Ripple Effect: Access to Safe Drinking Water for Acumen Fund and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Seeding innovation in the water sector

Some 1.2 billion people worldwide are drinking unsafe water. Although many organizations purify water at a community scale, people spend significant time and effort to transport it — and it often becomes contaminated during the trip. From retrieval to consumption, water’s journey is complex and provides ample opportunities for improvement.

Acumen Fund and IDEO, with backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, joined forces to tackle the issues of water transport and storage. The Ripple Effect project aims to improve access to safe drinking water for the world’s poorest and most under-served people; to stimulate innovation among local water providers; and to build the capacity for future development in the water sector.

Ripple Effect is a new model that connects organizations, provides insights and inspiration, and gives design and business support to entrepreneurs looking to develop new offerings. The project is entirely public: Acumen Fund and IDEO teams are working closely with local companies and NGOs that provide safe drinking water, and capturing learnings for others to benefit from. The first phase of the project took place in India (November 2008 to June 2009), and the second phase was in East Africa (July 2009 to March 2010).

In any region, our work starts with field research to understand the needs and desires of stakeholders in the water journey, from customers to providers. We then gather organizations to share insights and collaborate around solutions — products, services, and systems that improve water delivery and storage. This is followed by the Ripple Effect Award, an eight-week funded pilot phase during which the awardees prototype new business ideas with help from the IDEO and Acumen Fund teams.

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Project date: 2009