designing water and sanitation solutions. We believe we can think beyond charity and better leverage the funds of households and capacities of markets to innovate and offer low-cost effective solutions. Solutions that involve financial tools such as micro loans, installment payments, vendor financing, loan guarantees and other base of pyramid approaches are ones we see with high potential for impact.

Is your idea a fit for this challenge?
Over the course of The Water and Sanitation Challenge we’re excited to see ideas connect and gain momentum. We’re also looking for ideas that meet specific criteria before they make their way onto the challenge:

  • Operating in India. Every country offers unique culture, beliefs, delivery systems, infrastructure, etc. In order to most effectively respond to the urgent need for water and sanitation we’ll be looking at organizations formally registered in India.
  • Reached critical mass. In this challenge, we’re focused on solutions that have potential in the medium-term to have a sizeable impact. We define that as organizations that have at least 5 employees or an annual turnover of Rs 1 crore ($150k USD).
  • Address drinking water or sanitation. Water touches our lives in many ways including agriculture, natural resource management and of course drinking water. We’re specifically looking for ideas that address drinking water or sanitation. Similar to water the world of sanitation is highly varied and we are looking for ideas that improve the hygienic separation and treatment of human waste (this normally translates into toilets and waste treatment).
  • Market-based approach. Charity alone can not address the enormous scale of safe water and sanitation in India. We believe market-based approaches – whether in the form of non-profit, for-profit, social enterprise or something else – have a key role in providing goods and service to meet the needs of households.
  • Cost effectiveness. Even the grandest of ideas need to be practical about cost. With so many people to reach and an expectation that households will be contributing their own funds, cost effectiveness is key.
  • Sustainable change. Water and sanitation are needed every day and solutions need regular maintenance and investment. We’re excited about solutions that prioritize the sustainability needed to make lasting change.
  • Consider scale. Millions of households need to be reached – let’s focus on solutions that keep this top of mind.
  • Non-financial organizations. Water.org currently works with nearly 60 financial organizations such as microfinance institutions and banks offering base of the pyramid financial services. This challenge is an opportunity for Water.org to explore an entirely new area, non-financial organizations such product or service providers. Examples could include a pay-per-use toilet service, a water provider, a rural sanitation supplier and many others. However, if you are a financial organization and want to work with Water.org, please contact us directly (water.org/contact) instead of joining the challenge.


Top ideas and funding
From all of the ideas submitted to the challenge, we plan to select at least five Top Ideas and at least one organization to develop a formal partnership with. The partnership will include a grant of approximately $250,000 USD, mentorship from Water.org and the opportunity to connect with organizations in our network in order to support the implementation of the winning idea.

Challenge details
OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform that encourages collaboration and idea evolution. Our online challenges follow the human-centered design methodology in order to create innovative solutions that keep the needs of the end user the focal point. The Water and Sanitation Challenge will involve the following phases:

  1. Ideas. Launches on Feb. 2 and lasts 5 weeks. This phase is an open call for those working on relevant solutions to submit their idea online to the challenge. Once submitted, the idea will have the opportunity to gather feedback and comments.
  2. Feedback. During this two week phase the OpenIDEO community and Water.org provide feedback and asks follow-up questions to the submitted ideas. It’s also an opportunity for the advisory teams to select a shortlist of ideas that will move onto the Refinement phase.
  3. Refinement. Launches on Mar. 22 and lasts 4 weeks. In refinement ideas selected for the shortlist have the opportunity to refine their ideas based on feedback and questions from the previous phase. Feedback is largely centered on incorporating the human-centered design methodology into ideas.
  4. Evaluation. This phase is two weeks during which a panel of judges (Water.org, OpenIDEO and industry experts) will evaluate the ideas and select approximately five Top Ideas and at least one partnership organization.
  5. Top Ideas. On May 3 the Top Ideas and partnership organization will be shared far and wide.
  6. Impact. This phase lasts forever and is a place to share post-challenge updates that show impact in the focus area of the challenge.



About Our Sponsor
Water.org is an international nonprofit organization that has positively transformed millions of lives around the world by providing access to safe water and sanitation. Founded by Gary White and Matt Damon, Water.org pioneers innovative, sustainable solutions to the global water crisis, giving women hope, children health and communities a future.

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