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Providing Drinking Water to Villages through an Inclusive Business Model

Using new technologies that are economically and environmentally sustainable

Photo of vijay sampath

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The need for drinking water is ever increasing – with sources remaining constant and population increasing several folds; the demand for clean drinking water is constantly increasing.

The concept of providing drinking water through dedicated water centers has been in practice for a long time. These centers typically use old technologies like Reverse Osmosis to treat water. One of the biggest drawbacks of using this old technology has been the amount of water wasted during treatment (close to 60%) and slow adoption due to high maintenance costs for these units. 

Aquasphere has introduced a new water treatment system using a technology called Capacitive De-ionization in the market. This innovative product treats ground / surface water and delivers drinking water at an operating cost of just 3-4 paise per liter. It wastes very little water during treatment (about 20%) and requires very low power to desalinate water. 

These systems do not use chemicals, are simple to operate, maintain and easy to deploy. 

Combined with an innovative business model that is inclusive in nature, it is possible to increase adoption while at the same time build revenue generation opportunities for social entrepreneurs in the communities they serve.

The business model is based on the following key principles:

  1.  Affordable: Deliver affordable Drinking water to BOP consumers.
  2. Sustainable: Use combination of technologies around drinking water that ensures water recycling and reuse.
  3. Inclusive: Create a revenue plan that will ensure water centers are self sustaining in its operation
  4. Environmental Friendly: Be environmentally friendly to ensure that the output of the process does not contaminate the environment


Some of the key outcomes envisaged with this model are:

  1. Deliver long term health benefits to the community by providing them with good and healthy drinking water that meets WHO standards
  2. Provide Companies / Investors with opportunities through which they can measure the impact of their CSR spend
  3. Provide companies with opportunities / avenues to increase their revenues by selling their products to the BOP customers. 
  4. Create a platform to provide best in class services like e-Health, e-Education hinged around the drinking water centre


The solution explained in this presentation explains how we can achieve the above outcomes with a combination of technologies that have been developed and adopted for Indian village conditions. 

These technologies have been tested, commercialized and are ready for mass deployment at this stage. 

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

  • Scaling phase

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

We have now industrialized, engineered and have built the supply chain to deliver 100 units of our system every month. This would mean impacting about 1,200 villages or about 1 Million people in a year. We are working to scale up this to 3 times so that we can deliver 300 units of our system every month to impact atleast 3 million people in a year. In Karnataka alone, where we are based, there are 6,200 Gram panchayats and 10,000 villages that need drinking water solution. Across India there are at-least 600,000 villages that needs Drinking water. We believe that if we can establish a rhythm between us and our partners who implement the solutions, we should be in a position to make a significant impact of delivering drinking water solutions in at-least 10% of these villages in the next 2-3 years.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

We are looking at sustainability in 2 ways: 1. Economic Sustenance of running the water plant 2. Environmental Sustenance through Water Conservation Through our technology we are able to achieve Economic Sustenance. The enclosed presentation will give a brief idea how we can achieve this. The Environmental Sustenance is achieved through water reuse and recycle whereby we maximize the use of raw and waste water through a combination of Rain water harvesting and waste water treatment techniques. While we have been able to provide suitable technologies to help achieve this, these are only enablers to this goal. To achieve the goal of water sustenance, we need to work very closely with the communities through local NGOs, Panchayats and government bodies. It is our belief that with our technologies, we can achieve atleast 50% of this goal.

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

To be successful we need financing options in 2 forms: 1. For setting up the Drinking Water Infrastructure in Villages. This investment can come in following forms: a. As a grant or a low interest loan to the social entrepreneur for the capital expense required to setup the water centres. This is a rolling grant or fund which is used for investment only on infrastructure. The ultimate vision of the water park can be built in stages, the starting point for establishing a drinking water center would need an investment in the range of Rs. 5-6 Lakhs per village. This can be in form of grant, Quasi or full or a totally repayable loan with very low interest rates that can be paid back by the social entrepreneurs. To build the complete vision of the Sustenance Park, An investment of Rs. 12-14 Lakhs will be required. b. It is also possible to establish the drinking water program through a BOOT model in partnership with the government. If we can get an organization that can invest for example say USD 100 million then they can execute the idea proposed in the presentation in totality and get returns based on per liter of water sold. 2. For scaling up our business. This is more like a Loan, Grant (Quasi or full) that will help us build capacities in manufacturing and organization build up to support our vision. The loan / grant can come from institutions or companies who wish to partner with us. We are looking at an outlay of USD 3 million for this activity.

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

Our strength is in building innovative technology and engineering it for mass production suitable for deployment in villages. However to take us to the levels where we want to make an impact, we need partnerships with organizations who can provide us a platform or support to reach out to as many villages as possible. The partners role would be: 1. To provide us a platform or reach where we can introduce our solution to as many villages as possible. 2. Liaise with government. Any water related project requires interaction with government and their support to make it a success. We need an organization that can leverage its reach and position to suitably liaise with governments and industries who are willing to invest in this project. 3. Provide partnerships with NGOs. Grass root level co-ordination and adoption can only be possible by working with local NGOs. 4. Be able to attract investors or grants to support the funding required for execution.

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

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

We are providing our solutions in urban areas. As point of Entry based treatment in residential communities, Drinking water in industries and Schools. Additionally we also working with the Indian Railways where we are installing dispensers using our technology in various stations across India. We have been working with governments in Karnataka and Gujarat for setting up Drinking water centres in villages. We are working with other foundations to deploy our product and technologies in their initiatives. These are being used in schools, migrant communities etc.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

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

We are based in Bangalore, Karnataka through our office here we deal with most of South India. In the North we work with a partner who shares the same vision as ours. They focus in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. We plan to go pan India only if we can work with partners who share the same commitment and vision.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I started AquaSphere in 2012 after spending over 25 years in the field of Information Technology. The purpose was to deliver best in class water treatment technologies to the rural and urban communities. After lot of study, I chose Water as a field because I noticed that not many companies were innovating and adapting new technologies to the rural market segment - where drinking water was really in need. As a first step, with partnership from Idropan, Italy we introduced Plimmer CDI product to India. We spent over 3 years developing and adapting it to Indian village conditions and making it in a manner that can be industrialized for mass production. In line with our goal to achieve water sustenance, last year we introduced a new SBR technology for waste water treatment that can be easily adopted in villages. Our team consists of 6 senior managers - all engineers with over 20 years in experience - all passionate about Water. More information can be found in www.aquasphere.co.in

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

This is a new idea for our organization. We have developed innovative products in water treatment with a goal to provide the best water treatment solution to rural and urban communities. We are in a unique position to achieve this goal because we have engineered and industrialized our product to deliver it in large numbers. With a vision to make a sizeable impact across India. In our endeavors to provide this to communities, we have encountered adoption issues which we want to address through a suitable business model. After considerable research and discussions, we feel a value added service based adoption can make a significant impact to our objectives and so this idea has taken shape. We would like to collaborate with like minded partners who can help us achieve this vision.

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

1. Managing the Adoption curve. We expect that it would take atleast 6-8 months for an entrepreneur to get the act into selling at a certain rhythm. Lot of investments in time effort and tweaking the business model has to be done at this stage. Prudent cost management is required to be managed. 2. Government and Political interference - directly or indirectly needs to be mitigated. Keeping the local panchayat as a stakeholder could mitigate this risk 3. Availability of local entrepreneur or SHG who can manage and run the business. Though the community might be in need for a solution, if local resource are not available we might have to defer the project 4. Caste based issues that are prevalent in local community. People might not buy if this is prevalent. A local NGO or SHG might have to be involved to mitigate this.

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

This is already in place. All our systems are web enabled and can be tracked remotely. We have built a governance portal using AWS where water consumption, quality and performance information are sent to our cloud server and can be tracked daily. These systems are also IoT enabled to proactively manage and service remotely.

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

In 2 years and with $250K funding we can reach close to 150,000 - 180,000 households. Here is how: 1st year: Organization and Process Buildup with a deliverable in 5 communities having 150 household. This will be a showcase for the next year and also prepare companies for value based selling 2nd year: expand to 100-120 villages. At this stage we will set a platform for rapid expansion to 1000 villages in the 3rd year.

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

USD 250,000 works to appx INR 1.7 Crore 1. Organization and Process buildup: 50 Lakhs (including of people, process, travel etc.) 2. 10 Model villages for our concept: 1.0 Crore (10 Lakhs per village including capex, IED etc.) 3. Contingency: 20 Lakhs

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

We need the following support beyond grants: 1. Financial Institutions which can give us project funding with low interest rates (3-5%). This money will be provided to the Entrepreneurs or SHGs to kick start the operation. 2. Govt support is required to insist on usage of new and innovative technologies. Many state govts are spending money on water plants using old obsolete technology without any goals. Any govt-govt funding or org-govt funding should insist on new technologies to be used.

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

No we don't have FCRA account since we are not an NGO. However we propose to address this in any one of the following ways: 1. Start an NGO with FCRA account and initiate a process 2. Partner with an NGO (approved by water.org) which has a FCRA account. Collaboration is the only way and so it is not a bad idea to create a consortium to deal with a situation like this.

Attachments (1)

Integrated Water Mgmt for Villages_Feb2016.pdf

Using Innovative Technologies to achieve Water Sustenance (updated 17th April 2016)

28 comments

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Photo of vijay sampath
Team

I have updated the presentation to reflect the issues discussed in the forum. More data regarding technologies and process has been provided.

Photo of United for Hope
Team

Dear Vijay,

Congratulations for your great project! Seems we have a similar approach in providing access to clean drinking water to rural communities in India. We would be very  interested to know, weather you are facing the same challenges we experienced in our pilot project and how you overcome them.
1) What is your experience with selling water at a low cost? Are you having problems from established, more expensive bottled water companies, and how to you deal with that?
2) Do you buy the land on which you install your water technology or do you make special arrangements with local leaders?
Looking forward to your insights!
United for Hope Team 

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Hope Team,
Thanks for your wishes and yes we are definitely fighting for a similar cause. To answer your questions specifically
1. Selling water at very low cost is not sustainable. This is a sure recipe for failure in my opinion. If the stakeholders dont see a win - it will not succeed. So in order to mitigate this risk, we feel a cross-subsidy option is a better route. Basically to generate revenue in multiple areas that will ensure sustainability whilst also ensure that water is delivered at a reasonable cost.
2. Yes we face challenges from established and more expensive bottled company and this is because of their business model. While they dont mind giving at a slightly higher costs, they would like to take revenue for themselves over period of time. There is nothing wrong in this commercially. But the difference in our approach is that we would like the revenue to be kept local AFTER all the debts are paid off.  We believe that will have more impact over time.
3. No we dont buy the land. It is given by the panchayat. The land, water and power has to be given locally - If the benefit is given locally. We can offset the power costs and water costs - which in our case is quite marginal. But land for sure we cannot buy - because by law we cannot do it also.

Hope this helps, lets share our experiences, maybe we can come out with a better model for all of us.

Photo of United for Hope
Team

Dear Vijay,
Thanks for your reply. 
Re.question 1. What is your experience in acquiring revenue in multiple areas. We are currently serving weddings at a higher cost per litre and these premium prices (as compared to household prices) help the business case.
Finally have you been successful in finding good execution partners? We too use 'alternative' technology (ie not RO) and this has brought up many questions but the bigger challenges lie with good local staff, regular customers and behaviour change.

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Hope team,
Yes, what you say about selling outside like weddings, events etc does work and it offsets the price to some extent - no doubt. But this has to be done with better governance else there is a tendency to cater to this opportunity more than the domestic. It is a tricky situation no doubt and has to be dealt with in the field.
And what you said about good local staff and behavior change is also very true. We have seen in many places adoption is the challenge, we need to use multiple ways to get there and there is no fixed solution for this.
Please do send me more information about the technology you adopt, we can explore its application in our endeavors also.

Photo of Sikandar Meeranayak
Team

Vijay Sir,
We would like to offer a possibility to you which you may find useful - it is a collaborative initiative and could provide the local resource that many of us are seeking.  We believe it could be used not only as a training, information gathering and awareness promotion centre, but also possibly a place for the sharing of buying power, and perhaps labour training .. please have a look at our video here and if you are inspired to contribute, or share your ideas on this we would very much appreciate it. https://youtu.be/iY0U7ZOqzu8. Thank you.

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Sikandar,
I think there is huge basis for us to collaborate. Rainwater harvesting is a definite MUST that we must implement in all villages. Taking this forward, we should integrate waste water treatment along with this so that water can be re-used and also re-cycled.
Our dream - as mentioned in our presentation - is to have a complete integrated water management park in every village where all techniques are put in place to ensure best use of water. No doubts scaling up will be an issue but if we can industrialize this to a large extent, we can make a big impact.
I also think the WASH training centre as mentioned in your video is a good thing. The only change that I feel might be necessary is to call it an activity centre instead of just focusing on WASH training. Where the benefits of WASH is derived rather than focused - as is normally done. This will make training more fun and interesting and will surely encourage participation. This is ofcourse my suggestion.
Lets connect and see how we can work together.

Photo of Sikandar Meeranayak
Team

Thank you very much for your suggestions.  calling it an Activity centre is definitely a better idea.  The idea is certainly not only to do training there as such but also bring all ideas there.. a spread of awareness of possibilities.  We put a mindmap up on our images.. it can show more of the scope.. your water management park is in fact very similar .. we could join the two!  The sewage treatment plant you have shown looks really good.  We would be interested to know the costing around that system.   our email is info@srdsindia.org ..  we can start with collaborating on water harvesting .. (I am Shazar (teammember for Sikandar) writing for him.. I will certainly make sure he knows of yoru project and of the connection. Look forward to further communication with you. 

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Shazar,
I will get in touch with you. I am traveling next 2 weeks, will get in touch soon.

Photo of Deepa Garimella
Team

Hi Vijay,

Thanks for this interesting idea. It is impressive that you are able to bring your costs down to such a level.

We are working on a financial model to ensure that a community has equitable access to a local water asset. You mentioned you are looking for partnership ideas to provide a platform to introduce your solution to as many villages as possible, so we wanted to know if we could talk about this. 

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Hi Deepa,
I think with use of innovative technologies, we can bring down costs quite easily. We use a different technology for treatment and so we can bring down the costs to reasonable levels.
I am definitely interested to explore partnership, both for working out a good financial model and also a platform to introduce the model across villages. My mail ID is vijay@aquasphere.co.in Please drop in a line and we can connect.

Photo of Rupert Whiting
Team

I absolutely LOVE everything that you have developed and are doing.  It seems to be 100% in line with my way of thinking.  May I build on the idea?

What if we could recycle the waste water from the community to the point that the only water required to be introduced to the community was from your system?  The rest, the non-potable water uses for toilet flushing, laundry, bathing and cleaning could be provided from daily recycled water?  By my estimation, that reduces water consumption (and therefore wear on the systems) by 80-90%.  We can actually drive up the use of water in the community but drive down consumption from the environment.   In essence, we have a virtually closed-loop of water in the community, the only input being potable water from your systems.

This also then opens up the potential to use gardening innovation to massively increase the utility of excess water in the community to grow healthy food in abundant quantities.

One last advantage is that it allows for harvested rainwater to be periodically renewed, thereby denying mosquitos their breeding grounds in poor communities and reducing mosquito-borne disease. 

Please contact me if this is of interest - we have proven the technology, we just need some pilot locations to work with established players.

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Rupert,
What you have said is exactly what we want to do and we are setting the grounds for that. As we move forward there is no option for us but to re-use water.
Our technology delivers the output from waste water to a level where we can re-use it even for consumption. However we have to deal with the mindset issues at the moment and re-using for consumption is an eventuality from our point of view.
So what we are instead doing is combining waste water treatment with smart biological landscaping techniques to ensure that water collected is protected and also be used to recharge the bore if allowed.
We goal this way is to ensure a ZLD process in wherever we deploy our solutions.
We are open to look at any interesting solutions that meets this objective. Please send me more information on what you have at my mail id: vijay@aquasphere.co.in , I will be more than willing to review this and work with you.

Photo of benjamin
Team

This idea is a very well thought out one. The main reason this idea is very well thought out is because of how the cost is placed on everything. A few things that could be looked at and tweaked would be the government accepting this and would the community really trust them. 

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Benjamin, 
thanks for your comments. The govt accepting this will be a big challenge since there is commerce involved and this continues to be at a risk in all water related project since government considers water as a country resource. We will need to deal with the local panchayats and we must be very clear that if there is no participation then we will not go ahead with the project.
Fortunately the need for drinking water overwhelms the other issues and so with a bit of community pressure we can make local governments accept it.
If you have any experience in dealing with this, would love to hear and learn from that.

Photo of Jinal Sanghavi
Team

Congratulations on making it to the refinement stage! Clearly the technology is well thought out

Please correct me if I am wrong - but we need to test the following -
1. Capacity for deployment by a partner organisation and adoption by the village of the good drinking water
2. Corporate buy-in to fund the deployment

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on moving into the Refinement phase Vijay and team! Here are a few questions from our experts. Looking forward to your responses.

Would you be able to share more detailed information regarding the Selco Foundation project such as figures for water revenue, operating costs, breakeven analysis and other financial considerations? What are the main lessons that have been learned from this example and is this something that can be replicated?

We’d also love for you to reach out engage with some of the other ideas in the Refinement phase of this challenge. Collaboration is the name of the game here at OpenIDEO. We’re looking forward to how you’ll work together to grow each other’s initiatives.

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear OpenIDEO team,
Regarding your query on the business model. In slide 19 of the presentation that I had attached there are figures you will see on Operating cost and Break-Even numbers.

The main lessons we are learning in drinking water as inclusive business is Adoption. Prices may be low but increasing adoption to use healthy drinking water continuous to be a slow and gradual process.
While we can do a lot in terms of educating, based on our experience we feel providing cross subsidy with other products or value added services along with drinking water could be a better solution.
For example in the previous post posted by our friend Swapnil, where is he looking for drinking water as a value added service in their toilet venture is an excellent example to speed up adoption.
I feel it is a good idea to have a bouquet of offerings with the entrepreneur who can then mix and match services based on trend. Another example is offering 4 cans of drinking water free for every recharge on mobile phones where this cost can be subsidized by the service provider as part of their CSR program.

Photo of Swapnil Poop-Guy
Team

vijay sampath , We would love to see how we can set up water ATMs in our community toilets. We would like to offer Clean water as one of our rewards/value added services. 
We have regular supply of Municipal Water and would like to find out CapEx and OpEx for a Unit that can serve a catchment area of 400 Families. what is the cost of ONE Liter of water?

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Swapnil,
Saw your profile, you and your team have been doing some great work. Wanted to get in touch with you but you beat me to that !.
Treating municipal water can be much easier than bore well water. So if you are getting municipal connection and if you can send me a water test report, then we could do with a very interesting 2 stage bacterial infection system which we have developed only for such conditions.
However if your water has other contaminants then you should use our Capacitive de-ionization based system called Plimmer.
The cost per liter in the first option is almost nothing (less than 1 paise) while with Plimmer it will be in the range of 5-6 paise per liter.
Send me the report on my mail id vijay@aquasphere.co.in and I will send you more details on both the solutions.

Photo of Max Bock
Team

Dear Vijay, congratulations to your exciting idea. We would love to explore collaboration opportunities whereby our 3D printed testing unit could help guide efforts for cleaning water and provide a real case for your solution. Take a look at our project (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/water-and-sanitation/improve/3d-printed-water-testing) and let us know if this is of interest to you. 

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Max, I think your idea to make tests easy in site is interesting and we could definitely collaborate on this. Please let me know what all tests can be made possible through your solution.
i also noticed that you are working very closely with Agastya foundation for providing drinking water to schools. We have just released an innovative disinfection system which is ideal for schools. There is no need for water tanks and process is very simple. Maybe we can explore collaboration in this area too. Let me know how we can take things forward. You can send me information at vijay@aquasphere.co.in.

Photo of Jenny Adaobi
Team

I love low cost solutions just as these and very importantly, the recognition of the need for community buy-ins

Photo of Ben Vishnu Mandell
Team

Thanks for submitting a great idea with lots of backup information. I would love to learn more about any current social entrepreneurs or implementing organizations that you work with. Do you have any case studies of actual field trails that examine the business results? Also, given that the volume of water sales is going to drive the repayment ability of the entrepreneur, do you have a suggested size (population or other criteria) for the type of town/village where the solution makes good financial sense?

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Ben,
Thanks for your encouraging comments. We are partnering with an organization called Selco Foundation on a similar model. As part of their business model, Selco enables the entrepreneur with many value added services mainly hinged around their solar power lighting concept. We are currently piloting this concept with water in a migrant community where the entrepreneur is encouraged to sell water in 20 liters cans to this community.
Based on our assessment we feel the minimal threshold level for this model should be 100 households. In case it is lesser than this, then a hub-spoke model or a single entrepreneur managing multiple smaller units needs to be explored.
Meeting the steady stage threshold level of sales will take time. During this time, the entrepreneur will need support by either subsidizing or cross subsidizing with other products. For example, for every recharge of the customer's mobile phone they get 5 days of water or encourage the entrepreneur to sell at higher prices in marriage halls, religious events etc. to bridge the short fall.
The financing option to them is the key, it should factor flexible payment plans based on earnings or start of repayment after 1st year giving the entrepreneur good time to get his/her act in place.
A financing option should be of low interest rate or a quasi grant that will lessen the burden on the entrepreneur.

Photo of Jinal Sanghavi
Team

The technology seems well researched and quite solid. In your pilots, have there been contextual difference in adoption and utilization between Indian railways versus industries and schools? Can any of these learnings be applied to setting up an inclusive clean water providing service in villages. 

In case you haven't come across it already, you may also find this existing model closely aligned to what you are think - http://www.springhealth.co.in/

Photo of vijay sampath
Team

Dear Jinal,
In reply to your post, yes adoption in each of these segments varies a lot. While in Railways you can expect a floating population in villages it is more static and more concerned about the resources that is being used.
In villages we need to add more value initially to motivate people to consume good water. The earnings are limited and often prioritized over what is essential to desirable.

We have applied our learning in all these segments in the technology to make it more "User-friendly" to operate.