The Global Water Challenge: Four Novel Solutions

Access to water is not always easy or safe
Access to water is not always easy or safe

“There are 84 million people without water.  More children die from bad water than from HIV and malaria combined.  But solutions abound.”  Those were the words of hope spoken by Cheryl Choge from Global Water Challenge at the Net Impact 2009 Conference.  Cheryl and Tito Llantada of Ashoka Changemakers discussed the winning ideas from the Changemakers/Global Water Challenge Contest and what they learned from the first competition.

The contest, which ended in March 2009, sought solutions for clean water and safe sanitation.  All entries were judged on their ability to be sustainable, replicable, and scalable.  The contest drew an amazing 265 entries from 54 countries.  The number and variety of entries demonstrated the breadth of global ingenuity and proved that there are viable low cost solutions to global water issues.  The winner and three finalists shared one million in prize money donated by the CocaCola Foundation.


The Naandi Foundation, winner of the challenge, received $500,000 to support its clean drinking water program for underserved populations in India.  Globally, more than 1,600 people die every day from diarrhea primarily caused by unsafe drinking water.    Naandi is working to put community owned and operated water kiosks in rural villages.  Their pay-per-use kiosks incorporate a water filtration system that uses a transportable reverse-osmosis treatment system.  The costs to users is a mere four cents for a twenty liter bucket – approximately $14 per year per household.  The kiosks are relatively inexpensive, costing Naandi $15,000 to manufacture, and can easily serve 5,000 people.

Ecotact received $200,000 for its treatment systems that transform waste into fuel and fertilizer for Kenyan communities.  In Nairobi, typhoid fever is a common problem due to the lack of toilet facilities.  In the rainy season, human waste contaminates the Mathare River where many Kenyans bathe and wash.  Ecotact has developed a low-cost pay-per-use toilet for installation in the slums of Mathare.  The toilets cost pennies to use and provide additional employment for maintenance and service.  In addition, the company has also created the Ikotoilet – a small building that offers toilets as well as clean showers, and clothes washing facilities.

Manna Energy received $200,000 for its water treatment plants for schools in rural Rwanda.  Access to clean drinking water is extremely limited in Rwanda.  In addition, many schools burn limited wood resources to boil available water for safety.  Manna Energy developed a gravity-fed rainwater collection and filtration system that pumps water through a solar-powered ultra-violet light to kill bacteria.  By eliminating the need to boil water not only does the system save resources but it also eliminates greenhouse gas emissions.  The reduction in emissions generates greenhouse gas credits which Manna can sell into the European Union market to fund additional systems.

Clean Shop received $100,000 for public education to support clean toilets in South African schools.  Its mission is to educate students and parents on the benefits of and methods for maintaining clean facilities.

With the number and variety of submissions there were many surprises uncovered during the contest.  The first and foremost was the overwhelming number of low-cost innovative ideas to solve water and sanitation issues in developing countries.  Secondly, out of the 265 entries, only 14 were actually business ready, ie. ready for investment.  This pointed out a need to provide management skills, particularly in the area of business plan development.  Third, many of the entries were ideas on the drawing board.  This identified a need for funding to truly assess project viability.  Finally, the variety of projects demonstrated a need for more flexible financing options.

A little ingenuity can go a long way to solving the global issue of safe drinking water and sanitation.  It will be exciting to see the winners of the next Changemakers/Global Water Challenge and see the progress made by this year’s winners.

Jennifer is a CPA, CMA, CIA, CFF with a passion for how sustainability can improve a business. She is the owner and President of The Sustainable CFO, making the world better one business at a time. The Sustainable CFO provides consulting, on-demand CFO services, and business coaching to sustainably themed small business. Jennifer has 24 years of experience improving the business operations for a variety of companies in industries such as construction, legal services, and hi-tech. She also teaches finance in the Green MBA program at Antioch University New England. You can visit the website at or follow her on twitter @sustainablecfo.

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