Meet India’s ATM of Clean Water

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There are currently over one billion people in India who lack access to clean drinking water.  Sarvajal is an Indian company which is making great strides to change that statistic with a progressive and forward thinking business model. 

Sarvajal is a mass-market drinking water micro-franchise system which offers a low-cost and easily distributed water purification system franchise. Sarvajal is providing jobs and financial independence for the communities it is in while at the same time providing a low-cost, purified and clean drinking water.

Sarvajal has also created a ‘Water ATM’ strategy which allows customers to buy a specific quantity of water.  This provides great advantages for low-income villagers who don’t need or can’t afford large quantities of water in one purchase.  By providing a ‘Water ATM,’ Sarvajal is also allowing isolated or segregated communities to be reached.  With the rigid caste system in India, there have been examples of a Sarvajal provider being prohibited from providing people from a different caste or community background.  With the ‘Water ATM’ in place, community members who were forbidden from purchasing at one site have a point of sale and access to clean water which is separate from any discriminatory customer behavior.

In larger cities such as New Delhi up to 40% of the treated, clean water is lost through pilferage and cracked pipes.  Sarvajal has worked to alleviate these issues with a new decentralization of the filtration process which allows for the distribution of water for a fraction of its previous cost and with the ability to get to every nook and cranny of the population.  The way they do this is with micro-everything.  By pursuing this approach, Sarvajal has not only created new markets – it has reformed existing ones for clean water access in India.

The micro-franchise solutions mean that high-quality, low-cost solutions are brought to those marginalized by the lack of better infrastructure support what is typically in urban slums and rural villages.  Bottled water and other private solutions are usually available in these areas, but are often cost-prohibitive. In the town of Churu, in Rajasthan, the Sarvajal micro-franchise solution brought the price of private drinking water down to less than one cent per liter.  Now more people can afford clean water who didn’t have any access to it before.  Over the course of the previous year when Laxmangarh, Rajasthan has been an active franchise, the number of customers has more than doubled as people adopt the solution and encourage others to use it as well.

In smaller, rural villages, there are no solutions for contaminated water.  For example, in Mundawar, villagers knew they had an issue with their water system, but without public or private sector attention, there were no reliable alternatives.  With Sarvajal in their village, they now have a solution and it is one which has encouraged more people to drink clean water.  One resident, a 43-year-old woman named Laxmi, was bedridden for five years.  She was asked by her doctors to drink clean water, but she had no financial means to do so.  In an effort to permeate previously unreached villages, Sarvajal partnered with a local entrepreneur in Mundawar to provide a solution to the villagers’ water-based health problems.  One year after Sarvajal entered Mundawar, Laxmi and others are able to easily use and afford clean water – providing them with improved health both short and long term. Sarvajal partnered with a local entrepreneur in Mundawar to  to do so.

Managing Sarvajal’s network of over 160 unstaffed micro-industrial plants requires deliberate planning and maintenance.  For example, the modules cannot be one size fits all; they are customized and adapted to their location’s environment while remaining capable of handling changes in environmental dynamics.  At the same time, each plant also needs several centralized control and monitoring mechanisms to ensure quality.   By utilizing a combination of sensors and modems, Sarvajal has made collected data transmittable over mobile networks.  Using the easily accessible data, workers constantly learn about the dynamics of each micro-plant.  This feedback loop of information allows workers to continuously boost performance at each location and spread the solutions to the other micro-plants.

Sarvajal is a micro-plant network which allows for flexible management of water distribution.  Each Sarvajal franchisee can adapt the franchise to its unique, specific environment.  Plus, the franchises are owned by community members who truly understand the needs of the places they are located in while maintaining top quality.

A critical for successfully implementing micro-everything is having tight feedback loops.  Sarvajal gathers information about each micro—plant’s operations, environment, and all other potential inputs to design optimal solutions for each location.  That way, they are constantly innovating and improving the operations as each location becomes its own mini-experiment.

This scalable, low-cost franchise model is extremely flexible.  It allows easy expansion to rural communities throughout India.  A percentage of the profit made in one individual franchise is re-invested back into Sarvajal.  That way, it can develop another micro-plant in a different village.  Launched in 2008, the project has now expanded to 133 villages – providing clean water to more than 7,000 people.  

This ability to remotely monitor, manage, and gather information to control each individual micro-business is not an isolated event.  The concepts of micro-businesses or small, individual franchises as a business plan is also being applied to other industries within India’s development and growth – including Husk Power Systems for energy and E-Health Point for healthcare.  Here, in the West, we’re beginning to grow by leaps and bounds in distributed energy, transportation, and education through companies like Bloom Energy, Zipcar, and Khan Academy respectively.




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