Thursday, 25 July 2013

My Entry 2 - Indiblogger, Franklin Templeton Investments present 'The Idea Caravan' - Invest For Tomorrow

Cynthiya Koenig's Presentation / Speech on Reimagining India's 'water problem' as an opportunity and devising a water transportation solution

This is my second entry to the Indiblogger-Franklin Templeton Investments' The Idea Caravan Initiative.

Powerful ideas today are indeed 'the' true investments for a better tomorrow. Egged on by this, eagerly browsed through the videos to join the conversation. The Franklin Templeton Idea Caravan Site has all the information and of course, speaker videos from the TEDxGateway Mumbai 2012. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

Follow this link to Cynthiya Koenig's Speech Video ..
Or, Watch it here:



First things first! The video starts with 'slap on the face' statistics (well, its very courteously and subtly presented but the enormity of the underlying stats is upsetting, to say the least). 

  • Starts off with a nice analogy of lifting our checked in luggage from the airport and walking 6 long kilometers (now, that is probably the only way those of us bred in urban spaces could relate to lifting weights - especially when most of us even have laptop bags with wheels & don't even lift weights in gyms)!

If you are wondering why the analogy, read on:
  • One in every seven persons globally lives at least a kilometer (approximately one half mile) from their nearest source of water.  
  • A billion people on the planet lack reliable access to safe water.
  • Not much has changed in the way water is transported from point A to point B.
  • Water is heavy and carrying it on the head causes cranial pain in the head, neck and shoulders. Carrying water could also potentially compress the spinal column! 



  • Research has established, we are told, that each of us requires at least 20 liters of water a day for all of our cleaning, drinking and subsistence needs - to stay healthy and hydrated;
  • In India and in Rajasthan (where this case study is based), the burden of fetching & providing for the family's water needs rests on the women of the household!
  • Quite a few women, like Peppy Debbi in the video are able to provide just about 5 liters of water per person per day despite significant labor in fetching that water & arduously transporting it back home on their heads and hips!
  • Water so fetched is not always safe to drink!
  • Eighty percent of the global disease burden is caused by water-borne organisms (did she say fungus?) And the proven and celebrated method of avoiding it is – washing hands J And, what does washing hands entail? Yeah, Water!  

    • Collecting water is time consuming, taking up to six hours a day! 25% of a woman’s day.  (I think to myself, ah, isn't six hours the kind of time we spend online checking emails & in other pursuits).


    • Water collection limits women’s opportunity to earn income – when women have access to income generating opportunities - social research has proved such income is channelized in very socially beneficial ways – education, health taking precedence.  And when we let our women put in six hours a day collecting water, imagine how many times (yeah, multiplier effect) that does social welfare go neglected.  Its a terrible multiplier effect, to say the least.
    • 75 % of girls between 15 and 17 years of age in Rajasthan drop out of school – to cater to their home’s water transportation needs!
    • This results in a vicious cycle of poverty: time taken to transport water -> opportunity lost for the women + health backlash of not washing hands with water & transporting it on their heads.

    All of the above are facts gathered from the video presentation! 

    I am almost teary eyed by now!  

    Wish i can harvest my tears to contribute a tiny bit to this water problem – just a wee bit!  No, this ain’t a joke!

    Now, step in Wello represented by Cynthiya Koenig here!

    She calls it 'framing the problem as an opportunity & re-imagining the problem as an opportunity'.  

    In a social venture with a bold mission, over 18 months of "intensely human centered & empathetic design process", the Wello Water Wheel has been invented and now put in to prototype testing!



    The Wello Water Wheel is designed in the form of a 'matka' (that is North Indian dialect for 'pot' in English) because it is the most accepted form as well as aesthetically pleasing.

    Time is money so people value convenience as she rightly points out.  Now, using this Wello Water Wheel, she informs us a woman transporting water in Rajasthan is able to save & therefore recover (and reinvest productively) 35 hours a week.  Now, multiply that by the tens of thousands of women transporting water and we have a social welfare multiplier effect in front of us - tens of thousands of 35 hours invested in family's welfare, in women learning & practicing small craft, in gainful employment or even simply reinvested in rest & recuperation, enhancing health!

    This water wheel project, being a social mission, is producing the Wello Water Wheel with incredibly small margins and they hope to reach a million people in the next five years.

    I love that business model - its worth pointing out that social missions can't afford to be profit centered - well, not every mission can run on an utterly 'no profit no loss basis'; so the ones that can't run on 'no profit no loss' basis would do well to base their business model on volume (critical mass) rather than (profit) margin.  That way, the underlying social mission stands maximized.

    Quite like the further uses for the Wello Water Wheel they have thought of already:


    Of particular interest to me are:

    Drip Irrigation: this would take multi-tasking to the rural grassroots.  What if women can transport and yet irrigate the route they carry the water?  [Well, this presentation envisages a stand alone drip irrigation solution, but i am just articulating aloud some of my suggestions and thoughts].

    Advertising: huge favorite with me.  My first thoughts on using the 'matka' space on the Water Wheel are:

    (i) Publishing the nearest anti-polio vaccination dates on them so the women of the house do not let go vaccinating their kids.

    (ii) Publishing the 'Aadhar' (subsidy cash transfer mechanism card) dates so families remember to collect the funds from the bank account - remember, we are not talking of a populace / target segment that does everyday banking, as yet.

    (iii) Health, Contraception / Population Control measures can be effectively pollinated through advertising on the Water Wheel :)

    Like my suggestions? Please do share your comments and ideas.  Join the conversation!

    There ends Koenig's presentation with well deserved applause.  

    Now, I come to what I deem the most important part of this blog post.  While we commend Wello for coming up with a water transportation solution that will benefit India & thank this event and the sponsors and Indiblogger for the opportunity to showcase and start a conversation, here come the big picture questions that disturb me and beg for answers:

    Why at all should such dire water problem situations continually exist?  

    What are elected governments, NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations), those affected, the Country's planning administration, intelligentsia & concerned citizens doing to eradicate the very root of the problem altogether, at some point of time?

    What is our outlay of Plan expenditure for such social schemes?  

    Who is accountable for demonstrating real progress?

    Would linking all rivers in the Country and laying new pipelines across these areas be any solution at all?

    Can we teach people in the affected (water scarce) areas recycling methods that can lead to reuse of the same amount of water for three tasks in order of purity (for example, bathing first and the same water recycled for gardening later)?

    Why is it that we have floods in the monsoon and droughts in the summer in the same areas in our Country?  What about conserving, channelizing and storing surplus rain water?  

    With a rapidly growing population, what are we doing about the inevitable "limited resources - increasing demands" equation?  Who exactly is in charge?

    Should we not be involving those in the affected areas in deriving solutions because they probably have the most local insights that could point to developing potent, sustainable solutions?

    Questions abound .. i will of course start reading up and finding answers .. but, I am already convinced, as a Country, we have a long way to go .. to eradicate this (as well as several other pressing) social problem(s).

    Deserving particular mention is Koenig's use of 'reframing the problem as an opportunity' mention.  What if State & National/Federal Government(s) adopted the same approach, generate jobs among the locals for solving their own every day problems?  Isn't that what the panchayats, the gramin sabhas (local village bodies both), the Municipalities and the Corporations ought to aim for - not to mention the elected representatives from those areas? 

    Come, join the conversation ..

    Cheers :)