Augmenting drinking water infrastructure through a network of decentralized WaterHealth Centers (WHCs)

Providing clean, safe and affordable drinking water access to the underserved communities globally through a sustainable and scalable model.

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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

WaterHealth International

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages and is growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • Over $5mil

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • More than 100,000

Organization type

  • For-profit

Secondary Focus Area

  • Water

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

Irvine, California

Location(s) of impact

India: 6 states Ghana: 8 regions Nigeria: 2 states


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Twitter URL

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Over 780 million people globally do not have access to clean water; every 60 seconds a child dies from waterborne diseases. Reliable access to clean, safe water is critical to remedy this problem. While traditional solutions like borewell and tanker water do provide water to underserved communities, the water quality is often unreliable and inconsistent. WHI therefore sets up a local plant, uses local water sources and serves the same catchment.

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

WaterHealth operates a sustainable, decentralized drinking water purification model through a Community Water System (CWS) called WaterHealth Centers (WHCs). The Company works through a Public Private Partnership and sets-up WHCs in underserved communities, where the land, water source and electricity is provided by the public body. The model is based on a Build-Operate-Transfer agreement with concession terms spanning 20–25 years. WaterHealth is the lowest cost producer of drinking water in the CWS space with a model that compliments the existing state-owned piped network systems. The Company also runs a robust O&M structure that ensures that the plant downtime is never more than 4 hours in any part of the world. WHI also takes the demand risk of a given plant, this is done by changing behavior and generating demand for safe water among the community, this goes a long way in ensuring the financial sustainability of the WHC.

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

WHI engages external agencies for monitoring and evaluation of WHCs. Below are few impact metrics from the study undertaken by Sambodhi (a leading social research firm) in 2016. a. Social: The model is socially inclusive, reaching out to economically poor and socially disadvantaged groups. Currently, the Company is providing safe drinking water access to over 7 million people worldwide. b. Health: WHCs improve the quality of life specifically for women; there is 21% reduction in waterborne diseases viz-a-viz non-WHC households leading to an additional 25 workdays per family per year. c. Financial: Reduced drudgery is a by-product of the model resulting in time spent on more productive activities causing an annual savings of INR 4,700 per household. d. Environmental: The zero liquid discharge model results in high water recovery and purified reject water being fed directly to the aquifer.

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

a. WaterHealth raises initial capital (i.e. capital expenditure) required for the construction of WHCs through grants from Corporates and International Development agencies; this funding stream is approximately 50% of the annual budget. b. For running the WHC operations, WHI charges a nominal user fee to the consumers. The user fee i.e. earned income accounts for the remaining 50% of the annual budget (this ensures sustainable operations of the WaterHealth Center throughout the concession term). c. Overtime the contribution of the user fee (earned income) increases steadily vs. the grant funding, leading to the scenario where a major share of budget would be contributed by this revenue stream.

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

Reliable and consistent supply of clean and safe water for over 20 – 25 years in a given community.

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

WHI was founded in 1995. Till 2002 WHI was technology driven and had sold proprietary UV Waterworks equipment primarily in Mexico and Philippines; this strategy was however not successful. In 2002 WHI changed its focus from technology to operations i.e. equipment sale to a service provider; in 2006, WHI entered India where it pioneered the decentralized drinking water model (WHCs), to serve the underserved communities. The concept quickly gained acceptance and today WHI is recognized as the founder of the Community Water System industry globally (many companies have tried to copy WHI’s model but with limited success). The change from a product to a service based model in 2006 was the defining moment in the history of the Company.

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

  • Upon recommendation from others

Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

WaterHealth installs WHCs in the identified underserved communities which runs a 6 stage purification process to treat raw water and provide water, that exceeds WHO quality, to consumers. The WHC is set up in the middle of a community so that safe drinking water is easily accessible to the community members; these installed WHCs are managed by Business Associates (BAs) (who belong to the community) and are responsible for managing WHC operations. These BAs undergo an extensive training after which the responsibility of running the WHC is handed over to them. On an average each WHCs operates for 7 days a week i.e. atleast 12 hours a day. BA collects nominal user fee (for the purification services) from the community members who visit WHC to obtain safe drinking water. WaterHealth also provides indirect opportunities for local entrepreneurs. These people enroll themselves as Delivery Service Provider with WaterHealth and charge an additional fee to deliver water to the customer doorstep, thereby providing convenience. In addition, WaterHealth runs well conceived social marketing programs within the communities to bring behavioural change among the community members with respect to safe drinking water, good hygiene and sanitation practices. WaterHealth operates and maintains these WHCs till the end of the concession term and ensures capacity building within the community so that WHCs can be handed over to the community (for smooth operations) after the concession term.

Focus area

  • Water

We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.

WHCs are designed to operate/or treat any raw water (ground or surface water) source that is available locally within the community. Tradit0nal centralized water purification systems are designed to provide water access to a large population base i.e. for more than 0.1 million people but are laden with limitations due to high amount of water extraction, water losses during the transportation/logistics (through piped network) and pilferages. Compared to that decentralized water purification systems (implemented by WaterHealth) efficiently utilize the available raw water sources, serve the local population with negligible wastage. WHCs consume under 1% of overall water available in a given community, leading to optimal use of natural resources. WaterHealth assess its WHCs on five (5) pillars of sustainability which include, Financial, Institutional, Environmental, Technical and Social. The team manages all the processes and systems associated with consumer life cycle. WaterHealth partners with the local institutions and key opinion leaders to drive community engagement and improvement programs ensuring community participation and collective effort. WHCs are designed to operate at high recovery rate i.e. around 65%. The Organization also implements reject water harvesting. Reject water from WHC is treated as per the norms defined by the government bodies, the treated reject water is passed through recharge soak pit to recharge the aquifer.

Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

WaterHealth works through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model to set-up a WHC wherein the land, raw water source and electricity is provided by the community. WaterHealth partners with Corporates to sponsor WHCs, suppliers and vendors to source equipment and structures, channel partners to distribute water within the community and other associates who provide technical and operational support to the Company. Apart from it, the Organization has implemented a Company vs. Stakeholder expectation grid also popularly known as the Quality policy which postulates that for the, a. Customers, the Company should deliver products and services as per their needs. b. Partners, a long-term relationship to deliver higher customer satisfaction. c. Employees, setting up a fair, inspiring and achievable goals. d. Investors, exploring new areas of productivity and improvement. e. Community, to improve the quality of human, social and environmental health.

How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?

WaterHealth raises capital for setting up WHCs through grants from Corporates and Development agencies while the financial sustainability is ensured through a nominal user fee charged to the customer. From a financial perspective, the WHC model generally pays back the initial capital in a period of 5-7 years. Operationally a WHC generally breaks even within 6 months, so the Company has to provision for negative working capital for the first half year of operation. WaterHealth plans to install over 1,000 WHCs in next 5 years in India, Ghana, Nigeria and additional countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. An investment of ~$75 million for this plan could be generated through a combination of grants, low-cost debt and equity financing.

How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?

Currently a number of unorganized and spurious players are operating in the Community Water System (CWS) space who need to be organized and regulated significantly especially since they are dealing with drinking water (which is a critical need for humanity). If declared a winner, WaterHealth would try to galvanize (through its winner’s stature) the serious players to follow strong quality and operating protocols, work with the government to lay down operating guidelines for the industry and at the same time use deterrents for spurious and fly by night operators from entering this industry. Finally identify/develop partnership with other organizations to expand WaterHealth’s footprint in other undeserved geographies globally.

How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?

In next 5 years WaterHealth has planned to expand its footprint in additional regions globally i.e. Africa and Southeast Asia. An investment from Nestle will help the Organization in scaling up (efficiently) and expansion its footprint, to that extent the Company would conduct a detailed due diligence for the proposed new countries (for rollout), develop new and compelling products and services (for new markets) with a strong focus on technology and automation [reduce operating expenditure considerably to serve the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ underserved communities]. Finally use part of the capital (as seed money) to establish a presence in the preferred rollout countries.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?

In next 5 years, WaterHealth plans to install ~1,000 WHCs. While majority of the WHC constructions are planned for existing geographies, a part of it will take place in new countries i.e. Africa and Asia. In case of existing geographies, WaterHealth will acquire concession agreements with major municipalities and public bodies under the PPP model. This proposed expansion will be supported through sponsorship from key Corporates under their CSR program and low-cost debt and grant financing from International development agencies. WaterHealth uses an extensive proprietary model for determining the demand at all levels i.e. country, state, community etc. Before entering any region, the Company uses that model to ratify a ‘go’ ‘no go’ decision. Installation of 1,000 WHCs will yield following impact, a 21 million people with safe drinking water access b 6.1 million of direct beneficiaries c 15.3 million gains in workdays due to lesser illness d 7.7 million days saved in fetching water

Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?

WaterHealth has over 1,000 employees globally which comprises of field as well as corporate employees. These employees are managed by the Leadership team that has rich experience and knowledge in fields of strategy, operations and fund raising. At the helm the Company is run by Mr. Sanjay Bhatnagar (CEO) who holds MBA, Harvard University duly supported by Mr. Vikas Shah (COO) who holds a MBA Finance, Jammu University. WaterHealth’s equity investor includes, Dow Venture Capital, Tata Capital, The Coca Cola Company, SAIL Capital Partners, Vital Capital, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Acumen Fund.

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

WaterHealth has won prestigious awards like UK BITC Award (2017), Global Cleantech Awards (2011, 2010), Schwab Foundation Award, GIIRS Impact Platinum Rating etc.

Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?

WaterHealth is working with Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) [which is an autonomous body established under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India] to create a regulatory framework for water quality and purification norms for Community Water System (CWS) to safeguard the consumer’s interest. In coming years, WaterHealth has planned to undertake similar initiatives in other geographies of operations as well. These initiatives will ensure that consumers receive quality water [safe and clean drinking water] at an affordable price.

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018

  • Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018

1 comment

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Photo of Mouhamadou Moustapha Seck

Everything that helps to provide drinking water while reducing expenses is welcome. Congratulations for the initiative. If everyone does their part, we will leave this world even better than we find it.