Each year, waterborne disease affects 40 million Indians. This costs people time and money. Getting safe, potable water to urban and rural Indians is not just a good idea, it makes economic sense.
Sarvajal, meaning "Water for All", was launched by The Piramal Foundation in 2008 as a for-profit business to find a mass-market solution to dirty drinking water. What unfolded was a technological solution that made providing clean water profitable for businesses, and also still affordable for families.
Instead of relying on large-scale production that could take years to implement, become very costly and possibly end up inefficient, Sarvajal established water entrepreneurs. Working as a franchise, Sarvajal sells proprietary filtration equipment to local entrepreneurs who operate the machines and sell water to customers. The system makes perfect business sense for three reasons:
- First, the franchisees know their communities, making it easier to sell the products to their neighbors.
- Second, Sarvajal knows the machines, making them responsible for all filtration unit maintenance and repairs.
- Third, both franchisees and the franchise share the same incentives, that is, both are striving to sell drinking water to households. Locals are offered franchisee positions only after they have been through a rigorous process and have paid an upfront fee to cover a fraction of the cost of the filtration unit. Afterwards, water revenues are split 60/40 between the franchisee and Sarvajal.
Currently, each franchise provides approximately 175 households with clean drinking water daily. Their water filtration devices utilize reverse osmosis and ultraviolet rays to purify the water. Some franchises operate out of a store, while others use "water ATMS," which provide customers with 24/7 access to fresh water. Additionally, the water ATMs allow families to purchase water in smaller quantities than previously offered.
Instead of being forced to purchase a full 20 litre bottle, people now have the option to purchase one or five litre bottles, which are more affordable and easier to transport home. Customers can pay for the water using pre-paid, reloadable cards or coins, similar to mobile phone minutes. The typical cost for fresh water through Sarvajal is about $3 USD per month per household.
With the spread of these innovative water ATMs, Sarvajal can serve many communities at once, even reaching the highly segregated caste societies of India. This is a huge improvement in a country with over 1 billion citizens and soaring poverty levels. But through its business model, Sarvajal has figured out how to not only get fresh water to people daily, but to provide entrepreneurial opportunities and jobs.