Rippleworks + Saha: How does pricing drive water consumption?

At Saha, a new water business is just the beginning of our work in a community.  It’s not enough to bring access to clean water – we want to make it an easy choice to purchase and drink clean water instead of free dirty water. That’s why we build 10 years of ongoing community visits and support into the budget for every new business and are always pursuing Research and Development projects to improve our model. We are excited to announce a partnership with Rippleworks for a new project to determine some major drivers behind clean water consumption.

Behavior change is hard!  While we’ve designed our water businesses to fit in with normal water gathering routines, it is hard for people to change their habits – if you’ve ever tried to form a new habit, or break a bad one, or bought any sort of self-help book, you can start to understand how challenging behavior change can be.

During the period of the Emergency Water Fund when water was free for all, we saw a drastic increase in clean water consumption – on average, more than six times as much water was consumed during this time compared to average water consumption in 2019.  We were thrilled to see that, and also curious: what caused this incredible effect?  Was it simply the water being free to the consumer? Was it that the stipends motivated the entrepreneurs to treat and sell more water?  Both? How can we learn from that success?  The free water program ended in March 2021, and we’ve successfully transitioned our businesses back to the original model: consumers pay for the water (usually at a price around $0.05/L), and the water entrepreneurs use the revenue to buy the treatment chemicals and pay themselves.

We knew there was something big to learn about barriers to water consumption from this experience, which is where Rippleworks came in.  Rippleworks is an organization that partners high-impact social ventures with leading Silicon Valley executives to tackle top operational challenges.  Saha was paired with Stephanie Cruz, a product and marketing expert with experience from IPSY, Stella & Dot, Ancestry, Yahoo, and PayPal.  Stephanie worked closely with Saha’s Research and Development team to design an experiment that will help us explore the main drivers behind the dramatic increase in clean water consumption.  Together we created a five cohort test that will aim to identify how entrepreneur salaries and price affect clean water consumption.

This month, Team R&D, with help from the Customer Care teams are rolling out an experiment in 30 communities which will run for four to eight weeks.  The goal is that this first test will identify which form of subsidy, entrepreneur salaries or the price of water, have a bigger impact on clean water consumption. Once the drivers have been identified, the R&D will immediately run another round of testing to better understand how different levels of subsidy affect clean water consumption. We aim to have both rounds of testing complete before the 2022 rainy season begins in June.

It’s exciting to partner with Rippleworks on this project: they have helped us focus a lot of new ideas into an actionable plan.  We’re grateful for their partnership and support. So watch this space! We’ll report out what we learn from this experiment, and are always prepared to make changes in pursuit of getting the cleanest water to the people who need it most.