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Paani Pods: Fluoride-free, Disinfected, Nourishing Drinking Water @ $0.003/L

The Paani Pods don't just defluoridate water - they go the extra mile to disinfect and nourish @ $0.003/L

Photo of Nitin Jayakrishnan
5 11

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Refer to the document here (or attached below) for a more comprehensive description of the problem, product and solution.

In the Refinement Phase, we focused on the following aspects:
1. Prototyping the form-factors using Human centric design: The form factors we proposed in the previous stage were tested for use, and substantial design input went into creating the ladle, the bottle and the pod. Primary considerations were: Cost, Usability, Durability, Form and Function. We took care to put the user’s experience first, in developing these products, making the process least disruptive, and making sure that it fit within their existing lifestyles and practices.

2. Changing the Paani Powder to capsule-form: In our constant obsession with the least disruptive, most conducive user experience, we scrapped the 'Paani Powder sachets', favouring a water-soluble capsule form instead.

3. Channel Partners: Reaching the market at the bottom of the pyramid is diffcult, in India - this is especially true of rural households. Especially for a product such as this, that requires everyday use to see any tangible results, constant communication and engagement is key. Even for a point of sale system, Fluoride contamination is large-scale issue that required us to partner with existing organisations with infrastructure in the target geographies. In finding such an organisation, we looked at those that had: existing infrastructure, a professional management, past traction in delivering such products, a goal and vision similar to ours, and a yearning to go the extra-mile and solve as many problems (peripheral to the core issue they were countering), as possible. We zeroed in on two organisations for this purpose.

4. Manufacturers: We contacted and are in talks with PET bottle manufacturers who buy-in to our vision, to reduce the cost of manufacturing the form-factors, and a generic drug manufacturer to manufacture the Paani Tablets at scale.

We hope to evolve further through this journey...

The Problem:

Imagine this - the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) determines 0.7 milligrams of Fluoride/L of drinking water as optimal. In India, the average Fluoride levels in consumed water is 5.5mg/L, with a large population consuming in excess of 8mg/L. 

'Fluorosis' affects more than 66 million people in India, predominantly through excess Fluoride consumption via groundwater. Even in moderately higher than optimal levels (1-4mg/L) this causes 'Dental Fluorosis', especially among children (6-14Y): corrosion and mottling of the enamel. Dental Fluorosis has been reported in at least 14 states, with prevalence going up to 100% for the 12-15 year age group in 4-5 states. 

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But, at higher levels, this causes osteoporosis, and in some cases, crippling 'Skeletal Fluorosis'. Severe skeletal fluorosis has been reported in at least ten states, with nearly 90% of adults in states like Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat, 50% of the adults in Jharkhand and 20% of children in the 1-5 age group in Bihar being affected.

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The Solution:

Our solution is a simple non-toxic plastic casing that holds material (Alum Impregnated Activated Alumina) that absorbs (adsorbs, actually) Fluoride from the water very efficiently.

While we were solving one aspect of the ‘Water Problem’ (that we see as being four pronged - Availability, Accessibility, Quality and (overarching) Efficiency) we did not want to restrict ourselves to too narrow an issue - however scalable the idea might be, due to the geographic spread of fluoride contamination. Hence, apart from defluoridating the water, we went a step further to try disinfecting it (using Calcium Hypochlorite) and providing nourishment (through an all natural food supplement: minerals, vitamins etc.) in tablet form. 

Form Factors:

Depending on use case scenarios adapted this core product to various form-factors:

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  1. The Paani Bottle: These non-toxic, food grade PET bottles integrate the AIAA with a tablet dispenser - containing a three month supply of tablets that will disifect and nourish the water. This bottle will be targeted at children between the ages of 8 and 18, and will be marketed through schools, and community centres. At this age, habits form easily, and they can be conditioned to drink only out of these bottles. Fill the Paani Bottle, press add a sachet that kills bacteria and viruses, and adds essential (natural) nutrients - and the water is ready to drink!
  2. The Paani Ladle: The 'clean water' ladle is a traditional ladle that made of Food grade plastic to which the AIAA is integrated. The tablet dispenser containing the tablets is latched on (replenishable) to the handle of the ladle. This is used for larger quantities of water, in a pot or container, where the handle is used to provide tension and depth.
  3. The Paani Pod: This is AIAA encapsulated in modular non-toxic, food grade plastic chambers that can simply be dropped into water bottles/containers. Each of these bullets can be used for 1L water and if they need to be used for 2, 5, 15, 25 L bottles, the modules can simply be attached together and detached after use.

The Paani Tablets: Each Paani Bottle comes with a dispenser integrated in its cap, that houses three month’s supply of tablets - that contain  water soluble vitamins, minerals, salts etc. and Calcium Hypochlorite - a disinfectant in tablet form. The micronutrients are an all natural supplement containing mineral enhanced yeast (provides iron, selenium, zinc, copper, gtf chromium, boron, iodine, molybdenum and manganese), citrus pulp (vitamin c); carrot concentrate (beta carotene); vegetable oil (vitamin e); yeast concentrate (niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, vitamin B6, thiamin, vitamin B12 and vitamin D); corn meal (biotin, inositol and choline) and alfalfa concentrate (folic acid and vitamin k). To this we add powdered tulsi - known to have significant medicinal properties, and substantial cultural connotations.

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The Paani Tablets can be targeted at specific deficiencies in specific geographies, such as scurvy, maternal health etc.

The total cost incurred/litre of pure, nourishing water is INR 0.18 or $0.003 per litre.   

Channel Partners: 

Reaching the market at the bottom of the pyramid is difficult, in India - this is especially true of rural households. In finding a channel partner who could help us with this, we looked at organisations that had: existing infrastructure, a professional management, past traction in delivering such goods, a goal and vision similar to ours, and a yearning to go the extra-mile and solve as many problems (peripheral to the core issue they are countering), as possible. We zeroed in on two organisations for this purpose: 

1. Sakhi Unique Rural Enterprise (SURE)

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Sakhi Unique Rural Enterprise (SURE) Private Limited was founded in 2009 as Sakhi Retail Private Limited. The organisation specialises in creating rural retail women entrepreneur-networks focussed on reaching out clean and green energy product solutions to those at the Base of the Pyramid. SURE also runs a Micro-Business Incubator - encouraging rural women to undertake socially conscious micro-businesses by providing them access to technology, finance and markets.

SURE has built long standing strategic partnerships with leading companies in the sector for prototyping and producing clean and green products for the rural BOP markets, supporting such companies in cutting down distribution costs and reaching the BOP market in an effective manner.

We plan to propose a partnership with SURE to encourage women entrepreneurs to become local ‘Paani Champions’ - entrepreneurs who act as distributors and marketers in local communities, encouraging adoption, delivering training, and ensuring effective use.

2. Janalakshmi:

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Janalakshmi Financial Services, Established in 2006, is India’s largest micro-finance organisation. It is present in over 170 cities across 19 states, and focuses on urban and rural poor, with outstanding loans and advances of almost Rs.6,000 crore as of September 2015. They services over 1 cr + urban and rural poor through their tailored products

While the bank’s core product is Small Batch loans, Apart from core banking functions, However, the company also provides individual loans to those who have demonstrated a successful credit track record as well as loans to micro and small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Janalakshmi also distributes micro pensions and savings accounts on behalf of other financial institutions.

But perhaps the most innovative of their offerings is a debit card - Janalakshmi lends its SB loans using debit cards (not cash) - a portion of the lent amount is then directed towards essential products (health beneficial, basic necessities etc) that are sold to the borrowers through Janalakshmi itself (the bank becomes a supplier of the goods to its customers, acting as a channel partner for other companies.

It is this feature that we want to use, to distribute the Pani Pods and the Pani Bottle to fluoride affected rural and urban areas in India:

  1. Project Paani sells product at a margin to Janalakshmi
  2. Janalakshmi makes it available through its centres in the region
  3. Marketing and awareness is taken care of by Project Paani
  4. Janalakshmi acts as point of sale channel partner and distributes the product to the target customer
  5. From the Janalakshmi database, we are also able to find out specific user data and draw analyse these to further iterate the product and understand the user base.

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

  • Ready for piloting

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

26 out of 29 states, 66 million adults and 6 million children - all face the same problem. The source is groundwater, predominantly. Even if we target the most severely affected state first, for a pilot, Rajasthan has over 8000 Villages and 6 million people with that are severely affected.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

To us, any sustainable idea has to address the triple-bottom-line: social, environmental and financial. Our idea is based on a consumer goods business model, targeting the 'bottom of the pyramid'. The product is highly efficient, yet affordable, and does not expect any substantial change in mindset/behaviour. It has a long shelf life, does not require any 'after sale service', is easy to use, reuse, store, transport and flexible for use between different people. Its quality is consistent, and the product is scalable across geographic, linguistic, cultural, and economic differences. Most importantly, it does not stop at purification, and goes the 'extra mile' to nourish the consumer using natural means.

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

We expect capital costs of setting up the infrastructure, and operating costs of supply-chain logistics and marketing. Funding from 'impact investors' who intend to generate measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return would be ideal.

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

We are already in the process of initiating contact with Janalakshmi and SURE, but any help here would be great! 1. Sakhi Unique Rural Enterprise (refer to PDF Attachment): We plan to propose a partnership with SURE to encourage women entrepreneurs to become local ‘Paani Champions’ - entrepreneurs who act as distributors and marketers in local communities, encouraging adoption, delivering training, and ensuring effective use. 2. Janalakshmi Financial Services (refer to PDF Attachment): We hope to have Janalakshmi as a channel partner, to distribute the Pani Pods and the Pani Bottles to affected rural and urban areas, through their Jana Centres and existing infrastructure. Apart from this: - Local panchayat, government schools to access community members and seek inputs + support on product dispersal - Medical dispensaries at government hospitals, local chemists and kirana shops to enable ease of purcha

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

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

We are a team with experience is designing and implementing for sustainable change. We have experience in tech entrepreneurship, public service, designing for sustainability, and fundamental research directed at solving real problems at scale.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

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

We plan to begin a pilot program in Rajasthan, that has the highest reported levels and dispersion of fluoride contamination in India. Following this we want to expand to Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

When a designer, scientist and entrepreneur meet, interesting ideas brew. Anjali is an Indian designer educated at Pratt Institute, NYC. A Global Teen Leader (We Are Family Foundation) and a Global Changemaker (British Council), she represented India at the World Economic Forum. She is passionate about problem solving and human centred design and innovation. Ramya is a Material Scientist from Columbia University, NYC, who is passionate about community-level solutions to fundamental needs, in India. She founded 'The Missing Link' initiating and implementing major projects to improve existing waste management practices using technology such as the Golden Temple Composting Project. Nitin is a tech-entrepreneur with experience in core industries like infrastructure, logistics and education. Winner of Yale IoT Prize and the Cambridge Entrepreneurship Competition, he believes that irresponsible capitalism is unsustainable, and is passionate about solving grass-root problems.

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

Yes! We are a team with experience is designing and implementing for sustainable change, but solving this particular problem of Fluoride contamination is a recent venture.

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

1. Execution Risks: Distribution is complex, but creating habits is the foundation upon which the product depends. Creating these habits is a time and resource consuming process. We plan to manage this risk in two ways: Throughout our design process, we have kept in mind existing practices and habits of the user - in being least disruptive to their lifestyle, we are breaking barriers to adoption. Second, through our supply chain and channel partners, we hope to gain trust in communities - by targeting children through schools and teachers, or housewives through women entrepreneurs (SURE is a proposed channel partner), for instance. 2. Increased manufacturing costs: The cost of plastics is reducing, but labour fluctuations affect output prices. This will affect cost of manufacturing the product, might make it unaffordable. We counter this by partnering with like-minded socially sensitive manufacturers. We are already in talks with a few.

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

Through proposed channel partners: 1. SURE encourages local women to become entrepreneurs. These sales people become valuable sources of information about the households where this is being used. We propose creating an app that these suppliers can use, to keep record of and convey vital information about the households they service. 2. Janalakshmi has information about its existing customers - who will become the users of our product. The cross-referencing of such info might be interesting

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

100,000-140,000 individuals, 25,000-35,000 households - this is a conservative estimate

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

1. Marketing (prominent spend) and awareness campaigns at the community level 2. Manufacturing outsourcing 3. Supply-chain establishment through proposed partners 4. Training of stakeholders (women entrepreneurs, school teachers, panchayat officials etc.)

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

Help with necessary approvals, engineering support and government engagement to target through local panchayats and municipalities.

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

No, but we are in the process of organising this. However, we want to simultaneously be a profitable for-profit venture - as a socially concious consumer goods business, 51% FDI is allowed through the direct route. This could be an alternative to consider, for


Join the conversation:

Photo of Daniel

Hello, I like this idea and think that it's something that can be scaled very well, and somewhat simply. I only have a few questions regarding your proposal. Are the costs that you provide the total landed cost of the goods, or are they just the cost to manufacture? Are these goods being sold at this cost that you mentioned or is that a markup on them? I was wondering also where the manufacturing process takes place. (In India or elsewhere) The last thing I'm curious about is how you keep the costs so low, is it done by effectively managing your supply chain? is it done through government subsidies, or some other method.

Thank you so much for your time, and good luck in the future.

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