Daniella Flores and Samuel Lee

In the coastal Kuttanad region of Kerala India, 80% of the population relies on distant water sources, usually contaminated with agricultural run-off and fecal matter. Women and children spend hours a day to collect 20-30 liters of water for their families’ daily use. Rainwater for Humanity (http://www.rainwaterforhumanity.com/) is a student led effort to alleviate this problem. Based at Brown University and in partnership with Mahatma Gandhi University, R4H aims to improve community health and empower women entrepreneurs by building rainwater harvesting systems in rural villages. Each tank’s capacity ensures three individual households a year-round supply of fresh water, as well as saves them hours each day of physical labor. R4H works with the Asparawa Screwpine Society, a local women’s self-help group, to enable the community to select women leaders that manage each tank. We then train women in maintaining the systems and distributing the water, ensuring that the Kuttanad community stays as active as possible throughout the process. Read more about our history and impact in this article by a local Indian news source (http://english.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/contentView.do?contentId=13691915&channelId=-1073865028&catId=-198461).

Motivation

Upon joining Rainwater for Humanity, we viewed the group as an opportunity for us to put our Brown education to use in a meaningful way. Over half a million people in the Kuttanad region face potable water scarcity and we are fortunate enough to be in a position to make a difference. Once learning this, we were compelled to push this project forward. Combining our interests in Engineering, International Relations, and Economics, we sought to contribute our understanding of social challenges in the developing world and technical design knowledge to solve a pressing issue with a community-based approach. While a lot of the groundwork had already been completed, we were motivated to turn the pilot level success of our student group into an expanding initiative, with the goal of broader impact. With this in mind, we decided to focus on tasks that could not be accomplished by the beneficiaries without our support. Currently, we optimize the design the rainwater harvesting systems, train local residents in the construction, operation, and maintenance of the tanks, and manage the organization and finances to facilitate future large-scale operation. In a combined effort with the community, we believe that clean water storage can be realized across the region, and we are determined to accomplish it. Therefore, this summer our plans involve various goals that will pave the way for R4H’s expansion and long-term sustainability.

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This summer, the Rainwater for Humanity team will travel to India for three months to set up systems that will improve these issues in the short-run and resolve them in the long-run. By the end of the summer, we will have developed a feasible pricing scheme, created an accurate financial model, and hired a program leader.

A feasible pricing scheme will address business sustainability issues that come from a low price. Price sensitivity analysis determined through surveys distributed to both local tank users and non-tank users will contribute valuable data that will gauge the possible community acceptance or pushback at various price points. With the community’s input and feedback, we will be able to make reasonable and fair adjustments to our water prices, and ultimately become solely reliant on our own revenue for sustainability.

Compiling an accurate financial model will serve as the foundation for scaling the project. Many costs need to be taken into account to successfully operate at a large scale, but our current projections are based on outdated variables. Adjusting these operating costs to accurately reflect current price levels will strengthen our financial projections and improve our funding opportunities. Additionally, an updated financial model will allow us to focus cost-reduction efforts more effectively.

The hiring of a full-time Project Director on site is essential to the continued success and expansion of Rainwater for Humanity’s impact. Pro-active advertisement of the position should yield qualified candidates. Through interviews and competency evaluation a Director will be selected under probationary conditions by the end of July. The Program Director position will increase the efficiency of all field operations, strengthen US-India communications, and improve R4H’s capacity and accountability.

With the help of the BVLF grant, we will be able to cover travel expenses that include $200 for the vaccinations/medicine of both students and $300 of on-site transportation costs that will enable our team to perform the above listed activities. BLVF is covering the necessary health precautions that must be taken when traveling to impoverished and contaminated areas, allowing our team a prolonged visit to the work site. By covering transportation expenses BVLF will allow our team to visit villages frequently and observe field operations first-hand. Ultimately, with this grant, our team will have funding to make the necessary preparations for a successful field visit.