AquaSavvy: Water Sensitive Design for Everyone

AquaSavvy showcases water sensitive research in everyday language, helps people create liveable spaces and build connections to live better.

Photo of Bernelle Verster
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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

Future Water Institute, University of Cape Town

Year founded


Initiative stage

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

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $1k - $10k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 50 - 100

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Headquarters location: Country

  • South Africa

Headquarters location: City

Cape Town

Location(s) of impact

South Africa: Cape Town, Western Cape Can be extended to other locations in South Africa through WRC Can be extended internationally through IWA


Facebook URL

Twitter URL

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

My country is seriously affected by climate change, while we have not delivered basic services to all yet. When it rains, everything floods, but when it doesn't we don’t have water. We are not smart about water use. Research exists to address the challenges through Water Sensitive Design (WSD) but this is not shaped in an accessible way or often even available to the public. Further, researchers lack case studies to improve their approach and struggle to access places where people are doing water sensitive things.

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

AquaSavvy supplements existing research by translating it into everyday language. It showcases case studies in several categories in highly visual, bite-size snippets of information. It aims to showcase good examples across various media (print, digital, social, video) to inspire the public, and integrate better what the people on the ground are doing with industry bodies like the Green Building Council and the research both nationally and internationally. Further AquaSavvy is designed to guide case studies to improve the implementations or designs to be more responsible with regards to the bigger picture (ensuring greater benefit). To enable this AquaSavvy is not a competition (although it could have competitive aspects) but is designed as a progressive campaign. This allows faster impact over shorter time periods with more relevance to the people involved.

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

We are currently showcasing existing case studies via the website, to allow people to spread solutions through word of mouth. We are also working on blogposts explaining simple interventions that people can do to improve their impact, for example to understand how to do seepaways, permeable paving, sustainable urban drainage, ‘planting the rain’ and contributing to ‘sponge cities’. We have hosted workshops showcasing the concept to landscape architects and plan to do three more in 2018. The last one had 80 people attending, of which 4 had follow on meetings. Ideally we would also like to be involved in the implementation of selected case studies ourselves and document the process.

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

Currently grant based through the Water Research Commission (WRC) WSD Community of Practice ( Corporate contributions through e.g. insurance companies benefiting from lower claims due to implementations that reduce floodrisk. Property developers that see higher property prices due to well-functioning blue-green infrastructure (waterways and public green spaces). We are looking at how to use this model to subsidise poorer areas. In future adding value internationally through the International Water Association (IWA) ( In future likely through direct sales of products and services that develop a demand – water treatment, floating treatment wetlands, analysis and monitoring.

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

There are a few organisations doing water sensitive design work, they are doing great work, and this initiative hopes to get that work to a broader audience. Along with sharing their work, AquaSavvy showcases what people from the bottom up are doing to address their water challenges, allowing our research to learn and remain relevant.

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

Building my own house I struggled to find out what I as an individual could do to improve how water demand and flooding is managed in the city. Even though my colleagues were working on this there were no guidelines for the general public. My work on wastewater biorefineries – creating value from diffuse nutrient pollution, particularly sanitation, makes me think about how to make sanitation work in the urban environment - it's much wider than the toilet. Research on Water Sensitive Design and my work overlapped more and more to implement the infrastructures required to treat and prevent pollution. We currently have no more water left in Cape Town, and many people are asking me what they can do to cope. When I was in Kenya, it rained and Nairobi was a mess. I thought we HAVE to apply WSD to slums, share our work in common language, we need to learn from people already doing it, together.

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

  • Upon recommendation from others


Join the conversation:


Idea is promising and it is needed in todays world. The challenge is how to create impact through different media. Your effort in this direction is not quite clear. Second main aspect is the sustainability of your project. May be you tie up with some organization who are working in this field and make documentary, write books, create dramas, etc.

Photo of Bernelle Verster

Many thanks for your comment RAJIV GUPTA . The platform intends to start with print and online media and workshops through current relationships and networks. With income through partnerships this can be extended into a coherent long-term strategy. I am reluctant to say how exactly the ideas are shared, as I think the traditional routes that I know best may not be the best, so I would wish to partner with an organisation that understands communication, as you suggest, and employ someone to focus on this appropriately. In my work at the Future Water Institute we are working on the technical aspects of this and have the underlying expertise available there.

The past three days - and hence my delayed reply - I have been meeting with international agents like BORDA-Africa to extend the impact meaningfully, and get it less 'tech-heavy' and more relatable to people's hearts. Financially, the platform would need a two-pronged partnership, I think. One for more affluent users - like the emerging and existing middle class in South Africa, supported by e.g. insurance companies who see the benefits through reduced claims because of natural disaster, property developers who see the benefits through increased property values, and then one for the developing sector, which we have agreed in the last three days can also really benefit from this, supported by international partnerships to build global resilience.

Does that make sense to you?


How to give feedback? Any idea

Photo of Bernelle Verster

Thank you, good question :) Originally we only thought that feedback on people and groups' journeys to be more water sensitive would be among themselves, and to us through comments on the website, social media and through email, but what we have found is that people want to talk to people. Through other work that we do with urban areas and protected areas and talking to community projects and forums (e.g. catchment forums, and protected area committees, and friends groups), we are now moving to strengthening existing groups and forums and how they relate to each other - basically improving local governance. This also has implications to engage with and improve issues wider than water, and is more of a co-design and co-governance approach. This makes sense to me because many of the water sensitive interventions, like preventing flooding while making that water available in the dry season (stormwater harvesting) can only be implemented by communities/neighbourhoods rather than individuals or top-down intervention. At this point we really only understand the South African context so our focus would be more on interested groups in this country, but we will have to document it well to capture the process.

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