Partnership Seeks to Bring Clean Water to More Homes in Developing Countries
A project involving faculty and students from the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) will determine whether applying
business principles to public health problems can result in solutions
that will save lives in countries with limited access to safe drinking
water, according to an Oct. 5 announcement by the university.
The Carolina Global Water Partnership has been established to bring
together experts from UNC's School of Public Health, Kenan-Flagler
Business School and Kenan Institute-Asia. The initiative will focus on
increasing the availability and usage of water treatment technologies
that can be used in homes that do not have clean running water. The
World Health Organization estimates that nearly 2 million children die
each year from diarrhea and related illnesses caused by unsafe drinking
water and inadequate hygiene and sanitation.
The partnership is the second Gillings Innovation Laboratory, which
are interdisciplinary research groups funded initially through a gift
to the School of Public Health from Dennis and Joan Gillings. The idea
for this innovation lab was proposed by students. Leading faculty
researchers and postdoctoral fellows, along with select outside
experts, will work with students on the project.
"We're really excited about the opportunity to work with faculty and
students at Kenan-Flagler to find business models that will increase
coverage and sustained use of water filters and other household water
treatment technologies," said Mark Sobsey, Kenan professor of
environmental sciences and engineering in the School of Public Health.
"We know that biosand and ceramic filters and other household water
treatment technologies make an enormous difference in the health of
people who don't have access to clean drinking water," Sobsey said. "We
have the technologies, but now it's a matter of finding ways to get
these technologies into communities and households and have people
adopt and use them effectively and sustainably. This project has the
potential to save many millions of lives."
Lisa Jones-Christensen, Kenan-Flagler assistant professor of
entrepreneurship, stated that micro-financing and micro-franchising may
prove key to getting these life-saving technologies into homes that
"One way we hope to enable these technologies to reach scale is to
provide small loans to people who wouldn't qualify for conventional
loans, and help them franchise small businesses. We've found that
giving the filters or other technologies away is not sustainable and
doesn't really promote the continued use of the technology. We believe
we can find models that will be successful in getting point-of-use
(home) water purification products into the homes of people who need
them," Jones-Christensen said.
Phase I of the project will explore several different business
models, including whether microfinance institutions can make it easier
for poor consumers to purchase point-of-use water filters and other
treatment technologies and whether microfinancing, or microfranchising,
can successfully provide seed capital for local entrepreneurs to
produce, market and distribute the filters. During this phase,
researchers will also look at ways to reduce costs through improved
design, production and distribution models. If Phase I shows promise,
subsequent phases will identify in-country partners and pilot
implementation of the business plan.
The initial geographic focus of the project will be the Mekong
subregion of Asia, where the Kenan Institute-Asia has worked for more
than a decade.