By catalysing small loans to individuals and communities that do not have access to traditional credit markets, Water.org’s WaterCredit program has empowered 350,000 people to address their own water needs at price points they can afford.
Focus: Water and Sanitation
Geographic Area of Impact: India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras
Model: Leveraged Not-for-Profit
Annual Budget: US$ 9.5 million (2012)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 1%
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 162,844 (2013)
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2012
The global water and sanitation crisis is pervasive, urgent, and debilitating. Nearly 800 million people lack access to any improved water source. Furthermore, an estimated 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. The human toll takes many forms including the death of four children every minute. And while this crisis is global in nature, it disproportionally affects women and girls. Water and sanitation initiatives that view everyone as equally poor and in need of subsidies miss opportunities to develop scalable, sustainable solutions. Poor people throughout the developing world have not only demonstrated a willingness to pay for access to safe water and sanitation, but in many instances, they are already paying more than people in the same country who are not poor. Compared to the average urban tariff rate for water, studies have shown that the poor pay a price 12 to 15 times higher for access to water from private vendors.
Innovation and Activities
Water.org has segmented the market and successfully demonstrated that in certain circumstances poor people can move from being beneficiaries to customers. Water.org has implemented two main programs: the WaterCredit program and the Direct Impact program. The WaterCredit program targets households with an income of $2-5 a day. Water.org underwrites the start-up costs incurred by microfinance institutions (MFIs) developing water and sanitation loan products, including loans for network connections (to public or private utilities), rainwater harvesting tanks, pit latrines, bio-gas toilets, etc. The average loan size is approximately $137USD and rate of repayment has averaged 97 percent since 2003. To date, this model has reached households with the ability and willingness to pay for access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation approximately four times faster than a direct impact approach.
Water.org recognizes that providing access to credit for household water and sanitation improvements is not an appropriate tool for everyone. In cases where families and/or communities are living in abject poverty, Water.org employs its Direct Impact program through a community-led approach. Under this model, Water.org certifies local water, sanitation, and hygiene non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based on a set of eight categories of performance. Upon certification, Water.org works closely with partners to identify communities which have demonstrated a demand for a new or improved water and/or sanitation system, willingness to contribute time to design the right solution, and willingness to implement a long-term operations and management system. The latter is critical for the long-term success of any investment. Water.org’s demand-driven approach and community management model has distinguished Water.org programs from others. Since 1990, Water.org has employed this model to reach more than 540,000 people in hundreds communities, predominately rural, in Honduras, Haiti, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh, and India.
Gary White is chief executive officer and co-founder of Water.org. White’s entrepreneurial vision has driven innovation in the way water and sanitation projects are delivered and financed, and these innovations now serve as a model in the sector. Gary has three degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
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