I-Drop Water is transforming the way safe drinking water is bought and sold in Africa.
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.
Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)
Annual budget in 2017 (USD)
Number of beneficiaries impacted so far
Headquarters location: Country
Headquarters location: City
Location(s) of impact
South Africa: East London, Mthatha, Soweto, Giyani, Johannesburg
Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?
According to the WHO, over 2 billion people globally drink unsafe water and as a result, someone dies every minute. In that same minute, over 1 million plastic bottles are thrown away. People who can’t afford bottled water are risking their health drinking from unsafe sources and people who can afford bottled water are harming the environment. A huge gap in the market exists for a safe, affordable, environmentally-friendly and profitable drinking water offering priced between municipal/surface water and bottled water.
Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?
I-Drop’s objective is to turn the drinking water industry inside out: rather than selling filter products, we use filter products and sell safe water at affordable prices in grocery stores. We design, build and install water purification and dispensing machines in grocery stores at no cost to shop owners. A shop owner provides a water source, our machine purifies that water and shoppers buy safe water by the liter using their own multi-use water containers. At the end of a month, I-Drop and the shop-owner share revenue 50:50. The typical sale price for a litre of water is 80-90% lower than bottled water and produces no waste water due to our filtration technology. We also massively reduce plastic and carbon waste. A key innovation of our business model is that inside each machine is a sim-card that connects that unit to our online monitoring & control platform where we can diagnose and fix problems even in the remotest areas, as well as switch off the unit in the case of non-payment.
Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work
We have spent two years designing and testing our system in multiple countries and now have a stable and scalable solution that is working in over 50 grocery stores in two countries. To date we have sold over 600,000 litres of safe drinking water in urban and rural settings and mid- to low-income communities. We’ve also generated tens of thousands of dollars of local economic activity for our grocery store partners through our revenue-share model, from township spaza shop owners to large grocery stores. We have massively reduced the environmental impact of bottled water by providing a system where shoppers reuse their water containers, rather than disposing of single-use plastic bottles, thereby contributing to the reduction of carbon and plastic waste by over 12,000 kgs. Our solution has also helped save over 1.5 million litres of water when compared to other less-efficient water purification technologies.
Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?
I-Drop Water is supported by private funding (75%), grants and a small amount of initial revenue and is now scaling up the fleet to increase revenue to meet expenses. The long-term view is to generate a profit while supported by equity and debt in the interim to build a fleet.
Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?
I-Drop Water is unique three key ways: 1. we are first and foremost a business and use business systems, disciplines and capital in an innovative way to be truly scalable and sustainable without the need for grant funding or donations; 2. our combination of technologies is unique, efficient and enables our innovative business model and offering; and 3. we use existing networks, channels and infrastructure (starting with grocery stores) to reach large populations in all areas.
Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.
I-Drop’s co-founder, James, has a background is in drinking water purification technology and traveled around Africa interacting with the drinking water market. As he traveled, he noticed that access to safe drinking water is a huge social challenge and people are increasingly buying bottled water to meet their basic drinking needs. However, in the same grocery stores where expensive bottled water is sold, there is usually a water source; it's just not safe to drink.
James and his wife & co-founder, Kate, discussed for years that the technology already exists to purify water anywhere. Until now, there hasn’t been a way to get this technology to where it’s needed most. I-Drop was born from the idea of purifying water in the store; thereby stripping out the huge cost of centralised purification, bottling and transport and enabling the sale of safe, affordable drinking water anywhere.
Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?
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
We design, build and install water purification and dispensing machines in grocery stores at no capital cost to the shop owner. A shop owner provides a water source, our machine purifies that water and shoppers buy safe water by the liter using their own multi-use water containers. At the end of a month, I-Drop and the shop-owner share revenue 50:50.
Our shop owners are our customers and their customers would be considered our beneficiaries. We install our water purification machines and shop owners facilitate the transaction with their customers. We install I-Drop water purification machines in middle and low income areas across South Africa as well as in Harare, Zimbabwe with additional pilots in Botswana and Ghana.
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.
We are ultimately targeting the 2 billion people without access to safe drinking water globally, as well as those who currently choose to buy bottled water. Our current addressable market is in southern Africa and our channel is large, high-footfall supermarkets in middle- and low-income areas, either urban or rural, with poor or deteriorating water infrastructure and price aware/sensitive shoppers.
As this market is geographically distributed, I-Drop’s solution is designed to work anywhere. We have intentionally tested it in multiple African countries to ensure that when we scale across borders, the design and function of our solution is ready to do so.
In the same way as solar power and mobile phone technology have decentralised network-scale activities and reduced price of access to these services, I-Drop has demonstrated that the same can be achieved for safe drinking water using our combination of technologies and unique business model. The key to achieving this is using the existing network of formal and informal grocery stores and to remove the capital burden of decentralised water purification.
Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?
To date we have sold over 600,000 litres of safe drinking water in four countries in urban and rural settings and high to low-income communities. We’ve generated tens of thousands of dollars of local economic activity for our grocery store partners through our revenue-share model and massively reduced the environmental impact of bottled water by providing a system where shoppers reuse their water containers, rather than disposing of single-use plastic bottles.
We also run a small schools project that provides safe, free drinking water to schoolchildren, subsidised by a small portion of revenue from our fleet. We have implemented this to make sure that those in low-income communities who can’t afford our very low water price still have access to safe drinking water.
How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?
We are a privately funded for-profit company and as such can’t disclose more information regarding financials. Our business is currently funded by equity investment and business revenues. We will in due course raise debt funding to support our capital growth.
How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?
We are already advocating for the establishment of a new drinking water industry that no longer requires a trade-off between the sale of safe drinking water at a low price through existing channels and an impact on the environment. We believe the key to solving safe drinking water is a business offering that transforms this huge global industry.
How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?
We would build increase our fleet considerably in low income areas and new countries that need this solution. We would also increase our presence in low-income schools in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
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?
Our solution is designed to work across borders, countries and continents. We have already tested this in Africa by deploying fleets in South Africa and Zimbabwe as well as piloting in Botswana and Ghana. Our ultimate objective is bring safe, environmentally friendly, affordable drinking water to millions of people around Africa and the world.
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?
We currently have four full time employees and an extensive network of contractors and experts. The core management team brings over 30 years of business experience from the US, Europe and Africa in water purification technology, management consulting and healthcare.
Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?
We have recently won a Skoll Venture Award, were the South African winners of the Chivas The Venture 2017 competition and won joint third at the Chivas The Venture global competition. We also won an SAB Foundation Development Award as well as the CNBC Africa All Africa Business Leader Award – Innovator of the Year – Southern Africa and All-Africa.
Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?
We are actively demonstrating that business can be a force for good and that innovative business models can tackle global social challenges in a profitable and sustainable way. Our progress in advocating for this is best demonstrated by our winning the All-Africa Business Leader Innovator of the Year 2017. We were proud to represent social entrepreneurship in the business mainstream.
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