From the Field: IDDS Reflections

This week I got the chance to head down to Kumasi and check out the International Development Design Summit (IDDS) – a really cool month long program that helps would be/soon to be inventors come up with marketable solutions to problems and needs in emerging markets. Participants ranged in experience and area of expertise but all made some really interesting ideas come to life over a short, busy month! For more information on IDDS, check out its website.

I was there to participate on a “Water Table” (agagag); a panel discussion with representatives of various water initiatives in Ghana. It was a great opportunity to brag a bit about just how cool CWS really is. In the midst of daily operations, I often forget to reflect on the CWS idea in general. Presenting the CWS model to an audience of design engineers interested in development, however, made a couple points really jump out at me, and I thought I’d take a second to highlight these again on the blog:

1. CWS uses simple, cheap and locally available technologies and supplies. This is huge!! Think about it this way: everything will break. Everything. By relying on materials that don’t have a lot of little, complicated, breakable pieces, we don’t have to deal with maintenance problems as often, because supplies are more durable AND (after a little training) are often fixable by owners. When things do need to be replaced, its a matter of going to the market for alum or the Tamale polytank vendor for a new polytank lid, rather than placing an order to some supplier overseas. Even though the simplicity of instructions like “Put the dirty water in a tub. Add alum, let settle, scoop and chlorinate” seemed initially underwhelming to engineers used to designing complicated cogs, wheels, levers and pulleys to fix problems, many recognized that especially in remote areas, there is no such thing as too simple!

Opening day in Kpalbusi

2. CWS systems are owned, operated and patronized by community residents. So many important aspects to this one! Money generated by the system stays in the community. The responsibility of ensuring system longevity rests with those people actually using the system. No one knows community needs and patterns better than residents themselves. People themselves are choosing (rather than being told) to make positive changes in their lives. The list goes on. . .

3. The fellowship program is an awesome way to finance project start-up costs and ensure that water is affordable to ALL. At IDDS, the audience was interested in marketing goods, which is really great! But while a business approach to water delivery is certainly important for a lot of reasons, ultimately access to clean drinking water is a RIGHT more than a good. Poor people need water just like wealthier people and demand for drinking water is pretty inelastic. There is just no way CWS can bundle lifetime project costs into the cost of water at the tap and have everyone be able to afford it. Enter the fellows – people who have so much to gain themselves, from learning to fundraise to gaining experience in the field to helping to make a dent in the global water crisis to enjoying a unique and authentic travel experience to incredible Ghana – whose hard work allows CWS to cover start up costs and initial monitoring of systems. Win – Win partnership!

Now I’m back in Tamale and have hit the ground running, but even so it was awesome to take a step back for a bit and share some thoughts that hopefully will help an emerging group of social entrepreneurs (and blog readers) think a little more about why the CWS model is so effective.

– Kathryn