Monday, September 3, 2012

Clean or clear water?

By Ed Chen
Second-year MBA

Photo credits: Rohan Attravanam

Coca-Cola Plant
We've been in Ghana for a little over a week now. It's amazing how many communities have electricity but no affordable, safe water. Further, there's very little understanding of what "clean" water means. Many believe that "clear" means clean. Of course, there are bacteria that aren't visible to the naked eye that can very much be harmful. As a result, communities have a real hurdle to expanding the availability of clean water in both education and access.

Clean water initiative improving the quality
of life of millions families
Water Health Ghana is doing its part to enable such efforts, but its funds are limited. From my perspective, this case is about increasing access, expanding use occasions, and allocating limited funds to maximize impact per dollar to communities that need clean water most. This requires a careful understanding of each prospective community's access to water relative to size, population density, and water borne illness rates. Data is limited but Nathaniel at Water Health is doing a great job in gathering the information needed to write the business case for each community.

Our community interviews reveal some conflicted messaging in terms of use occasions and pain points. It's all relative to the starting point. For example, some communities want lower price for Water Health water because they have nearby alternatives (such as rivers and bore holes) that they often (falsely) perceive to be the same. One key issue is distribution. People tend to solicit the nearest access point (safe or otherwise) seemingly regardless of price. Conversely, communities with prior clean water access at a higher price point see Water Health as a cost-savings measure for everything but drinking. Yet Water Health purifies water to drinking standards. These cases demonstrate the need for further marketing and education in existing communities to make full use of community capacity.

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