Thursday, September 19, 2013

Journeys for Water: A report on water ATMs in urban India

By Jan Chipchase on the IMTFI-funded Sarvajal project in collaboration with frog Design

Last week researchers from the IMTFI-funded Sarvajal project were on the road in Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad to share the research, connect to others in the space, and to learn about what was going on on the ground. You can download the report titled "Journeys for Water: Survival Strategies in Urban India" by Gaurav Bhushan, Nitin Gupta & Jennifer Lee Fuqua here.

Photo credit: frog.

The team spoke at the Godrej India Culture Lab, the Indian Institute of Management and the National Institute of Design and as well as a number of smaller private events, engaging audiences from the design, innovation, industry, social impact space as well as those involved with the water and financial inclusion space. As researchers we pour a lot of energy into the final deliverables, but these talks were a reminder of how much further the conversation still has to evolve, and the breadth of talent from stakeholders and people available and wanting to explore a career in social impact work.

You might ask what the IMTFI is doing funding research into a "water" project. It's a valid question. As more of what people do is shifting to digital stores of value, how will the poor, who traditionally enjoy physical assets such as goats, gold and grain, feel about storing money in something as abstract as a pre-paid RFID equipped card? Our research suggests that for relatively small sums it seems to be ok for now (it might become more complicated if competitors or other service providers start introducing similar designs). We think that this new, abstract form of value will be not be the barrier to adoption for a service as long as Sarvajal ATMs provide clean drinking water at affordable prices. There are of course other issues related to the technology and existing social and political practices that are difficult to overcome.

Sarvajal's Water ATM. Photo credit: frog.

In presenting we were mindful of the boundaries of our role in this project. The Sarvajal team, and the Piramal Foundation that funds it were kind enough to invite us in and conduct the research; the difficult job is done by their team in bringing it to market. Having started in rural India, the Sarvajal team is now scaling their pilot in urban India. It will be interesting to see how it evolves, and what new insights can be formed by the transitional data that they are now collecting.

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