Lotus Water: Community level solutions for automating safe water

Energy-free technologies and business models to automate point-of-collection disinfection to increase access to safe water

Photo of Amy Pickering
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Lotus Water

Year founded

2012

Initiative stage

  • Start-Up (a pilot that has just started operating)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $250k - $500k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 10,000 - 50,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

Somerville, Massachusettes

Location(s) of impact

Bangladesh: Dhaka
Kenya: Kisumu

Website

http://www.lotuswater.org

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

The number of people living in urban slums has increased by more than 100 million since 2000. Given the unprecedented rates of city growth in low-income countries, intermittent water supply will be the rule, rather than the exception. Water that is clean at the source becomes contaminated as it travels through intermittently pressurized pipelines. Traditional centralized and household-level approaches to water treatment have consistently failed to provide safe water to low-income urban communities.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

The goal of our project is to develop technologies and associated business models to shift the focus of safe water innovations to the point-of-collection, overcoming the high cost and vulnerability of centralized treatment to recontamination during distribution, and removing the burden of daily behavior change associated with household-level approaches. Our research team has collaborated with private companies to: (1) design and field test novel and low-cost automatic chlorine dosers compatible with intermittent supply systems, and (2) run business pilots to assess financial sustainability. For example, we are partnered with MSR Global Health to design, manufacture, and sell a venturi chlorine dosing system service package to Kenyan water kiosks that automatically chlorinates water as it flows through a tap, without the need for electricity. We create shared value by providing income-generating opportunities for local entrepreneurs while increasing access to convenient safe water.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Our project has installed 170 devices that have provided clean water to over 10,000 people living in Bangladesh and Kenya in low-income urban communities. We have conducted randomized trials that found point-of-collection (POC) chlorination reduced contamination with fecal indicator bacteria in drinking water by 70% and reduced child diarrhea by 23% (95% CI 9-35%; N=4227). In collaboration with our private sector and international partners, we have tested out two service models for POC chlorination in urban communities in Bangladesh and Kenya. In Bangladesh, the service model relies on a leasing model with monthly payments from landlords, who can incorporate the small additional operational cost into rent prices. Sales to date indicate landlords are willing to pay an average of ~$50 USD per year. In Kenya, the service model targets public kiosk operators selling drinking water to customers. Thus far, kiosks have been willing to pay up to $42 per month in a lease-to-own program.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Our business pilots in Kenya and Bangladesh have established willingness to pay for POC chlorination and generated local revenue. Currently we are mostly funded by grants supplemented by modest revenue streams, but our long-term goal is to become a social enterprise that provides technical support to partnerships between private companies and local entrepreneurs to implement POC disinfection. Our mission is to pilot new POC technologies and sales strategies to contribute new knowledge that will scale POC water disinfection through financially sustainable businesses and increase global access to safe water.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Our innovation treating water at the point-of-collection, providing an intermediate solution between prohibitively expensive centralized treatment facilities and burdensome household point-of-use treatments. Other water treatment solutions at the community-level typically require high capital costs or consistent access to electricity, which threaten sustainability. We develop and pilot technologies that have the potential to improve livelihoods through income generation and improved health.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

When our team first started working in Bangladesh, we saw first-hand the problems with open sewers and intermittent water supplies, which contributed to the high volume of patients that cycled in and out of Dhaka’s “cholera hospital”. In slum communities, where patients lived, most residents were collecting water at communal hand pumps. We thought, “What if we could find a way to add chlorine into the water at these pumps?” The existing technologies at the time required electricity, which was available but unreliable. We needed a solution that could automatically disinfect water flowing out of taps in real-time, did not require electricity, and did not burden users. We realized that traditional water treatment approaches would not succeed, but also that there was an opportunity for innovation to develop new water treatment approaches at the community-level.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Participated in previous CSV Prize competitions

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 100%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

2. Innovation

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 100%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Social and/or Environmental Impact

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 50%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

4. Financial sustainability

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 100%

5. Potential to Scale / Replicability

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

6. Organizational Leadership

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

7. Potential for Creating Shared Value

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 50%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

2 comments

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Comment
Photo of Stephanie

Congratulations for the project, Amy!
Great to see the careful research to adapt the technology to the local context, overcoming the "habit change" barrier of implementing some other technologies. Is is also great that it does not require electricity as other water cleaning technologies do. Access to safe water is a crucial human right for all!
I would be curious to know more about how the maintenance of the technologies would work, could you elaborate more on that? Is it included in the lease costs?
Also, about the choice for chlorine for water disinfection, has there been any research on the side effects of the chlorination? While chlorine is very effective to deal with diarrhea-causing bacteria, there are a few studies that indicate the negative side effects of consuming chlorinated water (http://www.water-research.net/index.php/water-treatment/tools/chlorination-of-water ; http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chlorine.pdf ), which often leads to increased chances of cancer and other health side effects. I am sure that with the multi-disciplinary team involved in the Lotus Water project this has been taken into consideration! Has there been any research to add a filtering stage to the technology (such as an activated carbon filtration stage, for example)? Would it still make the technology affordable and adaptable to the local contexts?
Congratulations once again and good luck with your project.

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