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Investment to expand access to safe drinking water

GIF is excited to announce a $500,000 investment in Drinkwell, a social enterprise aiming to provide access to affordable and clean drinking water for millions of underserved urban customers for the first time.

Through Water ATM-enabled systems Drinkwell’s solution has the potential to improve the lives of low-income urban slumdwellers in Bangladesh where there is a low rate of piped clean drinking water.

A combination of patented purification technology, filtration, and pay-as-you-go cards underpin an easy-to-operate turnkey solution. Each system serves between 200–2,400 households, employs 1-3 people, and lasts for at least 10 years. With GIF’s investment Drinkwell will work towards installing over 200 systems with the Dhaka Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (DWASA), the utility in charge of water and sanitation in Bangladesh’s capital.

Drinkwell’s typical end users face multiple challenges. In the urban markets where GIF’s investment into Drinkwell will be focused, faecal coliform is the primary impurity found in water. Urban customers often have to pay elevated prices for water from either informal “middlemen”, who deliver water in unhygienic containers; or informal pump operators. In both scenarios collected water often contains multiple impurities, including over-concentration of certain heavy metals like iron and harmful bacteria. As a result, the water must be boiled before consumed, a task that is disproportionately performed by women and girls.

Drinkwell has scaled its innovative systems as part of a unique partnership with some of the leading water utilities in Bangladesh and India; and aims to provide safe drinking water to 5,000+ villages and urban areas, impacting 5 million people by 2020. The innovation is solving a major global crisis affecting millions of people living on less than $5 a day in a strategically important sector (water) and region (South Asia) to GIF.

Drinkwell’s Water ATM-enabled systems

The multidisciplinary team behind Drinkwell have created trust with utilities, funders and government bodies through their on-ground presence, and technical and implementation expertise in the water sector, including partnerships with Dhaka WASA, Chittagong WASA and good relations with the Government of Bangladesh, World Bank, and other funders and donors.

Drinkwell also provides data for water utilities to take advantage of, to enable measurement of end user activity at each dispensing point, which has previously been untracked. This data can inform ways to improve public service provision. The data can also enhance service delivery and its impact, through gender-disaggregated information on end-user water access, water consumption patterns and payments.

The investment in Drinkwell is supported by ADVANCE, GIF’s partnership with Unilever. ADVANCE provides a way to unlock private sector investment needed to scale new business models for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which present new market opportunities and new jobs. The ADVANCE growth model aims to take viable business models to ‘scale ready’ enterprises, by taking smart risks and driving change through market shifts – including water and sanitation services, which need new business models to make them work for those living on less than $5 a day.

Danone Communities, Danone’s investment fund and social business incubator is a co-investor in Drinkwell. High on Danone Communities agenda is targeting low-income communities with products and services addressing malnutrition and lack of access to safe drinking water.

GIF CEO Alix Peterson Zwane said: “I’m delighted we have made this investment under our ADVANCE growth model, and excited to see Drinkwell continue to deliver real social impact with its utility model. As an innovation with low-income households as target customers, Drinkwell aligns with GIF’s commitment to improve the lives of those living on less than $5 a day. The data produced by Drinkwell is a useful tool for policymakers as they consider water supply and safety issues in developing country municipalities.”

Drinkwell Co-founder and CEO Minhaj Chowdhury said: “Support from the Global Innovation Fund’s partnership with Unilever; and Danone Communities turbocharges Drinkwell’s efforts to bring safe water to the city-dwellers of Dhaka. This investment will allow us, in partnership with Dhaka WASA, to provide legal access to clean water for millions of additional low-income households by establishing over 200 Water ATM systems, in addition to the 100 we have built to date. We are delighted to have the financial backing to scale this work; and carry on aligning our business with Sustainable Development Goal 6 to contribute towards ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”