Social Business Spotlight: Impact Water

Over 9 million Ugandans lack access to safe drinking water, that equates to the entire population of London. Without access to clean water, it is estimated that 440 children still die every week due to waterborne diseases. Impact Water are trying to change that...

We know that health has a knock on impact on education. Every year children lose 272 million school days due to diarrhea, a leading cause of mortality that is commonly water-related. It is estimated that 40% of these diarrhea cases are attributable to transmission in schools rather than homes.

“Every year children lose 272 million school days due to diarrhea”

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In Uganda, most schools rely on piped or borehole water which is not safe, threatening student health and education. The many schools that do treat their water use firewood stoves to bring water to the boil. The time and fuel cost of boiling water for the entire school population is significant, inevitably leading to schools not treating sufficient amounts of water. Boiling water has an additional negative effect on the environment and schools in Uganda can consume as much as 38 tonnes of firewood per year just to boil water for their students. With over 20,000 schools in the country and one of the world’s fastest growing populations, alternative water treatment solutions are urgently needed, not only to address demand but to help protect Uganda’s already threatened forests.

Ugandan schools can consume as much as 38 tonnes of firewood per year.

Enter Impact Water. Their mission is to increase access to safe water, focusing on school and health facilities. They sell, install and maintain environmentally-friendly water purification systems to schools on low cost, multi-year credit terms. This helps schools to avoid burning firewood for boiling water, offsetting CO2 emissions while reducing medical costs for the families by avoiding waterborne diseases. Improved student health enables students, and their teachers, to better focus on their education and their futures. One of the recipients of Impact Water’s tanks, Haji Kyabangi Yahaya, the Director of the Gangu Muslim Primary, noticed that before the installation of the tank they had around 6 cases per week of waterborne diseases. After installation, they did not have a single case.

“They sell, install and maintain environmentally-friendly water purification systems to schools on low cost, multi-year credit terms.”

The purification systems are huge pieces of equipment which aren’t cheap, typically costing around $1,200 - $2,000. As an upfront cost, this is considered by schools as simply too high. To counter this large expense, Impact Water offers credit services to allow customers to pay for their systems over time, typically between one and two years. Installment payments are timed to work with the needs of the institution. For instance, a school will pay three times per year when they receive school fees at the beginning of each school term. This is game-changing for schools, not only because their credit services do not require collateral but also because the payment cycle is so much more manageable. Most schools have extremely limited financial resources so the unique service that Impact Water offer is the difference between access to clean water or not. To Impact Water’s knowledge, the business is the first of its kind to customise payment terms for institutional safe water to the unique cash flow environments of developing country schools.

They control the quality of their service by procuring all system components themselves, sourcing from top global suppliers at volume discounts, and delivering all services via their own employees.

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However, their success has not come without challenges, which they are quick to recognise. Safe water initiatives are notorious for failing after one to two years. This is often due to technology failure; lack of maintenance, repair services and capacity; community buy-in and challenges with behavioral change. The benefits associated with safe water depend solely on its ongoing provision, and therefore sustained social impact is only achieved when systems remain operational. Impact Water’s ability to keep systems functional beyond this two-year period and combined with its scale of operations, is the factor they have recognised will significantly distinguish them from other safe water initiatives. Therefore, they have built-in preventive maintenance to each sale and deliver every four to six months (depending on water quality) for the first two years of operations. Consequently, greater system lifetime and utility equates to greater value for customers and increased demand.

“Safe water initiatives are notorious for failing after one to two years”

Results to Date

  • The 1600 water purification systems sold to developing country schools since the business launched in Uganda October 2014, has benefited over 600,000 students.

  • Inception to date payback rates have been strong, with 92% payback rate overall and less than one third paying late by greater than one school term. Systems are inspected by Impact Water staff twice a year, and component parts replaced when needed.

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By the end of 2018, the business expects to have sold to over 10,000 developing country schools, benefiting 5 million students. By 2020, Impact Water expects to be in 12 countries with a projected 15-20,000 annual system sales and to create over 7.5 million new beneficiaries per annum.  It’s an ambitious plan but one Impact Water believes is achievable given its unique value proposition and the size of the developing country school market alone (not to mention other viable segments including health facilities, religious and community institutions, workplaces, government buildings, restaurants and hotels). In looking at the size of the school market in Africa alone, there are over 600,000 public schools and about 150,000 private schools.

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  • Improved dignity and health for millions of school children and health facility patients;

  • Socio-economic advancements which result from reduced absenteeism at school;

  • Improved gender ratios when safe water is combined with improved sanitation services as menstruation management becomes easier for girls;

  • Financial savings (as boiling and buying bottled water is expensive);

  • Reduced biomass consumption and a corresponding decrease in indoor air pollution as these safe water systems will replace the need to boil water resulting in large carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter emission reductions; and

  • Job creation, particularly for the youth, as they become employed in selling and installing systems.

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