Health
 India
Project #9791

Provide affordable water to villagers in Kerala

by Rainwater for Humanity
Field Program Manager & Assistant out surveying
Field Program Manager & Assistant out surveying

In our challenging journey to implement a sustainable water provision program in India, R4H has learned immensely from the rural community and their water resources. Many unforeseen obstacles in the form of cultural mentality, political barriers, and financial capability have taught our team countless lessons about the rewards and the shortcomings of running a social enterprise in Kuttanad, Kerala. In our last report, our leadership team made a tough decision: to bring the R4H program to a close by maximizing existing funds under a subsidy model. The choice to leave our intended sustainable vending model behind and move towards a more conventional program emerged from a shortage of time and the concerns voiced by the community—their needs were better met under a model they understood and trusted. However, without the core component of the R4H vision—sustainability—our leaders felt that the program could no longer continue as a charity. For these reasons, we will build as many tanks as possible with current funds until our program ceases to operate by the end of this year. It has been an incredible learning experience for all of us at R4H, and we are proud to have connected those in need in Kerala to those who can help in the US.

On the field, our team has been hard at work gathering community data and preparing for construction. Our funds can provide more than 30 tanks under a simple subsidy model, but we must first find willing families with demonstrated need, financial ability, and available land. This has been the bulk of our pre-construction process: we have met with local villagers, government officials, and contractors in order to align all interests. It has not been without obstacles. Some common issues are as follows:

  • Loss of interest in rainwater harvesting due to new government pipeline promises
  • Inability to contribute the remaining amount after subsidy as a single portion
  • Lack of available land for construction/ roof space for collection

For these reasons, the village of Edayazham is no longer a suitable location for our program. The residents do not feel that the R4H program is a good fit for their current water situation. Therefore, our team and our implementation partners agreed to move into a new area with more immediate need and interest in rainwater harvesting. The Panchayats of Kurichi, Thakazhi and Vechoor have been approached and surveyed, showing a more willing community for this program. Villagers in these areas express more urgent water scarcity, with some drinking pond water. They also are able to pay the remainder post-subsidy. The next step will be to complete demographic surveying of each family before beginning construction.

Looking ahead, we aim to build a first round of 6-10 tanks in the new communities. We expect that demand will rise from surrounding families. In such instance, the program will proceed to use the remaining funds on a first come, first serve basis to build individual family tanks in these areas. Once construction is completed, our leadership will compile the accumulated survey, technical, and observed data into a final report. This will conclude the R4H program. In winding down, we hope our reflections about will reach all of our donors, advisors, and supporters. We will also offer our knowledge to the public in the hope that it informs future water projects in this area and beyond.

Thank you for sticking with us through this long and fruitful project. We hope you have learned as much as we have, and that you continue to support projects that take on the challenge of water scarcity in new and creative ways. Change is incremental, and we believe that we have taken one step in the right direction for those to come into this field in the future.

Water conditions in new areas
Water conditions in new areas
Field Program Manager surveying villager
Field Program Manager surveying villager
Sincerely, the R4H Team
Sincerely, the R4H Team

Dear donors,

When you last heard from us, our leadership team was wrapping up a 2-month work trip to Kerala and 12 rainwater harvesting systems were planned to be built under a trial program in mid-September (“News from the Field”). Since then, we have encountered several obstacles that have prevented this program from coming to full fruition. For the reasons outlined below, we have decided to pursue a more conventional subsidy model and complete the program for the village of Edayazham. Thereafter, after much consideration, we have decided to finish our operations in India pending a detailed report on all that we have learned.

Our program encountered many delays due to unfortunate timing with the Onam holiday (the end of the Malayalam calendar), which prevented our Program Manager from introducing the trial program to our community partners until October. After the first series of meetings, it was clear that community confidence in our unconventional social enterprise program had been undermined by a recent government focus on providing targeted subsidies of drinking water resources (such as free rainwater tanks) for underserved minority groups.

Our leadership and field team discussed the issues facing the organization and concluded that another 1-2 months was need to effectively introduce the program and coordinate households interested in volunteering as the first cohort. However, this delay has a major implication for our trial study: postponing construction to December will prevent the operation of the new rainwater tanks until after the end of this monsoon. By missing the rainy season, tanks will not be able to stored water and will sit empty for a year. Consequently, the tanks would not begin the program trial or deliver data to inform the plans for full-scale until September 2015. This would be a significant extension of our timeline from the originally planned beginning of operations this December.

Because of this development, we have decided to shift our strategy to maximize the impact of our current resources and conclude the Program in the next 6 months. Details of this new strategy are appended below. We feel this course of action is the fairest option to you, our supporters, and to our community partners and beneficiaries with whom we have worked so closely for so long. We have decided to prioritize taking action and building the tanks we have promised and delayed to an expectant community. Our ultimate goal is to impact the underserved and we feel that extending our timeline will distract from this primary mission. The timeline for the new program is 4 months, including construction and documentation. Our next report here will be our final and will include the results of this effort.

We thank you for all of your incredible support and contributions through this incredible journey. As we strive to make a difference, we hope others after us will find use in all of the information we have learned in our endeavor. Rainwater for Humanity is confident that we have made a significant impact on Kuttanad’s community and in the field of water aid research— all thanks to your help and encouragement.

Warm regards,

Sam Lee

President

Appendix

2014 Final Program Structure:

  • Individual rainwater harvesting systems will be built for each family that joining the Program
  • The systems with be offered at subsidized rate, with the beneficiary families providing 40% of the construction cost prior to construction and the Program providing the remaining 60%
  • All funds in the project account, minus salaries for the Program Manager and field staff, will be used for rainwater tank construction. 30-40 systems serving 120-160 people are expected to be built, depending on current material prices.
  • The Program will be offered first to any interested families in the Edayazham community. If there are remaining funds after these tanks have been built, our implementation partner MSSRF will determine the construction sites for the remaining duration of the Program
Boat Taxi
Boat Taxi

Dear donors and supporters,

Hello from Kerala! Our leadership team has spent the last two months here on the field getting ready to start rainwater tank construction for a new village community, “Edayazham”. In this very special update, you’ll learn about our work so far and the exciting things to come! Read on to discover our continuing story from the first hand experiences of our leaders.

In the Field

Our team is staying in a rural part of the Allepey district, and beautiful rice paddy fields and canals surround us. The location is opportune because we are able to observe and live first-hand the customs and routines Kuttanad villagers carry out daily, which will be helpful when molding our operations to fit the lifestyles of our beneficiaries. Our office is only a quick bus ride away, where we have our own workspace alongside our on-site Program Manager. Here’s a snapshot of our day, in the words of our Vice President:

“I make my way from my room through the village, down a mud path, along the river edge, and towards the bus stop that will send me to the office. The banks of the water are sprinkled with many colorful houses, where cows, goats, and chickens can be seen obediently munching away at scraps. Mud paths lead down the heavy vegetation on the roadside and into village communities—cottages built on lonely islands among the green sea of rice paddies. The river is a constant presence, where residents bathe, do their dishes, wash their clothing, and take boat taxis from place to place. However, trash can also be seen floating in the midst of people, and pipes leak contaminants constantly.

Early in the mornings, music can be heard from village homes, as their residents prepare their morning breakfast of dosa and sambar. The water they’ve used for these preparations was hauled by the women of the households from public taps on the main road, or wells in their backyards. Though, they are always sure to boil it thoroughly before consuming: they’ve been taught that fecal matter and salt leeching causes their frequently experienced diarrhea and vomiting.

After my walk, I arrive at the stop along the road where I latch on to the overflowing bus until reaching my destination 15 minutes later. The main road stretches in a forever distance alongside the river. Once at the office, I work online if there is internet available. Though, more often than not, I’ll switch to offline based tasks like image branding and program documentation if the rains have cut off power. I work alongside my partner Sam, our employee Jibin, and an office assistant, Sibi (who brings us delicious tea about 5 times a day!). Under the wooden ceiling and bright pink walls, we chat about strategy, solve challenges, and plan for the future from 10 am until 5 pm.”

Partnership Developments

After yearlong negotiations, changes, and presentations, we have secured an implementation partner on the ground to get up and running. As a US-based organization, R4H sought local support and expertise to implement the program with the advantages of community knowledge. Our partnership with a local NGO, the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation was signed into effect this July 2014, enabling R4H to gear up on plans for construction and impact monitoring. Check out pictures of this significant event attached to this report.

Action Plans

Construction of the first 12 tanks was planned for August. However, it was delayed due to heavy monsoon rains, which flooded many parts of the Kuttanad for over 2 weeks. Now, we are set to start in September, ensuring 24 families their own safe water supply! In preparation, we are developing a monitoring system with which to track many aspects of the program, including social impact, tanks, and user group dynamics. This will be valuable data to improve our program and paint a better picture of our work on the field.

Additionally, we are excited to focus on more community trainings and capacity building. We are developing training programs to educate users on tank construction, use, maintenance, and repair. This will enable beneficiaries to better manage their tanks and to take direct ownership of a long-lasting system. Masons and staff will assist community residents, women in particular, to learn skills will make them employable in construction work. Additionally, these trainings will provide opportunities to educate the community further on water consumption and conservation.

Thanks from All of Us!

During the partner matching day in July 16th at Global Giving, R4H launched a fundraising campaign in celebration of our new partnership on the ground. Thanks to all of YOU, the event was shared with people from coast to coast, publicizing our efforts and gaining our almost $3,000! Our website got a great new makeover for this event, so browse through for lots of updated information and pictures.

Thanks so much! Your contributions, support, and publicity will help us build an additional 2 tanks for 4 families this October! Your help has made a tremendous difference in the lives of rural villagers here in Kerala by providing a clean and consistent source of water for Kuttanad families. 

Monsoon rain along river
Monsoon rain along river
Rice paddy workers
Rice paddy workers
Office work (VP & President)
Office work (VP & President)
Team (Jibin, Dani, Sam)
Team (Jibin, Dani, Sam)
MOU signed with ED MSSRF
MOU signed with ED MSSRF

Dear donors and supporters,

Thanks for following our story. We have exciting new developments we want to share with you since you last heard from us. Read on to find out about an improvement in our model, our new partners, and our summer plans! 

Pivoting Our Model

Over the past year, R4H has sought to scale the program in Kerala, India. However, we have faced challenges in developing the organizational structure best suited for implementing our innovative water-vending model. For some months, we have collaborated on a MOU with a local, NGO (M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation) focused on rural development that will support the R4H organization in scaling and contribute to a joint regional water-health profile and educational program. Throughout conversations with the community and partnership negotiations, we have developed a new idea that will pivot our current model into an improved, streamlined program.

Through this new model, R4H will reinvent the way charity defines sustainable impact. To ensure that we retain our key innovations, we have dissected the original model down to its building blocks. With MSSRF’s administrative support, R4H will function as a seed-financing agent, which will essentially invest up-front capital, to seed-fund the construction of rainwater harvesting tanks for independently managed grassroots village projects. Additionally, R4H will engage the community by hiring employees from beneficiary villages to maintain tank networks and run the vending model for long-term impact. Intertwined, these two aspects encourage community ownership and ensure a tank network’s financial self-sustainability.

The creation of separate, community-run Societies will give direct ownership to the beneficiaries, implementing an incentive structure that promotes the effective management, construction, and revenue collection of tanks. As a seed-funder and consultant, R4H will focus on its primary role by advancing its original goal through its core: the community. Re-envisioning these components, we have taken our model one-step further by separating our organization’s critical activities to not only to retain the benefits, but also to amplify them. Overall, the new model not only solves the current challenges facing R4H, but also improves on the organization’s ultimate mission.

Summer Trajectory

We are excited to announce that with support from Brown University, the R4H leadership (Sam Lee ’15, Dani Flores ’15) will be traveling to Kerala as Brown India Initiative Fellows! Through the program, our team will have the opportunity to develop our new strategy on the ground, gather more first-hand community testimonials, and deliver a presentation to the Brown community on our progress.More specifically, we plan to 1) improve the internal structure of R4H 2) formalize our brand and 3) establish the first independent Society for immediate construction!

Currently, R4H has one hired employee, Jibin Thomas, acting as Program Manager in India. Jibin takes charge of expanding our partnerships in Kerala and directly communicating with the community. This summer, our team will continue these activities jointly and standardize the administration of R4H. A strategic work-plan will be developed for the remainder of the year to improve the international management of R4H. Additionally, we will plan for the hiring of new staff and budget for their operations. We believe this will strengthen our internal operations and make our scaling strategy a success.

As we grow within the community, the R4H brand becomes increasingly important. To improve our visibility and our credibility, we will create a uniform process and marketing materials to present to the community beneficiaries. This will include logo design, formatted documents, and standard procedures for the construction and management of new tanks.

Finally, and most importantly, we will be hard at work to set up our very first Society in Kerala. This will be the first step to pilot our new model in the community and learn from the community that runs it. It will also allow us to begin construction as soon as possible, to expand our tank network and finally get our scaling strategy rolling.

Thanks!

A big thanks to all of YOU, for donating and supporting us through our journey to provide clean water to villagers in Kerala. We hope you enjoy our updates and continue to follow us as we send you new information from our exciting summer activities!

Sam and Jibin on the field
Sam and Jibin on the field

For R4H, the new year is an exciting time. In the past month, our team has conducted extensive strategic planning.

Sam, our President, was in India negotiating a partnership with a local NGO, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, and training our newly hired Program Manager, Jibin. His 3 weeks on-site were very productive in terms of training our promising new employee and setting up connections in new villages for future construction. We accomplished a survey of the new village site residents, marking the first pre-tank impact report for 2014.

On the US side, Daniella, our Vice President, traveled to San Francisco to attend a week’s-worth of workshops and networking events at notable places such as Odesk, Salesforce, and YCombinator, ending with a 10-minute pitch to a panel of Venture Capitalists. This conference provided the opportunity to be immersed in the start-up environment and connect with successful entrepreneurs who have gone through (and survived!) the challenging process our team is now facing.

We gained a lot of insights from these experiences, particularly about the future trajectory of R4H and the choices we have in front of us. 

This year’s primary goal is to set up an official entity, which will operate separately from the Brown University R4H student group. In doing so, we will be taking the first step in securing the long-term international operation of the organization.

Another key goal this year is the development of new catchment and storage technology that is both cheaper and more efficient. We have been pursuing tank optimization since the project began, but we believe the re-design is more important now than ever if we hope to reduce costs and truly realize our sustainability goals.

An additional priority is establishing a partnership with MSSRF. This NGO’s local presence, credibility, and administrative support will help us get up and running these first few years. 

Our team is excited about the months to come, and we thank you for all of your support of our venture so far!

Community meeting at new village site
Community meeting at new village site
Daniella pitching to VC panelists
Daniella pitching to VC panelists

Attachments:
 

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Organization Information

Rainwater for Humanity

Location: Providence, RI - USA
Website: http:/​/​rainwaterforhumanity.org/​
Rainwater for Humanity
Project Leader:
Sam Lee
President
Moncompu, Alappuzha India

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This project is no longer accepting donations.
 

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