Small Water Enterprises: A Scalable Solution for SDG6.1

Safe Water Network uses the power of enterprise to improve how the global water sector supplies safe, affordable, reliable water.

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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

Safe Water Network

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • Over $5mil

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • More than 100,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

New York City

Location(s) of impact

Ghana: Greater Accra, Ashanti, Volta, Western, Brong Ahafo India: Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka


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Twitter URL

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Safe water is inaccessible to over 2.1 billion people, and that number is projected to double by 2030. The global health consequences are dire–1.4 million people die annually from waterborne diseases. Globally, up to ~36% of rural water systems are non-functional. At the same time, peri-urban communities and small towns tend to be underserved, enabling informal provision of unreliable, expensive, and unsafe service. Small Water Enterprises (SWEs) are a promising solution to these challenges.

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

Providing decentralized water supply, SWEs complement centralized utilities and decentralized hand pumps in meeting the growing needs of peri-urban and small town populations. Safe Water Network’s market-based approach addresses barriers to sustainability and scale, balancing market principles – payment for water; high-quality, reliable service; financial incentives; and operations and maintenance costs covered by revenue – with increasing sustainable access to affordable safe water for the poor. Providing safe water access through multiple distribution channels, SWEs reach entire communities, including vulnerable groups. The capital investment into a SWE is leverageable to move families up the water service ladder through neighborhood distribution points and household connections. SWEs are less costly to implement and maintain than urban utilities, yet advanced and flexible enough to endure in challenging operating environments with varied water quality and population growth.

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

Through our 260+ SWEs in Ghana and India, Safe Water Network currently provides over one million people with sustainable access to safe, affordable, reliable water. Convenient safe water supply frees people from the hours spent collecting water and caring for sick relatives. It keeps community members healthy and productive, allowing children, especially girls, to go to school. Our SWEs also employ 500+ local community members. Our performance to date against key performance indicators shows strong evidence that our SWEs are achieving objectives for reliability, quality, and sustainability: our SWEs operate at <2% downtime, meet water quality standards, and cover local operating expenses from water revenue. SWEs have a minimal impact on the environment, using only 0.03% of total water used in the watershed. We’re working to reach millions more by promoting and facilitating broader adoption of the SWE model by governments, funding agencies, and an expanded pool of implement

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

A one-time investment of $12-35 per person covers start up costs, including standard treatment technology, civil works, community engagement, and operational losses in early years. We charge 3¢–8¢ per 20 liters, and after 12 months, revenue is sufficient to cover local operating costs. After ~5-8 years, revenue can cover maintenance and repair costs and full parts replacement. As SWE currently operate with low margins, continual optimization to reduce capital and operating expenses and boost revenue is central to Safe Water Network's sustainability approach, with the objective of strengthening the financial viability of SWEs. Safe Water Network's annual budget: 1. Individual donations or gifts: 9% 2. Grants: 59% 3. Corporate contributions: 32% 4. Earned income: 0%

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

We use replicable enterprise solutions to solve challenges to sustainability and scale in the water sector. We establish the local capabilities and resources to support the entire value chain to ensure long-term reliability and accountability, including water committees that ensure reliable quality and affordable pricing and field services capabilities that provide maintenance, spare parts, and repair support, while building consumer demand for safe water to improve health and livelihoods.

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

Safe Water Network was founded by the late actor-philanthropist Paul Newman and a group of prominent civic and business leaders who advocated for increased corporate social responsibility. As they began to consider opportunities for corporates to play a bigger role in addressing global challenges, they identified access to water as a priority. Their vision was originally focused on technology, and establishing incubator capability to identify, assess, validate and support the implementation of scalable and sustainable community-level water solutions for poor and marginalized populations. Once we began our work in earnest, our thinking has evolved towards addressing the operating and management challenges to community water supply.

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

  • Participated in previous CSV Prize competitions

1 comment

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Photo of Mouhamadou Moustapha Seck

Congratulations. Well done.