Not everyone can just turn on the tap to access clean water; in the developing world, women regularly carry five-gallon, 42-pound buckets of water on their heads. The Hippo Water Roller, a device that allows users to easily roll 24 gallons of water along the ground, has made life easier for over 30,000 people in the past 15 years–while becoming something of a cause celebre. But the device isn’t cheap–it retails for over $100, which means that some of the people who need it most can’t afford to buy it (communities often rely on sponsorship funding).
So there is an opening for the WaterWheel, a similar device that allows users to roll 25 gallons of water at a time–and it retails for much less, between $20 to $30. Unlike the Africa-focused Hippo Roller, Wello (the hybrid social benture behind the WaterWheel) is aiming for distribution in India, which also has a water-starved population but higher-quality manufacturing facilities.
“The magic is in the business model,” says Cynthia Koenig, founder of Wello. “It’s not necessarily so much cheaper than other products on the market, but our business model is aiming for profitability through scale.” Wello has thin margins, but the venture expects to break even after three years of operation through both sales of the WaterWheel and sales of advertising space on the device.
Wello is hoping to get the word out by partnering with local nonprofits, governments, and oddly enough, the Indian postal system. “Postal workers are encouraged to sell and distribute products, and they know everyone in the community,” says Koenig.
Even with such a low price point, Koenig acknowledges that many people still won’t be able to afford the WaterWheel. So she anticipates training a corps of local water delivery people who can make enough money from wheeling water back to their villages to pay for the device.
Wello plans on piloting the WaterWheel in Rajasthan, India in the next few months. And while the nonprofit has a long way to go before it can catch up to the Hippo Roller’s sales, there can never be too many creative solutions to help the nearly one billion people who don’t have easy access to clean water.