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Providing Clean Drinking Water to India’s Rural Poor Using a Social Enterprise Model.

We combine locally adapted water technology with extensive WASH awareness programs and support to local staff with go-to-market strategies.

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Clean water is the basis of health. In the geographic area in which we work, not only do the rural poor drink highly contaminated water, but many even have no awareness that the water is the reason for illness and death. To date, there has been no access to reliably clean water at an affordable price and no efforts made to address and open up markets for the rural poor. Commercial clean water costs 20RUP/litre (circa 0.3$ ) but with a daily wage of around $2 and large families, clean water at that rate is not affordable.

According to doctors in the Kushinagar District (the area of our pilot project in UP), lack of clean water accounts for every second patient. This problem is compounded by the occurrence of arsenic in groundwater. Deaths due to WASH related illness is the biggest killer in the underdeveloped districts of Uttar Pradesh & combined with some of India's lowest literacy (and therefore educational rates) & sanitation ownership rates, we are presented with a silent toxic cocktail of poverty, disease & lack of awareness ever-present in the homes and communities of the rural poor.


As an NGO (based in both Europe & India) whose mission is to radically transform the face of India’s villages, United for Hope takes a holistic approach and a core pillar of our work is water & sanitation. We have already lowered the open-defection rate in our pilot village from 87% to under 50%, undertaken extensive WASH education and launched our first clean water enterprise.

We charge a nominal price of 0.5RUP per litre to cover costs and enable job creation, selling 20L jars at 10RUP from a mobile tank. Water is home delivered (as well as available onsite) because rural women are rarely allowed to leave the home and these societal norms must be taken into consideration in terms of bringing clean water to families.

In cases where open water (Reverse Osmosis – RO -  water) has been made available, it has been done so on a maximum-profit basis and general hygiene standards as well as widespread corruption have led to local people being suspicious of the real cleanliness of the water. This causes further barriers to adoption. We are operating on a for-profit basis but the profits will go back into social projects, pay for maintenance and create local jobs.

As an NGO who has already brought benefit to the locality and who are trusted as a reliable partner, we are in a unique situation to become a credible seller of clean water and undertake quality and best-practice awareness campaigns to further increase the numbers of those seeking out clean water for health and wellbeing. Our good government and media contacts also allow us to expand quickly and without administrative barriers.

We strongly feel that technology (no matter how innovative) is not the answer to providing clean water to India’s poor, rather developing and scaling realistic, long term awareness and GTM strategies which work with communities to change behaviour and strengthen business abilities. Our current experience is that challenges arise not through technology but through willingness to purchase the product (even at a minimal price) and reliable staffing who ensure professionalism and have the necessary skills to scale, expand and improve operations from a rural base. Finding solutions to these challenges is the base of our work.


In cooperation with Clean Water E.v, a German non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting safe water supplies in rural areas, we installed a water filtration plant that produces up to 10,000 litres of drinking water daily

The water plant uses UV and UF filtration. Water is drawn from the land at a depth of 120ft where arsenic and other pollutants are not present. We chose this technology, despite RO being the common technology in the region for several reasons

The main advantages of this solution are:

  • Essential minerals are retained in the water
  • Lower power usage
  • Very low water wastage (RO has up to 60% water wastage which can cause flooding without proper drainage)
  • No toxic run off (RO plants often run the excess pollutants into the land)
  • Lower technology upfront costs

There was initially some opposition to the choice of technology because the locals are led to believe that RO and only RO is safe water. This was compounded by malicious rumour mongering from RO commercial sellers. However, with one-to-one conversations and the distribution of explanatory material, the locals now understand the differences in the water and the reasons we chose the technology.

Our launch was preceded by extensive education and awareness programs at the district (media and government), local (panchayat, community and schools) and family (door-to-door) level. As we move into new villages, we continue with this approach and extend ongoing programs into stable structures such as schools and the panchayat by implementing hygiene routines around hand washing, toilet use and the drinking of clean water. Our pilot project directly employs 3 local people as well as educational and awareness support from our 3 school teachers.


  • Jan-May 2015: construction of water house, installation of water   purification plan, purchase of water delivery vehicle.
  • June 2015: Launch of the pilot project.
  • December 2015: up to 100 families have signed up as customers. Started providing free drinking water to the local government school with accompanying program via our self-financed teachers there.
  • January 2016- June 2016: Expansion of Clean Water Project to the nearby villages.
  • Beyond June 2016: Scaling the project at the district level.

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

  • Piloting completed

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

Our pilot project in Tirmashun serves 100 families. We are currently expanding our distribution to the neighbouring villages and have already signed up 5 more villages and in ongoing awareness camps we aim to raise our project to 10 in the first phase. Our aim is to scale our water enterprise to cover the entire Kushinagar District, which has a total population of 3,560,830, according to a 2011 census. There are endless possibilities to scale, both within the district and beyond. Groundwater is plentiful, but contaminated with pollutants. The health consequences of drinking unsafe water are enormous and many locals are unaware of the connection. Providing access to clean water to villagers is simply not enough. What makes our project successful is that we not only create the impetus for social entrepreneurs and support with guidance and training, we educate and empower the community so they are able to make decisions about choosing to drink safe water for themselves.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

Sustainability is at the heart of our work and activities are being designed such that they will play a fundamental role in the development of communities. The combination a social enterprise model adapted to local necessities as well as the awareness raising and specific training ensures the success of our project. This business-oriented model creates local employment enhancing income generation in the communities. While the initial running cost of the project will be paid from our operating budgets, it is our aim to cover these costs by the income generated from these services, an income which is paid for by the villagers themselves who buy these services. Our NGO will be responsible for the start-up costs until we are able to turn the business over to an entrepreneurship owned model when the market is more mature and skilled, local entrepreneurs have been identified. Our experience is that without strict governance and control, the project will not be successful. Our entrepreneurship training for villagers to run these water distribution services as well as our ongoing WASH awareness campaigns, both in schools and in the communities ensure the sustainably of our project.

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

Our initial project start-up costs were covered by a German water investment company with a charitable arm. We continue to expand, using the water available from this plant, to serve a total of around 10 villages. Beyond this point, we will require a second plant. Initially, our NGO will acquire for rent (for example from district or panchayat owned land or individual donors) or own the land for future clean water plants and run the water distribution center before branching out to an entrepreneur owned model. In order to scale up to serve more communities, we need to cover start-up costs for installing water purification systems, buildings to house and secure them, water delivery vehicles, salaries of employees (water plant managers, delivery persons, awareness trainers), and running costs until water sales makes a profit and we can move to a lease model. This can be covered through grants, foundations, or CSR from companies who we can also partner with to provide branding, marketing and PR opportunities.

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

Financial Partners: for our pilot project, we partnered with Clean Water e.V., the non-profit organization of Grasshopper Investments. They provided the funding for the water house, and water purification system. In addition, we seek financial partners to help cover the initial pre-project operational costs until we can move to a self-sustaining social enterprise model. Local Stakeholders: we find it imperative to work alongside community leaders to enable transparent decision-making and community lead solutions. Emphasizing collaboration with women's groups, enables a fully inclusive model, and reaches the often neglected family decision makers. In order to engage the younger generation, we partner with local schools through our WASH awareness initiatives to inform them of importance of water and sanitation issues. We also maintain excellent contacts with the local press which features and helps to promote our work on the ground.

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

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

United for Hope transforms lives in rural India through a holistic & economically vibrant “model village” development model. We work with all involved parties- community leaders as well as villagers, through a multi-tiered & phased approach which combines the optimization of infrastructure and access to existing programs. Our 5 pillars for an effective development model are: WATER & SANITATION: providing access to safe water & sanitation facilities, including conducting WASH campaigns; RENEWABLE ENERGY: reducing energy poverty through renewable sources such as solar power; EDUCATION: enriching and improve the local education system for both children and adults; WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT: empowering women by promoting literacy, improving sanitation & health conditions and advocating for equal rights; SUSTAINABLE INCOME: devising alternative income strategies for economic empowerment. Our goal is to create a blueprint model that can be applied and adapted to other Indian villages.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

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

Our first adopted village, Tirmasahun, is located in the Kushinagar district in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, one of the country's 250 most backward districts. U.P is India’s most populous state and also one of the most underdeveloped states of the country. We decided to work there due to the great need and relative lack of coverage from other NGOs. We intend to expand firstly in Eastern UP, and then in time, throughout UP and North India. The next phase is scaling the project at the district level.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

United for Hope is led in Germany by Tara McCartney, an ex-corporate manager & in India by Vikas Malik, a government lawyer. The organization has a volunteer base of 25 people in Europe including various engineers & 7 local paid employees as well as volunteers in India Tara has extensive experience in project management along with building & leading teams. She conceptualises reality-based models that make economic sense, considering the needs of the various stakeholders at all times. Her experience, which she has gained over several years of partially living and working in India, is guided by collaboration with her Indian partners. We have already, in a short time, attracted a major customer base & produced tangible results in a complex environment & attracted the attention of a second social enterprise pilot project around solar energy with the IEEE Foundation. The combination of professional experience, business sense, authenticity & deep knowledge makes our NGO a trusted partner.

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

We launched our “Clean Water project” in June 2015 and have completed the pilot phase in the first village. We are currently in the expansion phase targeting new customers in neighbouring villages. Our water project covers one of the key impact areas we work in as part as a ‘model village’ strategy. We adopt a social entrepreneurial approach within our NGO format and are carrying out similar projects in the area of solar energy in cooperation with the IEEE (, a major US Foundation.

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

During our pilot project, we've come across several issues that might recur when we expand to other areas. • Scaling too fast, without having earned the trust of the community. This could lead to outright rejection of our water, and the loss of sales Finding visionary staff and local partners with appropriate execution skills is key to mitigating this risk factor. • Conflict from other water companies who feel we are cutting into their business with our social prices. We need to proactively reach out to these business so as to not create tension within communities and a commercial tug of war for customers. We can do this by making it clear that we are targeting BoP customers who would not be willing or able to buy higher priced water. • Financing the costs of our awareness camps & education programs. We intend to minimise this risk by seeking long-lasting partnerships with local NGOs, Women’s SHG and educational facilities, who could integrate our curriculum in their activities.

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

We track all customer transactions with a unique costumer card. Each costumer is provided with a card in which the frequency and the amount of sold water is recorded. A weekly & monthly report is submitted by the field staff to the NGO management. It details the bottles sold, commercial events serviced, awareness camps conducted, collected feedbacks & challenges. We also propose to conduct yearly project evaluations consisting of surveys & participant interviews to obtain qualitative data.

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

Our pilot water plant can serve a total of 10 villages at approximately 3000 people per village, totalling 30,000 people reached per water plant. With two years and 250k in funding, we could set up a minimum of three additional plants (logistically more would be possible but the necessary community development also requires time) reaching a total of 120,000 people in around 40 villages. In addition to the villages served with clean water, we have additional reach through our educational programs in schools, community groups and in events all over the Kushingar District. Having the necessary staffing to pursue media coverage and government collaboration (both of which already exist) would widen our reach even further, such that educational content is available to the district as a whole (˃3.5 million people).

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

With $250k funding from, and based on a two-year timeframe (see above question) we would cover the water plant set-up (assumption of 3 additional plants consisting of preparation of land incl. deep drilling, locally based water purification systems, buildings to house and secure them, water delivery vehicles etc), pre project operational costs, WASH programs, training, staffing, assessment and planning for expansion and the creation of a franchise model.An approximate breakdown is as follows: • 3 water plants with all set up costs – 100k • WASH education & awareness outreach work – 30k • Staffing – 70k • Pre-project operational costs – 5k • Assessment & impact measurement costs – 5k • Strategic planning (franchise model and further expansion) – 5k • Admin, legal, marketing, hospitality, travel etc – 15k • Miscellaneous – 20k

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

We're interested in connecting to an Indian based business mentor who can guide us in expanding our approach & developing a model attractive to NGO partners in order to scale. Access to Hindi speaking sales enablement trainers for social enterprise in rural markets as well as fundraising and CSR professionals who can help us obtain CSR donations for our complementary model village programs (sanitation & education for example) which we consider as fundamental to transformational community change

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

We have tax exemption status and are currently in the process of obtaining FCRA. We hope to have by summer 2016.


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Photo of Christopher

That is a great idea using the Social Enterprise Model!

Photo of United for Hope

Thanks you Christopher. We appreciate your support.

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