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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. 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 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, please contact us directly ( 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 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 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 (, 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 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, pioneers innovative, sustainable solutions to the global water crisis, giving women hope, children health and communities a future.

Do you want to get involved in this challenge?

We follow a process with phases. Currently we are in the Impact phase. You can participate by adding stories on the impact of this challenge.
142 ideas
142 final ideas
39 final ideas
39 final ideas


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Since 3D printed are out, I beleive in one thing combinating Structured Carbon layers with differents filters in one straw. Everything design as an open kit with differents carbon layers that can be fill and clean with carbon. You aspirate, water passthrought big layers that evolve to tiny layers then water reach you and you can drink in one move.

Then density of carbone stack structure can be enought to clean. You can add or remove layers to change use. 

Main material is everywhere, straw need bio-materials.

You can also create structured 3d carbon box/bubble that can fit to existing straw or other thing , this bubble can have big porus outside with road to the inside that shrink at the end. I hope it can be done.


Photo of Gita Gauba

Great read

Photo of Farahim Alili

In Azerbaijan (a country in Eastern Europe) we used to use "water stone" to get safe water. I could not find any article about how it works, here is a picture you can have a look:

- you put water to the inside of the stone
- after 6-8 hours you will get 1-gallon drinkable water
- you can clean the stone and use it for years.
This is a mobile version of the stone for a family. We can make a big one for a village or a school. It will be a sustainable solution. You don't need to maintain it, except cleaning. 
But how they will get water? Drilling probably. 
Looking forward to  your comments!Freddy

Photo of Rajendra null

Solar Still Makes Water Purification Easy, Works Like an Upside-Down Coffee Maker
link :

Alex Davies (@adavies47)
Technology / Solar Technology
October 26, 2011
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Gabriele Diamanti/CC BY 2.0

The impending water crisis will threaten half of humanity by 2030; limited water supplies have already sparked deadly conflict in Africa. Of the designs to make water collection and purification easy, dependable and affordable, this solar still from designer Gabriele Diamanti is among the best. It requires neither filters nor electricity and purifies 5 liters of water a day.

Gabriele Diamanti/CC BY 2.0

It's called the Eliodomestico, and it's quite simple. Pour water into the spout at the top and walk away. Thanks to the circular top, no matter the time of day, it's hit by maximum sunlight. The heat turns the water into steam, which travels down through a nozzle and condenses against the lid of the bowl at the bottom of the still. At the end of the day, the bowl is full of safe, potable water.

Diamanti specially designed the bowl to be easily carried on one's head, making its transport easier. But he also imagines an Eliodomestico for every household, so the water wouldn't have to be transported very far, anyway. The still is made from terracotta and zinc-plated metal sheet.

Diamanti would like to see the design be built by local workers, and so he has created it under a Creative Commons license- everyone is free to use and share the Eliodomestico. The design is one of twelve finalists in this year's Prix Emile Hermès.

Photo of Lee Antony

One of the biggest problem in India water is that are high organic content. To remove them in lowest cost would be using reed field. Which is suitable for India climate.  Although there would be invasive species problems. 

Photo of Cory Mogk

Reed field was the first idea that came to mind for me too Lee Antony - I wonder if there would be space for this in an urban setting and if there would be real estate costs involved to secure land.

a secondary thought is on current uses of reeds today? Are reeds currently used in India for food or construction materials? If so, it makes a nice system.

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Photo of Cory Mogk

Great story, Andreea !

Photo of Kyaw Tun Sein

Just to check if i understand it correctly. The current 'Ideas' phase wants people who are already working on the relevant solutions to submit their ideas? I want to confirm because I can research about people, who are already working on relevant solutions but not submitting, and post their ideas in this phase, rather than coming up with my own. Hope to hear from you soon. =)

Photo of Giok P CHUA

Does it means that StartUp dont have to apply if unable to comply to these 2 Conditions
1-Operating in India
2-Reached critical mass?

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Hi Giok P CHUA – in our Ideas phase we're open to inspiration from many types of ideas. If your idea has a focus on water and sanitation in India, even if it's very early stage, we'd like to know about it. Thanks for asking!

Photo of Steve Kube

A grant of $250,000 may only cover the cost of engineering, prototyping, and demonstrating a working model of a potential solution that uses advanced technology such as new types of energy efficient low voltage DC pumps suitable for solar powering.  Going into production could cost ten times that or more.  Reasonably high volume production could drive costs below $100 per unit (scale) and a unit costing $100 could run during sunlight hours for 10-20 years.  Add batteries and it could run non-stop.  

There are many applications for such technology beyond this challenge, which increases the economies of scale and yields further advantages.  Pumping low volumes of water efficiently and reliably is a critical aspect to many of the growing challenges presently facing humanity, not just in India.  

~ S