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Water Rituals

Indigenous water purifying methods for health and hygiene aggregated in a mobile phone app, authored and owned by marginalized young women.

Photo of Lipika
20 24

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Water Rituals

Together with urban youth from worker settlements we co-designed the concept of Water Rituals. Firstly by understanding how youth makes use of mobile technology. Second we researched the significance of water from various perspectives and conducted design sessions. Third we conducted water labs by collecting water samples from the community to measure the quality of water in their communities.

Water labs with young women

Water Rituals intends to empower young women, by enabling them to be in charge of water-related tasks and also retrieve reliable information about water health, safety and hygiene. This vital information gives them the ability to safeguard their family and community health and change them from water carriers to water managers. Researching, adapting, testing, documenting and communicating complex water-health information in an accessible way, impacts young women and their family health; it can improve their socio- economic position, as they have the skills and knowledge to provide safe water. Developing an audiovisual environment in which water-health content is communicated in simple, attractive formats opens up the possibility of a healthier life for millions of people.


The aim of Water Rituals is, to co-research and -design with young women practitioners, an audiovisual environment (open source) and water-health content (open content) for a mobile platform targeting (semi)-illiterate people. The content consists of traditional purifying methods based on indigenous knowledge such as filtration using cloth, clay vessels, and local roots and nuts. Goal is to revive this indigenous knowledge for health and hygiene purposes through Water Rituals and bring these affordable environment-friendly purifying methods back into urban society.

Sari filter -

Self-sustainable model

By setting up a self-sustainable model, the young practitioners will be trained as water managers and service providers of safe water, by not only promoting and demonstrating the Water Rituals app, but they will also be encouraged to set up small businesses. The young women practitioners will also be trained in making DIY spectrometers and environment-friendly, indigenous, low-cost methods to treat water, such as using terracotta pots as filters, building solar cookers, applying the solar water disinfection (SODIS) method. They can sell these self-made spectrometers and filters to the community, and offer to filter the water for a small fee to households with limited time, providing them with a sustainable source of income.

Moreover these low-cost filters will be sold via the app, which are made by these women. This way people will not only receive reliable water-health information, but also have access to tangible water purifying methods and filters, reducing risks for falling ill, improving water security for marginalized communities and eventually leading to an healthier life.

Technical functionalities

Furthermore we will incorporate the other findings from our collaborative research into the project, and increase the functionalities of Water Rituals:

    • A smart-phone with an add-on for a water tester will be incorporated;
    • The water transporters will be tracked by GPS, such that community members will be able to see the whereabouts of the water tanker;
    • Young women will function as knowledge managers in the community, providing reliable water-health information (promoting and demonstrating the app), selling cheap water filters, and delivering treated water (for those who do not have time to treat water themselves);
    •  Finally it is important that citizens can voice their concerns when water facilities and services are not functioning properly, using text-services and social media, they can alert water authorities.

This will have a significant impact on the quality of water services on various levels. It will give households and community members insight about the quality of the water they are consuming. Next the water transporters will be reached and become more alert about their delivery services. Young women will be able to change into knowledge managers and entrepreneurs. Finally by adding functionalities that enable citizens to give feedback to water authorities, increases visibility of water problems more publicly, leading to hopefully better services due to public pressure.


Over the past three decades Ankur, Society for Alternatives in Education's way of working in six of Delhi's workers' settlements has proven to be successful, through its network of colleagues and collaborators. Ankur works with thousands of people living in workers' settlements, and despite the tough conditions of their surroundings, they are capable of creating, designing, manufacturing, and commercializing all kinds of goods. Most importantly we constantly involve and recognize the people in the workers' settlements as knowledge developers, as makers, entrepreneurs, innovators, writers, specialists, and experts of survival. We use various creative research methodologies, by actively involving youth. Methodologies applied are digital storytelling and writing, dialogues, mapping, interviewing key stakeholders in the community, and exhibitions.

Mapping Nand Nagri with young women

Cross-disciplinary team

We have a multidisciplinary team consisting of Ankur, Society for Alternatives in Education (tactical media, young women, content creation), Prof. Anil Gupta (grassroots innovation, indigenous knowledge, sustainable technology, water, Indian Institute of Management), Dr. Neera Agnimitra (environmental health, women empowerment, Delhi School for Social Work), Shradha Jain (game/visual artist), Afaina de Jong (spatial design, marketing, promotion), Dr. Caroline Nevejan (design of socio-technical systems, TUDelft), Iris Douma (interaction designer, design researcher), and Pollinize (social design, creative research & innovative technology) have their own specialized knowledge, gained through years of working experience in their specific field. Pooling our specific expertise enables us to develop Water Rituals. Most importantly, we use people-centered design approaches: young women are actively involved in research and design, which leads to developing new skills, creating ownership, responsibility and involvement among the end-users, which is of equal importance.

Evaluation and scaling

The women water managers will be asked to keep us updated about its working, effects and usage in their respective localities. Also Ankur's local coordinators will be asked to follow up on the reach and impact of Water Rituals.

Once this pilot is proven successful, we can replicate this model and scale up to other parts of India and expand to other parts of the world. Water Rituals offers many possibilities since it is open for use and adaptation to the local needs and requirements, potentially reaching millions of people, via various water organizations working across the globe. 

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

  • Ready for piloting

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

The first target group consists of the young women practitioners, who will develop the content and are in charge of water related tasks. Once these users start informing their peers and publishing on the Internet this may grow exponentially, especially when specific elements go 'viral', as Water Rituals is part of the public domain. Ankur, Society for Alternatives in Education is active in six worker settlements in different parts of Delhi. These workers' settlements consist of people working in the informal sector as what Jan Breman calls “wage hunters and gatherers.” Each locality has approximately 160.000 residents (x 6 = 960.000 residents). We estimate to reach out to 15%, with a total of 144.000 people (approximately 25.000 households) of which 50% are women (72.000 women). We have estimated this reach on the basis of Ankur's current scope within each community. After successfully implementing the project in Delhi, we can replicate this model to other parts of India.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

Water Rituals contains information for the well-being and survival of people, which could lead to a crucial utility. Water Rituals embodies innovation, creativity and business sense. The audiovisual environment contains various water-health related chapters, ranging from indigenous water purifying methods to women's hygiene, contributing to the health and well-being of people. By setting up hubs in localities, young women are trained as water managers and act as service providers for their community. Households and the community are the ultimate customers of the water managers. They can choose from a number of story lines on water-health education in interactive formats. The hub will be open to other designers, content developers, makers, creative artists and companies, providing them a platform on which they can easily develop their own applications, features, games, story lines or bodies of knowledge for Water Rituals. The young women are also trained to make their own water filters and DIY spectrometers, which can be sold in their community. The young water managers can earn a living by selling filters and spreading information via the Water Rituals app, charging a fee.

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

A first investment is required for the development of the mobile app for Water Rituals. The app provides water-health content using audiovisual formats with intriguing story lines and game plots for (semi)- illiterate people. It empowers women and encourages healthy behaviour among low-income communities. We will set up a (crowd)funding campaign and will build partnerships with various organizations and institutes, where all can contribute with their specific know-how, time and share their network. A combination of private investment, corporate social responsibility funds and grants is required to make this project work. We are also interested to work with mobile phone operators and manufacturers, who could contribute significantly with their know-how, support us in kind and serve as our sponsors.

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

We would be interested to partner with SRISTI - Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions and GIAN - Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network, two voluntary organization to support the Honey Bee Network and to scale up and convert grassroots innovations into viable products respectively. We are in touch with Prof. Anil K. Gupta founder of the Honey Bee Network (grassroots innovation, indigenous knowledge, sustainable technology, water, Indian Institute of Management). It would also be interesting to collaborate with Wikipedia, as they have an existing structure (such as providing information in multiple languages) and a model of reliable content creators, from which Water Rituals could learn many lessons. Also Wikipedia is still at an early stage in its process of incorporating videos into its encyclopedic content.

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

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

Ankur's mission is to create a better world through education that empowers the deprived. Since 1983, Ankur has been working in the field of experimental pedagogy, with children, young people and communities in six working class settlements of Delhi. Ankur seeks to empower the marginalized, through education, to reflect on their life experiences and contexts, understand inequity and conflict, and collectively strive for a just and humane society and a life of dignity. By building collective spaces for learning (libraries, media labs, learning collectives) and organizing mehfils (gatherings) for children and young, they are co-constructors of knowledge. Ankur has developed pedagogical alternatives that unfold young people's creativity and builds on the intellectual and social life of the locality. It participates in networks for the rights of the marginalized. Ankur has recently started a program on health education.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

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

We will start this process in six workers' settlements of Delhi: Dakshinpuri, LNJP Colony, Khichripur, Nand Nagri, Savda Ghevra and Shashi Garden. Once the pilot is successful, we intend to explore possibilities to scale this innovation for usage in other urban, rural and cultural contexts.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

It is often neglected that water is a woman's task. Therefore we actively involve young women as co-researcher, -designers and content developers. The Indian partners, Ankur and visual artist Shradha Jain will design game-plots and develop content in collaboration with young women. Delhi School of Social Work have broad expertise in environmental health problems, particularly engaging women in the protection and promotion of environment. They provide a specialized and relevant framework of analyses for Water Rituals. Dr. Caroline Nevejan (design of socio-technical systems, TUDelft), Iris Douma (interaction designer, design researcher), and Pollinize (social design, creative research & innovative technology) have expertise in providing innovative solutions, which are simple and practical using creative research approaches. They contribute significantly by developing the audiovisual environment using game and play design principles and introducing a maker culture among young women.

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

Water Rituals is an extension of existing activities. The focus is engaging youth from marginalized urban communities in sharing and generating knowledge using new media technologies on water-related solutions. Together with youth from urban villages we co-designed the concept of Water Rituals. Our research & design sessions, and water test labs in the past three years have given us insight on water related problems in various communities in Delhi. We have identified five core problems: - Lack of information on water quality: is water potable or not? - Time efficiency: water tankers deliver drinking water at irregular timings - Lack of reliable information: community doctors often provide patients with unreliable health advice - Lack of trust: information should be provided by someone known, face-to-face interactions are important in order to create trust - Inefficient water facilities and services: often water tankers do not reach the community. But whom do you call?

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

1. The biggest challenge is designing for mobile phones that have great differentiations such as limited technical capabilities, a range of mobile platforms, and limited access to Internet. Text should be limited and easy to understand because of (semi)-illiterate users. All these aspects will need to be taken into account in the design process of the intervention. Our approach is inherent to applying iterative design principles and involves community members in testing. Their feedback is used for the design process. 2. How do we ensure ongoing commitment of the young women practitioners? There is a high probability that they have other priorities, .e.g. running the household. By providing them with a fee, we give them an incentive to not only learn new skills, but also take the job seriously, so that they can eventually become knowledge managers, who can manage, run, edit, and ensure trustworthy water-health information for their households, community and mobile network system.

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

The young women practitioners will play an important role in disseminating the results, since they are the first to make use of Water Rituals and communicate and introduce it to their peers and potential users. The usage of the Water Rituals app can be tracked once it has been installed on the phone. Further, if the content consists of for example Youtube films, we can easily track, how many times it has been watched. The web-based application, can be analyzed using Google Analytics.

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

First 20 local community coordinators will be trained by 3 WASH specialists (1 month training, $1500 per expert). Next 20 local community coordinators will train approximately 500 young women practitioners (25 practitioners per coordinator), providing them to make use of the Water Rituals app, testing water, tracking water transporters and voicing their problems. This training is six months ($250/month), including making content and filters. All 500 young women practitioners are first taught and then develop creative audio-visual content on water purifying practices and make cheap water filters, providing various clean water solutions for their community ($200 practitioner/month). They eventually reach about 25000 households in two years, assuming each young woman can connect to 50 households. Next we can add functionalities and increase impact on a local level reaching more people. Followed by scaling to other parts of India and expand to other parts of the world.

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

Technical development - Developing a water tester or collaborating with organizations developing water testers, which allows citizens to test water and read out contamination with arsenic, fluoride or bacteria; - Equipping water transporters with GPS, so that they can be tracked and monitored; - Involving community members in testing the app, water tester and tracking water transporters, using smart and feature phones. Their requirements and needs are incorporated into the app and design. Training 500 young women practitioners are trained by 20 coordinators to become water-health knowledge managers in their respective locality (6 months). They also learn to make low-cost water filters, DIY spectrometers to sell these in their community. Activities As suggested by the young women, it is best to introduce such a tool using face-to-face communication. Young women will conduct activities, such as public events or street plays to showcase the app, water filters and testers

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

We aim to collaborate with organizations, companies or individuals working in the field of water, rain harvesting, water inventions, water education, water purifying methods. This way, the 'digital water library' can bring all sorts of diffused water information to the public via the Water Rituals app. We are also interested in connecting to organizations that develop water-related training materials and linking with organizations familiar with affordable water testers and DIY water filters.

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

Ankur, Society for Alternatives in Education has a FCRA approval.
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Team (9)

Iris's profile
Iris Douma

Role added on team:

"Iris is interaction designer and design researcher. She underpins the value of a human-centered design, especially in the field of ‘non-digital- natives’. She promotes the use of FabLab's for educational purposes and organizes workshops targeting children and youth. Her focus is on art, technology and sustainability. Iris plays an important role in respectively designing the interaction and user experience of the audiovisual environment, and training the women in the DIY maker culture."

Caroline Nevejan's profile
Caroline Nevejan

Role added on team:

"Dr. Caroline Nevejan working at the Participatory Systems department at Delft University of Technology is specialized in artistic and design research. She particularly focuses on the implications of technology on society. Her research takes place in interdisciplinary context, working with artists, practitioners, scientists and academics. She is responsible for gathering the functional, non-functional requirements for the audiovisual environment and the development of the app."

Shradha's profile
Shradha Jain

Role added on team:

"Shradha lives and works from her studio based in Ahmedabad that aims to promote the culture of playing games in the city. She also teaches at the National Institute of Design on cultures of play. Shradha plays an important role in in developing the story lines and game plots in order to encourage healthy behaviour."

Lipika's profile
Neera's profile
Neera Agnimitra

Role added on team:

"Dr. Neera Agnimitra is associate professor at the Delhi School of Social Work, Delhi University. The Social Work department will be involved during the training of young women practitioners. They will support us in developing suitable formats for water-health education for (semi)-illiterate, during the audiovisual content creation process and make process of water filters."

Prabhat's profile

Role added on team:

"Prabhat works as as programme coordinator at Ankur. He has set up learning centers, children's clubs, libraries and experimental labs in different working class neighbourhoods in Delhi. He initiates these spaces, imagining and realizing the canvas, protocols and practices over there. He is responsible for building neighbourhood linkages, designing training programmes through participatory methodology. He trains field facilitators and involves youth in content creation and innovative practices."

Afaina's profile
Afaina de Jong

Role added on team:

"Afaina de Jong is an architect and believes in the practice of an active architecture that goes beyond just making buildings. Her urban design agency, AFARAI, not only designs, but also develops content: from events to brand communication. She knows how to match the target group to the end product and how to access the mainstream media as well as new social media. She is responsible for marketing, promotion and business development within this project."

Anoop's profile
Charishma's profile


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Photo of Yury

Great Idea! Wish you all the best Guys! Just loved sustainability aspect of your idea.

Photo of Lipika

Thanks for your support!

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