Wednesday, 31 July 2013

My Entry 5 - Indiblogger, Franklin Templeton Investments present 'The Idea Caravan' - Invest For Tomorrow

Innovation Cocktail - Two parts Hydrogen, One part Oxygen, A dash of Chlorine, Stirred by Social Consciousness, Served with Innovation:  A Safe World To Drink In!

Suprio Das' Presentation / Speech on Zimba - Innovative, Low Cost Drinking Water Purifier


This is my fifth 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.

Click here to watch Suprio Das' Presentation / Speech Video
Or, Watch it here:

After working  for more than 20 years as an electrical engineer, Das decided the scramble up the corporate ladder is not for him, quit his job and started volunteering with organizations working in the slums and villages, in and around Kolkata, India.

Quite rightly, it struck him that engineering and social work could be fused together very effectively to come up with low cost useful devices that could make people’s lives easier.  He also simultaneously started many enterprises, to put bread on the table.  He says, “fortunately” for him, all these enterprises died soon.  Which gave him all of his time to invest in this initiative he calls the 'Zimba Chlorine Doser' - a low cost water purifier / disinfectant.



His work was first acknowledged by the D Lab at MIT, for the technical part of it and in his own words, there has been no looking back ever since.

His objective is to make safe water available ‘to all’.  If you are puzzled why 'to all' is the operative word, read on ..

The percentage of people trusting public drinking water supply is abysmally low in many developing parts of the world, particularly in India and therefore, private water purification systems abound.  But, what about people who cannot afford those abounding options  - not just from a cost of the purifier point of view – but also those who do not have electricity at home (or cannot afford the high cost of electricity per unit in many cities now), those who actually have to go out of their homes for water – such as, to a common community point to collect water. 

He started working on this device about three years ago.  As he was working on it & as we have already read in one of my earlier blog posts for ‘The Idea Caravan’, he discovered a good part of a billion people around the world lack access to safe water.  Das says, these people have a limited choice of drinks – Cholera, Typhoid, Hepatitis A & other diseases caused by similar pathogens – ingested through their ‘unsafe’ or not sufficiently safe water, with the result that 4,000 children die every day, out of which 1,600 are in India – that’s a child every minute, almost, from a cause that is preventable, in the first place!



Das believes this number can be significantly brought down, because there are a number of choices available, such as, Chlorine (recommended by WHO – World Health Organization) and already used in the developed world.  Added in the right amount to drinking water, Chlorine can get rid of most of the disease causing pathogens.



Now, the challenge is reaching out this chlorine to drinking water, all over.  For most developing countries, Das says the cost of providing chlorinated drinking water to the masses is prohibitively expensive.  

The alternative Das comes up with is ‘point of use chlorination’ so water is disinfected at collection. 

Das faced many a challenge and a multitude of questions during the developmental phase:

Fixed Dosing: If Das added ‘a constant’ amount of chlorine to the device that will dispense chlorine at the point of water collection for the community,  different container sizes when people come to collect water from the community point, easily ranging, he says from 4 to 14 litres, would render it either less or more – not only does water remain ‘unsafe’ but the hazards of an overdose of chlorine get added to the equation!




 Variable Flow RateIf Das were to add chlorine to flowing water, the variable flow rate – the water could flow at different rates at different times (for example, in the case of the hand pump, it could be directly proportional to the strength exerted by the user who is pumping) thereby rendering the dosage inappropriate.


Therefore, Das decided to have an intermediary solution.  

Additionally, he wanted to build a device with:

No electricity

No moving parts that could fail (such as valves or washers)

With accurate dosing – precise dosing, every time, under all circumstances.



Requiring no behaviour change from the user – or require minimum behaviour change from the user.  That is, people should be able to collect their water in the same way they have been used to (lest resistance to change etc. creep in requiring further social engagement and delaying adoption time, lengthening the gestation period).



In a lighter vein, as a fashionista, can’t help but comment on that ‘no behaviour change’ icon Das uses in his presentation (which you can see in this picture) – it is stiletto heels versus flat slip-on / chappal :) Can’t think of another apt example of products requiring change of behaviour from the user (wearer)!

There is a video embedded in his presentation that demonstrates Zimba installation in Bangladesh and how it requires no human intervention and therefore, no human judgement – to influence how much chlorine needs to be added to how much water.  It is what Das calls ‘safe by default’ – there is no option to get unsafe water out of Zimba, he informs. 

Zimba the ‘In line disinfecting system’ has thus far been used in India in:  



Rural West Bengal & Orissa; Spring Health has been using one Zimba unit in Orissa for the past six months.

Das informs us that Stanford University took interest, invited Das to present at Stanford and subsequently, with the International Center for Diarrhoea and Disease Research, did a joint study of the technical viability of Zimba in the slums of Dhaka.  For ten months, Zimba has been operational in Dhaka and disinfecting thousands of litres for the slum dwellers.

It is envisaged to be low cost, just Rs. 5/- or approximately USD 0.09 (9 cents) for treating 10,000 liters of water!



It is almost as though he heard me – i want to know what is it made of, what goes in to the device?

He surely deconstructs a Zimba and demonstrates: 

1.  An automatic siphon, no moving parts, no circuit board. 

2.  A dispenser that sits in there – an interconnection of pipes and tubes.  Transparent technology – figuratively and literally.  This dispenses a tiny amount of chlorine to water that passes through the Zimba unit.   

Questions that intrigue me: (will send them across to Das - well, if I can't Google his contact coordinates, can always get them through TEDx or the sponsor Franklin Templeton): 

How does the dispenser in the Zimba unit determine how much amount of Chlorine to dispense? 

Would costs be further down if a Zimba unit is fitted at the point of ‘dispensation’ - the point where drinking water supply starts - from a community / public storage point, such as a reservoir, dam, water tank etc. Fitting it at the point of dispensation instead of point of collection could optimize scale and result in lower costs.  But, would water pick up infection along the way – example through the pipes, before reaching the point of collection, thus negating the cost advantage?  Share your thoughts ..  

He now wants to have it as a product, manufactured and disseminated throughout the world, through all the big and small organizations that have already shown a lot of interest in this and make the world a better place to drink water in :) Amen!

Encountering a loud applause, he says, "i am not the one doing this – its gravity!  As long as water is heavier than air, this should keep working!"   

hmm.. commendable work & socially relevant innovation, that.

Some more questions popping up in my thought space

Why has it been identified for presentation in Stanford & tested / piloted in the slums of Bangladesh but not yet picked up big time by an Indian University or Government (state or federal / central)?

Why only two states in India have gotten on to the bandwagon?

Why are Governments and Political Parties not supplying such gadgets in a Country where pre-election promises are in the form of mixers, grinders, stoves, fans and sometimes, thankfully, even personal computers :)

If this is to be widely installed at points of collection in India - especially the rural, semi-urban areas and of course, the slums, I want to ask Das is there a risk of theft / pilferage of the Zimba unit?  Well, as ironic as it is, hoodlums could just dismantle it and sell it for iron / metal scrap .. which is why I want to discuss about using Zimba in India at the point of dispensation (where it is relatively easier to safeguard it because the storage facility is a Government site).    

Why is that someone as socially tuned & technically adept like Das feels tired / disillusioned with the corporate world? Wouldn't it be that many times better if he could deliver the same socially relevant innovation within the precincts of the corporate world? Wouldn't resourcing, marketing and reach be easier and better?  

The other thing that bothers me big time, is, yes, for the moment, water continues to be heavier than air – but with rising air pollution, let alone disinfecting water, am worried about how to disinfect air :)

Come, join the conversation ..

Cheers :)