CAIRO: Access to clean, safe drinking water is one of the greatest challenges facing people in many parts of the world.
By 2015 the UN’s Millennium Development Goals had succeeded in reducing by half the number of people without such access, but many still suffer as a result of poor sanitation services and lack of treated drinking water, especially in rural communities.
According to a 2019 report from the World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund, about 2.2 billion people worldwide do not have safely managed drinking water, 4.2 billion go without safe sanitation services and 3 billion lack basic hand-washing facilities.
In Egypt, one of the nations facing a potential crisis, it is predicted that the share of water per person will decrease by 2025. Water Will, a social startup founded in Cairo in 2019, aims to address these challenges.
“We wanted not just to help people in rural communities but also empower them to help themselves,” said co-founder and CEO Mohannad Hesham, 29. “Through the new startup, they can turn from beneficiaries to customers and purchase the filters that would solve their water problems without waiting for help from anyone.”
Through its Buy Me Filter initiative, Water Will aims to provide clean water to rural communities in Egypt and other parts of Africa.
“After a year of research and development, we came up with the ceramic water filter, a sustainable solution made out of natural materials and treated with nanoparticles,” Hesham said.
The filter is designed to eliminate the impurities, odors, bacteria and heavy minerals that are often found in the water available to residents of rural communities. Priced at 320 Egyptian pounds ($20), it is several times cheaper than the alternatives.
“We traveled to Kenya and manufactured the filter ourselves in a factory there, and we distributed it to 500 families,” Hesham said. The team then returned to Egypt to establish a factory and acquire the necessary business permits.
Officially launched in late 2020, Buy Me Filter aims to distribute hundreds of filters in Kenya and Egypt in the months ahead. The way it works is simple: Individuals, groups or organizations can visit the Buy Me Filter website and purchase one or more filters to donate to rural communities in the two countries.
“We’re also launching a premium filter in 2021,” Hesham said. “Rather than just donating a filter for others, you can buy a premium filter for yourself, and a ceramic filter will be donated to a poor family in rural communities.”
Water Will also enters into partnerships with small and micro businesses and foundations in the areas it serves, training them to market and sell the filters.
“(This) ensures the spread of the product in these communities and also creates business opportunities there,” Hesham said.
More than 50 percent of Egyptians live in rural communities and more than 30 percent are below the poverty line. As a result, access to more-expensive water-filtration systems is a luxury many cannot afford.
“Even if people in those communities purchase multi-stage water filters, the cost of regularly changing the filter candles will be too high given how bad the water is,” Hesham said.
The Water Will ceramic filter, on the other hand, is designed to last for two years without any additional costs.
Because many business accelerators and investors take a greater interest in the tech sector than social startups, finding support initially was difficult for Hesham and his team.
They overcame this challenge by raising money from friends and families, which was used to create a prototype they entered in startup competitions to raise more capital.
In the coming years, Buy Me Filter aims to compete in more urban markets with its premium filter by leveraging the sustainability of the product.
“By 2025, we also want to have our first fully owned factory outside of Egypt in Africa, so we can keep the costs of our filters low for rural communities,” Hesham said.
He said it is important for businesses that aim to make a social impact to generate profits and added: “We need many companies to work in this field so we can come up with more solutions for water problems, which are bound to increase in the years to come.”
* This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.