Expanding Sustainable Access to Safe, Reliable, Affordable Water through Small Water Enterprises

Safe Water Network implements locally-owned and-operated small water enterprises (SWEs) in peri-urban communities and small towns that address key barriers to sustainability. We balance market principles – payment for water; high-quality, reliable service; financial incentives for operators; and operations and maintenance costs covered by revenue – with increasing sustainable access to safe drinking water for the poor by ensuring affordability and accessibility.

At a Glance

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About This Innovation

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Working in collaboration with implementers and NGOs, alongside commercial and government stakeholders, we are committed to demonstrate success at credible scale: implementation of SWEs in 500+ communities in India and Ghana, enabling us to develop and a robust proposition that can achieve scale globally. To date, we have over 260 SWEs in operation, providing access to safe, affordable water to over a million people.

With this ever-expanding operating footprint we’re establishing a real-world, open-source learning lab. We have ongoing initiatives to optimize key components across the entire SWE proposition, and document and disseminate our learnings to the broader safe water sector through our publication and events series.

How does your innovation work?

The SWE model is anchored in Safe Water Stations (branded H2OME Water Stations in Ghana and iJal Stations in India) - locally-owned and operated, community-level water treatment facilities that produce high-quality water sold at affordable rates. Revenue from water sales cover the operating, maintenance, and eventual replacement costs of the Station.

One-time capital and start-up costs of $12-$35/person cover technology, civil works, community engagement, and operational losses in early years, and provide lifetime access to an affordable water supply. Stations are less costly to implement, operate, and maintain than both utility level water treatment and hand pumps, yet sufficiently advanced and flexible enough to endure in challenging operating environments with varied water quality. Water is sold at the kiosk, community distribution points, household connections, as well as delivered to households and retail shops.

The capital investment into a Station is leverageable to move families up the water service ladder — an initial Station can be expanded to neighborhood distribution points and subsequently to household connections with some additional capital investment. Water is then available when needed, meets national water quality standards, and is affordable. The increased convenience results in higher consumption of safe water, which in turn produces better health outcomes and improved financial viability for the Station.

Supporting each Station cluster is an independent Field Services Entity (FSE), which provides routine maintenance and repair services, and spare parts management. The FSE is funded by service fees from the Stations, which are generated by water revenue.

What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?

Safe Water Network is establishing a compelling case for state and national governments and funding agencies to adopt small water enterprises as a priority solution for the hundreds of millions of people unserved by large infrastructure or small-scale hand pumps.

We continually measures impacts and helps to solve the challenges to local sustainability. Our engagements bring together sector leaders to share insights, foster best practices and collaborate for greater impact.

Our performance against KPIs to date shows strong evidence that SWEs are meeting targets; for those SWEs operating for 1+ years:

  • The 12-month downtime average for SWEs is less than 2%
  • 95-99% of SWEs cover local OpEx from water revenue
  • 25% of SWEs cover maintenance contributions from water revenue
  • 100% of SWEs meet relevant water quality standards

Do you have current users or testers?

Our SWEs provide access to safe water to over one million people in approximately 300 peri-urban and small town communities in India and Ghana. Household penetration rates ranges from 40-50%. We will further improve penetration and boost sales revenue through a new consumer marketing program, which will include consumer research, tracking, and design, implementation, and evaluation of new activation strategies. Improved customer-level data collection through roll-out of new prepaid and cashless water supply technologies will also contribute to new consumer marketing strategies.

Over 500 local community members are employed by the SWEs as well.

What is your strategy for expanding use of your innovation?

Safe Water Network’s strategy focuses on demonstrating the SWE model at credible scale, with the goal of wider replication through other implementers. Our success in encouraging others – funders, policymakers, governments, implementers, and private sector partners – to promote, adopt, and strengthen the policy environment for our approach lies in developing a strong evidence base that clearly articulates how and why our enterprise model is a proven sustainable investment for expanding access to safe water for low-income peri-urban and small town communities.

As we seek out ways to innovate our Station operations, service delivery models, and consumer engagement programs across our expanding portfolio of SWEs, we conduct rigorous analyses on financial and operational analyses performance, and use the results to inform the optimization of our model. This stream of work is well-integrated with initiatives that address critical barriers to scale and sustainability, such as developing a comprehensive business platform to facilitate cost-effective replication by other implementers; advancing the sector to improve the enabling environment; and developing a financing facility to increase funding for SWEs.

Next Steps

As we implement towards credible scale of 500 Stations, we look beyond direct construction of additional Stations. We will intensify the piloting of new innovations aimed at improving the long-term financial viability of our model and continue strengthening the cost-benefit analysis of these innovations by grounding them in robust data from our growing portfolio of Stations. Our understanding of tested optimizations to the model, as well as the results of implementation of our broader program, will be documented and disseminated through annual reports and sector publications.

As we expand in the field, we are refining and standardizing the tools, resources, training programs, and materials needed to cost-efficiently replicate SWEs. We will establish a platform for replication to cost-effectively enable replication of SWEs with other implementers in different geographies and markets. We will also continue advocating for the mainstreaming of SWEs into national water sectors by working closely with governments, in consultation with other key sector stakeholders, to engender a policy environment favourable to the scaling of SWEs.