OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

3D Water

Harnessing massively scalable technologies to enable access to water and sanitation in low-income communities through schools and centres

Photo of Max Bock
22 26

Written by

In India 37.7 million people are estimated to be affected by waterborne diseases every year, with 1.5 million children dying from diarrhoea alone (1). According to the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, 1 in 5 water sources on average are contaminated with bacterial pathogens, with some areas such as Andhra Pradesh with 60% of all tested sites being contaminated (2).  

Presently water is tested by the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, in which trained experts will go into communities, collect a sample and take it to a lab for testing. In 2014 the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation programme tested over 4 million water sources for a variety of parameters. In 2014 they trained approximately half a million employees (3). The National Rural Drinking Water Programme in 2014 spent over 1.2 billion USD on water quality monitoring, bacterial and chemical test kits, operations and maintenance (4).

Current tests take over 24 hours, can only be performed by trained experts and are expensive. We will introduce a fast, low cost bacteria test kit that can be used by anyone, anywhere. Community members would be able to conduct high-end bacteria tests on-site with little to no training. Results will be uploaded to a database allowing real-time mapping of results geographically to support coordinated efforts to improve water quality across India. “There is a need to promote community based water quality monitoring and surveillance at the grass root level as a mechanism to identify problems and to take corrective measures. We need to empower communities to secure clean water.”

The kit will be able to detect bacteria number in water in under 2 hours using a microscope within the kit; this is much faster than any other quantitative test kits currently available. We not only will be able to detect E. coli and coliforms specifically, but also other bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus, Listeria, Clostridium and more. The test will also include the standard tests such as turbidity, chlorine, and pH.

We have formed a powerful partnership with Agastya International Foundation, an Indian based NGO to drive science education across impoverished communities through after school training programmes; Madanyu Social Enterprise, an instructor training organisation for computer based education in the developing world; and WaterScope, a not-for-profit, UK start-up for 3D printed water testing equipment. 

Our strategy is to connect with communities by reaching out to schools via our established network in rural India, currently active in 16 states and impacting over 8 million lives. Here we shall deliver a 1-day programme for children as well as parents to learn how to collect, record, and mitigate the risk of water contamination in their village. Further, we shall select champions to maintain the programme and generate income. In parallel to our community engagements, we aim to connect with local government groups in charge of water and sanitation to adopt this programme on a statewide level. 

In 2015, we successfully launched a pre-pilot using WaterScopes’ 3D printed kit as a direct education tool by Madanyu trainers at Agastya’s main campus. With the funding we seek to complete a state-wide pilot in Andhra Pradesh that will work as a showcase for local government and water initiatives by 2016 and build towards a nation-wide operation to connect with millions of people. 

We will incentivise and empower communities enabling sustainable change to combat water inequality.


1) Drinking water quality in rural India: Issues and approaches. WaterAid. 

2) India Water report on bacteria contamination, accessed on 2/3/2016 under 

3) India Water report number of trainees, accessed on 2/3/2016 under

4) India Water report component cost, accessed on 2/3/2016 under

How would you describe the stage of development of your idea?

  • Scaling phase

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

There are a total of 1,028,340 schools or aganwadi currently listed in India across 1,713,303 habitations, this is approximately 1 school/aganwadi for every 2 habitations in India. 85% of schools/aganwadi have access to drinking water (1). In Andhra Pradesh, 52,465 schools/aganwadi are listed, 88% of which have access to drinking water (1). Using a school as a permanent hub for water testing allows us to potentially reach many millions of people. Our test kit is inexpensive (< £150 pound), compared to current systems which are in excess of £1,000. The National Rural Drinking Water Programme in 2014 spent over 1.2 billion USD on water quality monitoring, bacterial and chemical test kits, operations and maintenance (4). Using our lower cost and easy to use test kits will enable these funds to be better deployed to significantly increase the level of water testing. The kit will allow real time visualisation of bacteria in the water which will increase awareness of the quality

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

In prototype stage we will use 3D-printing however once established we will convert to injection moulding, allowing us to accommodate large scale manufacturing. 3D printing allows us to make quick and subtle changes easily while we are still in prototyping stage. The kits ultimately will be purchased by NGOs and/or the Indian government and heavily subsidised to Indian schools. We have already been in contact with Oxfam who said "We are happy to be involved, if you get a product, that is durable" (1). We will seek further collaboration with NGOs, to which we have already made some progress. In parallel we will seek partnerships with local schools here in the UK, allowing us to have a 1 for 2 system, giving a subsidised kit to Indian schools. The Schools in the UK will receive a microscope, not a water testing kit, with each kit bought one water testing kit will be subsidised for one in India.

What types of financing would be required for your idea to be successful?

Financing will be required initially from grants for design of the testing kits, develop the educational material and field trials. The partners have already secured seed funding of more than 20,000 USD through competitions which will part fund the activities, with larger grants needed to take scale up production and roll out the testing.

If you are proposing to partner with other organizations, please explain their role and reason for partnership.

We are proposing a partnership between Agastya, Madanyu, and WaterScope. Agastya is a local NGO leading science education for school children after school. There wide reach and spread across India, makes them an ideal candidate to scale such an ambitious undertaking. WaterScope is a start-up developing low-cost 3D printer microscopes for water testing, using state-of-the-art cloud based solution to quantify quality of water. Madanyu is an award winning social enterprise, providing computer based education at schools to empower young minds across India. Together, we seek to improve the livelihoods of millions of Indian families.

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

If you have been operating in India, what has been your focus?

One of the three key partners is Agastya International Foundation, a transformative educational charity. Since its formation in 1999, Agastya is actively engaged in sparking curiosity and nurturing creativity through hands-on science education among poor rural children and teachers. Agastya’s hands-on programs aim to spark curiosity and address significant gaps in the education system viz. absence of questioning and enquiry in the classroom, lack of practical exposure to science concepts, and poor teacher-student interaction. The main goal is to provide access to, attract, and retain vulnerable and disadvantaged children to and in quality educational programs and support, train and motivate teachers to be role models and deliver quality learning. The programs are holistically designed to spark creative-thinking and problem-solving skills, improve learning achievement, raise confidence and self-belief and expand opportunities.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

What states or districts will you target/are you targeting within India?

We will be piloting the program in Chittoor districts in Andhra Pradesh. Once the pilot is successful, we will be spreading the program across Agastya operations in its other states. To date, we have reached over 8 million children and 200,000 teachers in 18 states in India.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Since our launch in 2014, Madanyu has been committed to facilitate computer based education in the most remote settings of the world using low-cost and low-power computing solutions. Today through our partnership with Agastya, we are connected with 8 million students and over 200,000 teachers in rural and peri-urban India. Jointly, we provide training and resources to spark self-sustaining education programmes for the benefit of local communities. In 2015, WaterScope launched their 3D printed microscope, which we piloted the same year at Agastya's main campus. Since then, we have been enthusiastic about the possibility of solving one of India's biggest challenges using a low-cost, scalable solution for impoverished communities.

Is this a new or recent idea for your organization? How does it differ from what you are already doing?

3D Water is a new idea and so far has been piloted on a small scale by the three partners. In 2015, at Agastya’s campus Waterscope’s 3D printed microscope was used as part of Madanyu’s education programme. A subsequent survey in December 2015 showed that the programme is still intact however further education content needs to be generated. Equally funds would be required to enable each partner to dedicate resources and staff to 3D Water. This prompted an active search for funding to enable a large scale pilot and scaling as outlined here.

What are the two or three biggest risks for your idea and how will you manage the risks?

It has been found that education initiatives involving technology in low-income communities have a 20% or less adoption rate by schools and local partners in absence of the initial instigators (Madanyu School Survey, 2014). Further, these low adoption rates have not been shown to improve through heavy investment in design and interface, a common misbelief. We have been able to mitigate this risk improve adoption rates to over 70%, by engaging in a cost sharing model with the schools which is adequate to the school’s means. A key element of the business model is a buy-in from the local government to conduct water testing through our centres and schools. Through this large scale pilot, we expect to become a credible organisation in this area. The reduction in cost, increase in scale and consistency favours our solution over current ones. In the state of Andhra Pradesh, we are starting to connect with the ministers to create awareness for our solution.

How would you propose to track or record the households or customers reached?

Through our education programme we have tested and successfully implemented a user account system for classrooms that enable students to register a new or existing email account. This enables us to track their learning progression and survey water related topics. Additionally, we seek to explore medical benefits by providing optional registration to medical surveys which uses SimPrints fingerprint recognition system to link medical records with individuals.

If you had two years and $250,000 USD in funding, how many households or customers would you reach?

We will reach 20,000 households through our more than 80 after-school education campuses to enable the 3D Water programme, and local school partners. Our campuses host between 500 to 4,000 different students each year. Within schools, we would select one year group to actively engage in the programme. Typical classroom size is 40 students. Our pilot studies have shown that 1 resource person can connect and maintain relations with 10 schools on a monthly basis. In year 1, we intend to connect with 2 campuses and 20 schools and refine our solution based on performance results. Here the expected number of students is 4,000 (2,000 x 2 campuses) and 800 (40 x 20 schools), equivalent to 4,800 households. In year 2, we intend to expand to 4 new campuses and 60 new schools. This will result in an addition of 12,000 (2,000 x (2+4) campuses) and 3,200 (40 x (20+60) schools) students, equivalent to 15,200 households.

How would you propose to invest $250,000 USD if you received philanthropic/grant funding support from

1 ($30k): We complete the education programme specific to water testing, DIY purifying techniques, and sanitation; prepare for site visits to schools and select campuses for roll-out 2 ($20k): We recruit team of 4 resource managers and 8 volunteers; conduct training; send team to schools and campuses for water solution installations and start programme 3 ($60k): We arrange monthly meetings with team and modify content and presentation to improve results and address issues 4 ($40k): First batch of resource managers become local managers; receive management training to prepare for new role; local managers recruit 10 resource managers and 20 volunteers to work under their guidance; to ensure quality new recruits are sent to main campus for initial training and qualification; groups expand to 4 additional campuses and 60 new schools 5 ($100k): Resource managers arrange monthly meetings and feedback results to improve content and address issues; we disseminate marketing material

What type of support beyond grant funding are you most interested in?

We would be very interested to learn about the practical experiences has made in this space and what advice they can give to us during this process. Further, we would appreciate support in terms of government engagement not only with water provision but also health and wellbeing to showcase our medical survey results and address health related issues jointly. This is expected to embed outcomes into evidence-based policy making on a state and national level.

Does your organization have Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) approval?

We have FCRA approval to receive support.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lukas Sidikerskis

Such a nice idea!

View all comments