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

To provide safe drinking water access to underserved communities through a sustainable business model.

WaterHealth serves over 5 million people across the globe by installing decentralized purification units called WaterHealth Centers (WHCs).

Photo of WaterHealth India Private Ltd.
20 13

Written by

WaterHealth India (WHIN), a 100% subsidiary of WaterHealth International (WHI), USA, provides safe, scalable and affordable drinking water solutions to the underserved communities across India. WHIN was established ten(10) years back and operates and maintains over 500 decentralized Community Water Systems (CWS) [called WaterHealth Centers (WHCs)] across Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka ,Tamil Nadu  providing access to safe drinking water to over five (5) million people. WHIN’s brand ‘dr. water’ complies with IS 10500 standards and exceeds the WHO standards. Based on a comprehensive study conducted by IMRB in 2010, dr. water consumer households are approximately nine (9) times less likely to contract waterborne diseases compared to non-consumer households.

In line with its vision, the Company is pursuing the audacious goal of serving 100 million consumers by 2020. In order to achieve the same, WaterHealth has adopted a decentralized model for serving the underserved communities (that are severely impacted due to poor availability of safe drinking water) in both urban, peri-urban and rural areas.

The Company’s strategy has been to install, operate and maintain “micro-utilities” called WaterHealth Centers (WHCs) in the targeted communities. The WaterHealth Center is the flagship product of the Company wherein raw water is treated through a six (6) stage purification process.                                                 

These decentralized systems are established through a Public Private Community Partnership (PPCP) whereby the Company constructs a water purification plant [which can typically serve a community ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 people]. The infrastructure i.e. land, raw water source and electricity are provided by the community while WaterHealth sources the funds to set up the water purification plants. The WHCs are constructed and run on a Build Operate Transfer (BOT) agreement with the Local Government i.e. Panchayat or the Municipality with a concession term spanning between 15-25 years, with an option to extend the term on expiry. This ensures continuous availability of safe drinking water to the community at affordable rates at all times. While the Company’s area of focus so far has been rural communities, it is now expanding into urban and peri-urban areas through partnerships with large municipal corporations and small municipalities.

The Company’s scope of work extends beyond purification and water life cycle management, WHIN runs well conceived social marketing programs to change consumer behavior towards safe drinking water. These programs are customized to spread awareness about the health benefits of safe drinking water, even in communities where little or no healthcare knowledge exists.

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

  • Scaling phase

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

WHIN has successfully installed over 500 community water systems which are providing safe water access to over five (5) million consumers spread across communities (rural/peri-urban/urban) in 36 districts of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.WaterHealth has entered into a partnership with Bangalore Municipal Corporation (BBMP) where the Company will set up two hundred (200) WHCs across Bangalore city to serve ten (10) million urban underserved people.WaterHealth India has also signed an agreement with Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to set up about thirty (30) WHCs and two hundred and fifty (250) water dispensation units (WDUs) in identified slum areas of capital city. The Company has also been approached and is in advanced stage of discussions with governments in other states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as there is a dire need to provide safe drinking water in these geographies.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

The Company drives and measures sustainability of the WaterHealth Centers (WHCs) along five (5) parameters i.e. financial, technical, institutional, social and environmental to provide safe drinking water for longer duration. WaterHealth’s operating model (PPCP) addresses all the five (5) dimensions thereby making the projects sustainable for the concession term (15-25 years). 1. Institutional: Partnership with local institutions, key community influencers to drive community engagement improvement. 2. Social: Drives social transformation in the community, conducts social marketing programs to bring behavioral change. 3. Technical: Implement six stage purification technology and IS 10500 compliant, modular design, easy replacement of defective parts/equipment. 4. Environmental: WHCs consume less than 1% of water used by entire community and possess high water recovery (70% efficiency). We also practice rainwater and reject water harvesting at the vicinity of every WHC. 5. Financial: Lowest cost producer in Community Water Systems in the world, manages all consumer life cycle processes i.e. consumer acquisition, retention etc.

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

The business model involves partnering with local government bodies (Panchayats in rural areas and Municipalities in urban areas) who provide land, raw water and an electricity connection for setting up the WHCs. The initial capex involved in constructing the WHCs is solicited from International development agencies,Trusts, Foundations, NGOs, Philanthropists and Corporates (under their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives) while on the other hand the operational expenses are covered through the 'user fee' charged to consumers. The company also open to explore options in getting funds through debt/equity investments and special purpose vehicles.

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

Partnerships should help drive WaterHealth’s vision of reaching out to 100 million consumers by 2020 in providing safe and affordable drinking water to the underserved communities. 1. These partnerships would help us reach out to many underserved communities. 2. Provide us funds for the capital expenditure in constructing WaterHealth Centers (WHCs). 3. Partnership under the PPP model helps as the local government bodies help in in providing land, raw water source and an electricity connection to install and operate WHCs

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

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

The company initially focused doing business in rural areas but now it gradually moved towards peri-urban and urban areas because the problem of safe drinking water was not alone restricted to rural areas but also to urban areas. WaterHealth implements low cost innovative solutions to provide safe drinking water for the underserved communities in Peri-urban and urban areas. WaterHealth has been approached to setup WaterHealth Centers (WHCs) in 198 municipal wards by Bangalore Municipal corporation (BBMP) similarly Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has approached WaterHealth to set up about thirty (30) WHCs and two hundred and fifty (250) water dispensation units (WDUs) in slum areas in Delhi where they were not able to provide safe drinking water. The Company has also been approached by other state governments (Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) for setting up of WaterHealth Centers.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

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

WaterHealth is currently operating in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Delhi. We are also focussing to extend our footprints in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Access to safe drinking water is a basic human need which is not available to larger population in India. The water available through Piped network is contaminated and not safe for consuming. Some alarming significant risks were of a) About 1.5 million children die of diarrhea. b) Annually 37.7 million Indians are affected with water borne diseases and health disorders. c) Due to water contamination 96,000 habitations suffers in India. d) About 30% of urban and 90% of rural households in India are still dependent on untreated surface/groundwater. Thus WaterHealth would like to contribute in smaller way to avoid these effects by providing scalable, safe and affordable water solutions to the underserved through innovative business models. In line with its vision, the Company is pursuing the audacious goal of serving 100 million consumers by 2020. For more information:

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

No, this is not a recent idea, WaterHealth implemented the idea of providing safe water access to the underserved communities when it established the first Water Health Center (WHC) in 2006 in Andhra Pradesh. Since then, the Organization has managed to replicate the sustainable model in over 400 communities. Over a period of ten (10) years WaterHealth has standardized its operations and maintenance processes across all WaterHealth Centers to provide pure and safe WHO quality drinking water on a continuous basis. The Company’s strategy has been to install, operate and maintain the WaterHealth Centers (WHCs) and we take pride in our Operations and Maintenance quality standards which are a benchmark in the water industry. We are currently in the scaling-up phase and target to reach 100 million consumers by 2020 in rural, peri-urban and urban areas.

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

The major external risks that WHCs face today include: 1.Improper site selection:Poor placement of a WHC can make it difficult to generate sufficient demand and drive sustainability of the plant. In order to mitigate this risk, WaterHealth conducts a detailed feasibility study to understand various qualitative and quantitative parameters which assess the Need, Potentiality and Technical aspects of the shortlisted communities. 2.Community Contract: The agreement/contract with the community has gone through many alterations over the years on past instances of ambiguity and conflict with the communities. It has been added to/modified and made much more robust and comprehensive so as to preclude situations of discord and conflict. 3.Changes in Consumer Behavior: In order to address this WaterHealth provides consumer convenience through improved distribution, door delivery as well as increased reach through a network of retail outlets.

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

WaterHealth maintains the record of customers through Consumer Registration Forms (CRF) which are filled when customers visit the WHC for the first time. The data is then transferred to a central location. WaterHealth is also piloting a mobile application that will provide real time consumer data at WHCs.This will give us data regarding customer buying behavior and repeat customer levels and also it will become a means to reach out to consumers for feedback to improve our services.

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

Each WaterHealth Center approximately costs 20 lakhs INR. We are planning to use 3/4th of the funding or $180,000 USD (approx. 1.20 crore INR) for establishing WHCs. This means that we can establish a minimum of six (1.20crore/20lakh = 6) WHCs, post completion of feasibility studies in the finalized sites. With each WHC capable of serving a community of 25k people, the funds would help us support 1.5 lakh people (25,000 multiplied by 6) i.e. 37,500 households (assuming an average family size of 4). The rest of the $70,000 USD, we plan to utilize for raising awareness and creating new funding avenues like targeting HNIs, trade associations etc. The strategy is to create a multiplier effect that can help translate this $70,000 USD into new funding of at least another $500,000 USD. This amount will again be bifurcated on a 75:25 ratio – the bigger chunk directly utilized for site construction and the rest that will be utilized for further enhancing the funding funnel.

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

Key -Activities: •WaterHealth will install water treatment facilities in the identified, underserved and unserved areas. The Capex for such WHC’s will be supported by the fund. Six(6) such WHCs will be set-up by using around $180,000 USD i.e. three-fourth of the grant amount. The WHCs will implement water conservation techniques like rain water harvesting as per local requirements. WaterHealth will operate and maintain these WHCs for the duration of the agreement period (typical agreements with the community is for 15- 20 years). • The rest of the amount ($70,000 USD) would be used towards: a) Analyzing Social Impact of our WaterHealth centers: The feedback will help us devise new models to provide better services aligned to customer needs. b) Raising awareness about benefits of safe drinking water: WaterHealth will conduct awareness campaigns to strengthen knowledge about safe drinking water.

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

WaterHealth is looking to implement various innovative and scalable models and needs assistance from water industry experts to critique our strengths and identify gaps that we can fill. The Company is also considering partnerships with various financial institutions and government bodies to generate adequate funds and acquire viable sites respectively to scale up our PPCP (Public Private Community Partnership) model.

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

WaterHealth works closely with Jaldhaara Foundation, an NGO that works in the areas of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) as a technical partner in ‘safe drinking water’ projects. Jaldhaara Foundation has applied for the FCRA approval, and is likely to receive it shortly.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tim Golland

Congratulations so far, it sounds like you've learnt a lot over the last 10 years. Whilst much is made of the technology (and I know there have been rapid improvements over the last 10 years), it seems to me that your model of community ownership and education/ behavioural change is where the biggest opportunities are. So, how has your approach to this changed? I am curious that the majority of funding would be directed to new facilities rather than the customer and community aspect of your business model. Are your partnerships developed at the local community level?

View all comments