Saha Global: Clean drinking water for the people who need it most

We set entrepreneurial local women in hard to reach villages up with a business that provides clean water at a price all can afford.

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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

Saha Global

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)

  • $250k - $500k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 50,000 - 100,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • Ghana

Headquarters location: City


Location(s) of impact

Ghana: Tamale (water businesses in 110 villages throughout the Northern Region)


Facebook URL

Twitter URL

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Saha works in remote northern Ghana, where hard seasonal rains are followed by long dry spells. There are few year-round streams, and groundwater is inaccessible, so villages collect and store rainwater in big, stagnant ponds. Clean water solutions rarely reach such places and when they do, they often don't work: Equipment is not maintained, the water is too expensive, and/or it gets re-contaminated. Today, 800,000 people in northern Ghana lack safe water access and up to 25% of children <5 suffer from diarrheal disease

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

Saha connects effective, low-cost water treatment technology with the poorest people who need it most. In each village, we set entrepreneurial local women up with a chlorinating business that provides clean water at a price all can afford. We use locally available materials, train women how to run the business, mentor them over time, and monitor water quality and consumption. Each business operates as follows: 1. Women collect dirty surface water & fill drums 2. They treat the water using alum & chlorine 3. They sell the water for 3 cents/20L 4. Everyone in the village buys, stores, and drinks clean water After the initial set-up, revenue from each Saha water business immediately covers operational expenses. Due to the extremely low set-up costs and scalability of our model, a $13/person one time donation covers all start-up equipment and 10 years of water quality control monitoring. By any measure, that is a huge bargain and – as far as we know – no other solution comes close

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

110 water businesses have been opened providing affordable clean water to 51,800 people daily. 284 women entrepreneurs are earning money. Each Saha entrepreneur earns supplemental income which gives her incentive to maintain and grow the business. 100% of Saha water businesses are still in operation. This success rate is unheard of in water, particularly in poor, rural areas. Saha achieves this by making sure each business is operationally sustainable - income exceeds cost of consumables and regular repairs – so the equipment is maintained. 75% of customers have Saha water in their home and 98% of that water is clean. Among Safe Water Enterprises in a Jan 2017 study 30% is the typical penetration rate [p. 48] and recontamination is common. At Saha, water quality is a key impact metric and we are constantly iterating to improve performance. It is our hope that in the future everyone in Saha communities exclusively drinks clean water all the time.

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

Once a Saha business is open it is immediately financially sustainable - the women entrepreneurs cover all costs with the revenue from selling drinking water. This money stays in the community and is completely managed by the women entrepreneurs and is therefore not “earned income” by Saha and is not listed below. Saha raises funds to cover the initial start-up cost of each business ($800-$1200) along with 10 years of business mentoring and quality control. This initial donation plus 10 years of support amounts to only $13/per person served. In 2017, 52% of our budget came from donations and 48% came from grants. In 2018, we project that that 47% of our budget will come from donations and 53% will come from grants.

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

Saha clean water businesses are uniquely effective in the poorest, most rural areas. Other safewater enterprise organizations (e.g., Jibu, SWN - see report: are unable to reach operational sustainability in rural areas with deep poverty and low population density. Further, per Kevin Starr's SSIR article on Saha, our businesses are designed to keep water safe through the point of consumption and by incorporating ongoing water quality monitoring we know we deliver.

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

Saha Global co-founders Kate Cincotta and Vanessa Coleman met at MIT studying under Susan Murcott who was leading a graduate research program on household water treatment systems (HWTS) in Northern Ghana. Over an intense January of research in 2008 we bonded. As engineers, we knew that the persistent lack of clean water access we saw was not due to a shortage of technical solutions. The challenge lay in implementation. Project after project failed - donated pumps / equipment fell into disrepair, bagged water and HWTS cost more than people could pay, and/or treated water was recontaminated at the source or in the home. Frustrated, we took what we learned and piloted a community-scale, low-tech, social enterprise model designed to be affordable, durable and scalable. This model became the basis for Saha and Kate jumped on board full-time taking the lead in building the organization.

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

  • Nestlé page or contact

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

The Saha model connects effective, low-cost water treatment technology with the poorest people who need it most. Our work has focused in rural areas of northern Ghana in communities 1-5 hours by moto from the nearest market town (e.g., Salaga, Tamale). A typical Saha community has 400 -1000 people organized into multigenerational agrarian households. In each village, we work with the chief and elders to select 2-3 entrepreneurial local women and set-up these women with a chlorinating business that provides clean water at a price all can afford. We use locally available materials, train women how to run the business, and provide ongoing mentorship and water quality monitoring. Each business operates as follows: 1. Women collect dirty surface water & fill drums 2. They treat the water using alum & chlorine 3. They sell the water for 3 cents/20L 4. Everyone in the village buys, stores, and drinks clean water This work requires 6-10 hours / week and occurs at the treatment center which is placed at the local surface water source “dugout” where the community gathers water. Revenue from each Saha water business covers operational expenses and provide the women entrepreneurs with a small profit. A Saha staff member visits the community roughly 2x per month to conduct water quality testing in ~6 households and the treatment center. Additionally, the Saha staff addresses questions, provides mentoring, and ensures that all is running well with the business.

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.

Saha works in remote northern Ghana where we broaden access to clean water by training local women to take advantage of existing resources. In this region, 800,000 people lack access to safe drinking water. Hard seasonal rains are followed by long dry spells. There are few year-round streams, and deep aquifers with low re-charge rates make underground water inaccessible, so villages collect and store rainwater in big, stagnant ponds, called “dugouts” that retain water year round. The water people drink from these dugouts is highly turbid and fecally contaminated. Saha water entrepreneurs take this available, contaminated water and make it safe to drink. In addition to opening water businesses that use local resources, Saha also thinks about sustainability in terms of building local capacity. Engaging the local government throughout this process is key to Saha’s sustainable development efforts. We believe that to achieve 100% coverage and long-term access to clean water the government must become a more active participant in both the implementations and monitoring phases. Currently, Saha meets with the District Assemblies (DA) in the Northern Region about once a month. The DAs provide us with a list of communities that drink contaminated surface water and we implement. As Saha expands we are deepening our relationship with DA stakeholders bringing them with us through the process and establishing Saha the official source for clean water throughout the region.

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

Saha was founded with the direct societal goal of providing a sustainable source of clean water so first and foremost we deliver on that promise. 100% of Saha business are still in operation – once Saha enters a community everyone from children, to the elderly, to local schools and clinics maintain access to clean water. Further, our social enterprise model creates women entrepreneurs who are all earning income and incredibly proud of the service their work provides their communities. Beyond Saha’s village-level impact we see shared value on other scales. First, we create meaningful employment for our Ghanaian team who receive training and have all grown professionally with Saha. Second, we have a network of local touchpoints that could be leveraged for last mile delivery of other social programs (e.g., solar, etc). Lastly, we have built capabilities and data sets that can be used by local District Assemblies and we hope can ultimately aid water access planning across the region.

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

Once a Saha business is open it is immediately financially sustainable - the women entrepreneurs cover all costs with the revenue from selling water. This money stays in the community. Saha raises funds for expansion – specifically to cover: 1) initial start-up cost of each business ($800-$1200) and, 2) 10 years of mentoring and water quality control. This one-time donation amounts to a best-in-class $13/ person newly provided with clean water. In 2018, we project 47% of our expansion budget from donations and 53% from grants and that our % of grant funding will grow over 5 years. .These estimates are based on a development pipeline tool suggested by Kiva that has proved effective in assessing annual funding level, risk and mix.

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

Saha is the best solution for rural villages with surface water sources and we have compelling evidence to back that up: 30-60% of rural water projects fail, yet every business Saha has opened is still in operation; Further, our water quality testing shows that Saha water stays clean until consumed in people’s homes. Winning the CSV prize will give Saha funds to expand and a platform to share our success. Leaders in water see potential for water businesses to increase clean water access but, don’t yet believe that business solutions are viable for the poorest of the poor ( Saha has proven a business model for the rural poor, and the CSV Prize will spotlight that success to expand and advance the water sector.

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

The primary barrier to Saha’s impact is expansion capital. Any new investment provides clean water access at a rate of $13/person. Saha businesses are operationally sustainable as soon as they open! So, with $400,000 Nestle immediately provides a sustainable source of clean water to at least 30,000 people at the very, very bottom of the pyramid. We know of no other solution that comes close to delivering that impact per dollar invested and we are continually improving that metric. Further, an investment from Nestle draws attention to Saha’s proven business model for providing clean water to the rural poor. With Nestle’s support we can show governments and NGOs that this model that can be cost effectively scaled in rural areas worldwide.

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 immediate goal is to reach the 800,000 people in northern Ghana who still lack clean drinking water. To reach that scale we're growing our Ghana team using a train-the-trainer model and enhancing sustainability by strengthening government engagement (see “Sustainable Development” above). Our scaling model is built from 8 yrs of experience implementing and monitoring rural clean water businesses. Our baseline model assumes our Ghana staff specializes into three teams and maintains our current rates of service delivery: 1) scouting team maps villages 2) implementation team opens ~ 6 new businesses / staff / yr 3) monitoring team provides support and water testing to ~25 villages / staff / yr We will continually drive operational efficiencies to further reduce costs (e.g., mobile, etc). By the time we achieve 100% coverage, we will have a model simple and cheap enough that it can be delivered to rural regions globally in partnership with NGOs and government agencies.

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?

As we scale Saha will be growing our full-time local staff from 10 to 60. We are hiring an experienced Director of Operations for Ghana who will oversee the three teams: implementation, scouting and monitoring (see above). We will also maintain 2-3 US-based executive staff focused on development and partnerships. Saha’s 8-person Board of Directors (BOD) meets quarterly and plays and important role in governance. Our BOD has experience in finance (20+ yrs at Fidelity), start-ups and the non-profit sectors (10+ yrs Kiva). BOD terms are 2 years allowing the BOD to evolve with Saha’s growth.

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

Millennium Campus Challenge (‘08) Legatum Center Prize (‘08) Boston Inno, Top 10 Socially Conscious Start-Ups (‘13) SBANE, Innovation Award (‘13) Enterprenuer, "How Two Ambitious Women Found Success with a Cause-Driving Company” (‘15) Featured Speaker, TedX Middlebury (‘13) + Accra (’15) Mulago Foundation, Rainer Arnhold Fellowship ('16)

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

Saha is influencing the water sector in two main ways. First, we are advocates for the poorest people in the most remote settings. This population is often ignored because they are hard to reach, but the most in need of clean water solutions. Second, Saha is a strong advocate for water quality standards. When we open a new water business we monitor quality for 10 yrs. One of the failures of the MDGs was ignoring water quality. As a result, ~3.5 billion people counted as having access to “improved” water continued drinking unsafe water. This oversight was addressed in the SDGs and now the water sector must account for water quality – Saha can be a leader here, helping others solve and track water quality at the source and in the home.

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


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Photo of Rachel Biderman

Excellent initiative which provides clean and healthy water while promoting women led small businesses. A win win approach.

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