300 water ATM booths planned for Dhaka (Dhaka Tribune)

Note: This originally appeared on Dhaka Tribune (Original Link | PDF)

One of 100 water ATM booths installed by Wasa in different areas of Dhaka city (Dhaka Tribune)

One of 100 water ATM booths installed by Wasa in different areas of Dhaka city (Dhaka Tribune)

Wasa set up the first water ATM in Fakirapool with the financial support of Denmark-based  Grundfos on August 6, 2016

In Dhaka, one has to spend at least Tk15 for a bottle of drinking water. Yet, unknown to many, Wasa has set up a number of ATM booths that dispense drinking water at a cost of Tk0.4 per litre.

There are about 100 such booths across the capital in areas including: Fakirapool, Basabo, Mugda, Banasree, Matuail, and Rampura. Dhaka Wasa has developed this to supply pure water – with the financial assistance of US-based Drinkwell. 

“We have signed an agreement with Drinkwell to install 300 such ATM booths in Dhaka by September 2019,” said Md Year Khan, project director of ATM water supply and executive engineer of Dwasa. Wasa set up the first water ATM in Fakirapool with the financial support of Denmark-based  Grundfos on August 6, 2016. At that time, Wasa also installed another booth at Mugda pump 2 compound near the stadium at Kamalapur. 

‘Pure and safe’

Md Sujon, an operator at Fakirapool's ATM booth, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Each litre of water is sold at 40 paisa. Every day, we usually sell 6,000-8,000 litres of water from this booth.” 

The booth is open seven days a week. Customers can collect water from 6am to 10pm every day, with a small break at 2pm.

Drinkwell CEO Minhaj Chowdhury said after water is drawn from the depths of the ground, iron and manganese are removed from it. Then, the water is passed under an ultraviolet ray—to kill micro organisms.

Purana Paltan resident Md Alamin was at the ATM to collect water for his house. “This water is pure and safe. We can drink it without boiling or further purification,” he said.

The water Wasa supplies needs to be filtered and purified before use, and sometimes it tastes bad, another customer Mizanur Rahman said. “Now we can drink pure water without any bad smell or extra hassles.”  Wasa officials say the ATM booths at Banasree are providing water for free, on an experimental basis which began last month, while a booth is under construction at Rampura. 

Manik Adhikari, in-charge of managing the water booth at Banasree, said they have been providing water, for free, since June 6. 

“We will continue to provide free water for a few more days before issuing cards to customers,” he added.

How to use water ATMs

One has to first collect a card from the booth’s operator with a refundable deposit of Tk200. Water will start flowing once the card is inserted and stop when the card is pulled out. 

Anyone can get this card with a copy of the national ID card and two photos. The card holder will have to recharge Tk100 at a time. After this money is used, the account has to be recharged again with the same amount of money.

Unilever, DFID to support 5 local enterprises

Note: This originally appeared on Daily Star (Original Link | PDF)


Unilever, in partnership with UK's Department for International Development (DFID), will support five social enterprises in Bangladesh through a joint initiative, TRANSFORM.

Founded in 2015, the initiative brings private sector creativity and commercial approaches to solve persistent global development challenges.

TRANSFORM assists in providing market-based solutions that meet low-income household needs in developing countries through financial and business support for social enterprises.

So far, it has supported 32 projects across 10 countries, with the number of beneficiaries exceeding 5 lakh.

About the projects under TRANSFORM, a press conference was held at Spectra Convention Hall in Gulshan yesterday.

Tanzeen Ferdous, director of Home Care at Unilever Bangladesh Ltd, delivered welcome speech.

Unilever Bangladesh and the five current grantees spoke about TRANSFORM and the positive impact the partnership can have on enterprises and people in Bangladesh.

Minhaj Chowdhury, CEO, Drinkwell; SM Rumat Ashraf, general manager, HappyTap; Abdus Shaheen, country programme manager, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor; Jonathan Levine, founder and CEO, Folia Water; and Claire Benveniste, sanitation technical advisor, Shobar Jonno Pani, discussed among others.

A cool, clean legacy (Lehigh Resolve Magazine)

Note: This originally appeared on Lehigh Resolve Magazine Volume 1 2018 (Original Link | Photo)

Schoolchildren in the Birbhum District in West Bengal, India, wait in line for fresh drinking water filtered by the HIX nano system. (Photo courtesy of Arup SenGupta/Lehigh University)

Lehigh water filtration tech builds momentum through socially conscious entrepreneurship

Across more than three decades as a professor and leading researcher at Lehigh University, Professor Arup SenGupta has mentored a veritable army of young innovators in the development of solutions that holistically address the problem of groundwater contamination and create sustainable water technologies around the globe, both in developing and developed countries.


Closeup views of a HIX nano resin bead slice with zirconium oxide nanoparticles. (Photo courtesy of Arup SenGupta/Lehigh University)

In July 2012, three Fulbright alumni — SenGupta, Minhaj Chowdhury and Mike German ’17 Ph.D. — conceived and launched Drinkwell, an innovative start-up, in Lehigh’s STEPS building to bring the University’s water technologies to affected places around the world. Drinkwell has recently captured attention and support from a variety of organizations around the world including the BBC, Forbes magazine and Dell, Inc.

The firm establishes locally-maintained decontamination systems in arsenic-affected areas across India, Laos and Cambodia. Its technology provides villages with water filtration technology and tools to improve community health while generating income and creating jobs.

The World Health Organization calls the arsenic crisis "the biggest mass poisoning in human history” and Human Rights Watch believes some 20 million people are at risk from arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh alone, according to a BBC news report.

The basis of the firm’s technology — a water filtration nanotechnology resin called Hybrid Ion Exchange Nanotechnology (HIX-Nano) — was developed by SenGupta’s research team. The zirconium-based resin removes arsenic from the water, which is then filtered through a series of Drinkwell tanks that remove additional harmful substances.In recent years, SenGupta and his students have extended their technology’s original arsenic-busting powers to attack other contaminants, namely fluoride, phosphate, and lead.

According to SenGupta, a professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering as well as Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, at least ten Lehigh graduate students over the years have contributed toward Drinkwell’s present status. From 2000 to 2010, confronted with the rising arsenic poisoning of millions caused by contaminated ground water primarily in countries in the South and Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Cambodia and Laos, several of SenGupta’s doctoral students, John Greenleaf ’07 Ph.D., Prakhar Prakash ’04 Ph.D., Prasun Chatterjee ’11 Ph.D, Surapol Padungthon ’13 Ph.D. and post-doc Sudipta Sarkar (2006-2011) became intimately involved in mitigating the crisis.

SenGupta’s current doctoral students, Jinze Li, Chelsey Shepsko and Hang Dong are conducting research to develop appropriate wastewater reuse technologies for California and China, as well as Marcellus wastewater treatment in Pennsylvania. Over the years, inventions resulting from the works of doctoral students have led to eleven U.S. Patents; several of these inventions are in use in different countries, including the United States.

The team’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. During the Forbes Under 30 Summit, Drinkwell co-founder Minhaj Chowdhury won the magazine’s first-ever Under 30 Impact Challenge, taking in $500,000 for Drinkwell to continue providing services in India and Bangladesh. At UC Berkeley’s 2015 Global Social Venture Competition, Mike German ’17 Ph.D. won first prize among many competing technology start-ups for his project proposal, “Transforming Arsenic and Fluoride Water Crisis into an Economic Opportunity through Hybrid Ion Exchange Nanotechnology.”

“The use of HIX-Nano has transformed the global arsenic and fluoride crisis into an economic opportunity for those suffering from it,” says SenGupta, “while providing safe drinking water to thousands of people.”

Cleaning Up South Asia's Arsenic Pollution with Thousands of Money-Making Franchises (Fast Company)

Source: Fast Company (original link | PDF )

3037007-poster-p-1-cleaning-up-south-asias-arsenic-pollution-with-thousands-of-money-making-franchises (2).jpg

As a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, Minhaj Chowdhury visited his family’s village north of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and distributed a promising new water treatment technology known as the “two bucket.” Chowdhury felt proud to do something for his family’s people, and, on his return to the U.S., he wrote enthusiastically about the promise of cheap, simple solutions to developing world problems.

Two years later, he revisited as a Fulbright scholar to see how the project was going, only to discover the whole thing had not been as successful as hoped. Out of 100 units, only three were still working.

The reason wasn’t really that the two-bucket method is ineffective. The problem was that it needed to be serviced regularly and nobody in the village was doing it. The person Chowdhury and his friend had entrusted with the work had become something of a celebrity due to her work with international aid groups, and had long since moved on from servicing buckets. In fact, all the attention had allowed her rise up several social levels and marry into a rich steel magnate’s family.

The lesson for Chowdhury was technology only gets you so far. To be effective, it needs love and attention, and–crucially–local “buy-in.” You can’t just leave equipment in one person’s hands and hope to be successful consistently.

That’s why Chowdhury’s water treatment company, Drinkwell, has the model it does. Instead of giving filters away, it franchises technology to local entrepreneurs, who make money from distributing clean water. They have a motive to look after the system and to sell more water. Drinkwell’s role is to ensure the unit is always maintained by its service staff.

“If you really want scale and have stickiness, you need to have them keep all the upside,” Chowdhury says. “We just have a static service charge that ensures quality. Our core skill-set is technology that we service. Their skill is sales and marketing, and they get all the upside from their hard work.”

Drinkwell’s focus is heavy metals. An estimated 200 million people in India and Bangladesh have water that’s contaminated with arsenic at small but dangerous levels. The insidious pollution is the inadvertent result of a misguided national policy in the 1970s to sink wells in every village. They didn’t know the aquifers had naturally occurring arsenic back then.

“It was hailed as a public health success, but then people started getting skin lesions in the early 1990s,” says Chowdhury. “Initially, they thought it was leprosy.”

Drinkwell, based in Kolkata, India, sells a filter system for $8,000. Entrepreneurs sell on the cleaner water locally, keeping most of the profits (aside from a small service charge for an engineer to come on-site each month).

“What really helped us become viable is a market-based approach with the franchisees. But we were also filling the servicing gap by having laborers do regeneration of our filters,” Chowdhury says. The workmen refresh the filter’s materials every six months or so (an hour-long process at a servicing center). It lasts 10 cycles, or ten years, before needing to be changed.

The Drinkwell filter operates without electricity, so it’s more suitable in many places than “reverse osmosis” filtration which needs lots of power. Villages can add extra filters for bacteria (like E.coli) but these kinds of filters are more dime a dozen.

Drinkwell has installed 207 units so far, and hopes to break even in 2016. At the moment, it spends most of its profit extending the service network, with 50 engineers set to be added this year.

“There’s the servicing piece and there’s the distribution piece,” Chowdhury says. “If we do the service, it allows them to focus on the distribution element, which is always difficult. We’re using the locals’ social capital to make deliveries in rural areas.”

Public Health Studies Graduate Is a CEO With a Mission (Johns Hopkins University)

Note: This was originally featured on the Johns Hopkins University Public Health Studies website (original link | PDF ).

Minhaj Chowdhury, Public Health Studies Class of 2011, is now the CEO of his own company: Drinkwell.

Drinkwell uses a micro-franchise model to establish local water businesses in areas affected by arsenic. By providing affected villagers with water filtration technology and business tools, Drinkwell empowers communities to create jobs, generate income, and improve health outcomes.

Chowdhury, who was included in the recent Arts & Sciences Magazine article on the PHS program, became an advocate for safe water as a sophomore when he traveled to Bangladesh to work on arsenic poisoning—a problem common to many of that country’s wells. Since then, he has had five years of experience implementing arsenic projects with the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (“BRAC”), the largest NGO in the world, and Johns Hopkins University. As a Fulbright Scholar in Bangladesh, he researched villager willingness to pay for clean water.

His work has been acclaimed by UNICEF, WaterAid Bangladesh, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh Health Secretary, and serves as the basis for Drinkwell’s growth strategy. He was also a winner of an Echoing Green fellowship, considered to be the most prestigious in social entrepreneurship: they provided the first funding to Wendy Koepp’s Teach for America, City Year Boston, SKS Microfinance, and other notable social enterprises.

Chowdhury was recently interviewed by WGBH Boston television as a finalist for the 3rd annual “Startup Jackpot” event, which he won. This puts Drinkwell in the MassChallenge accelerator program, which provides finalists with a base in Boston, access to mentors and advisors to prep for the final prize (to be awarded in October), and the opportunity to build a solid foundation to their business.

This year MassChallenge had an 8% acceptance rate: more than 1,200 startups across 30 countries applied for 128 slots. This financial backing will provide drinking water for 10,000 more people.

Minhaj Chowdhury and Drinkwell were recent award winners at SOCAP, an annual event where socially conscious entrepreneurs are recognized. See the pitch and award announcement.

Drinkwell recently closed its first contract in India for $200,000 to deploy 10 systems and cover costs to strengthen internal operations financed by the U.S. and Indian governments.

The $1 Trillion Market Opportunity: Taking Innovations to the Next Level (USAID)

Note: This was originally published by USAID (original link | PDF ).

Next week, 11 USAID-supported innovators will join a delegation from the U.S. Global Development Lab in San Francisco at the 7th annual Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP). This diverse group of innovators includes, among others, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, the founder of a Sikh civil rights organization, a computer engineer, a Burmese-American lawyer, and the author of a book about a road trip from Maputo to Tunis.

Joining 2,000 fellow entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists and venture capitalists at SOCAP — the largest annual gathering on impact investing in the world — these innovators will discuss their successes, celebrate their failures and engage with their peers and mentors on how their businesses can deliver financial returns while serving the needs of vulnerable communities. Most importantly, they will seek to connect with potential impact investors and attract capital in what is considered to be a $1 trillion market opportunity.

Events like SOCAP address one of impact investing’s primary challenges: capital to incubate innovators often isn’t available for early-stage entrepreneurs in developing countries. USAID has an important role to play here. By providing a limited amount of public capital through initiatives like the Development Innovation Venturesfund, the LAUNCH open innovation platform and the “Priming the Pump” Global Development Alliance(GDA) with Echoing Green, we can develop a pipeline of investment-ready social enterprises that can then attract private capital and scale.

One of the 12,800 Tanzanian homes Off.Grid:Electric has connected to energy over the past year / Off.Grid:Electric

We invite you to meet this diverse and exciting array of innovators the Lab is supporting at SOCAP:

Niokobok: Senegal
The problem:  Thirty million African migrants send $60 billion back home annually. Africans pay the highest charges for money transfers in the world, costing them billions.

The solution:  Senegalese company Niokobok is an online retailer offering food and goods such as solar lanterns for delivery in Senegal. The company bypasses high transfer charges by giving Senegalese abroad the opportunity to order essential goods for their relatives rather than send cash directly. McKinsey estimates the African online retail market will be worth $75 billion by 2025.

Koe-Koe Tech Co. Ltd.: Burma
The problem:
  A data-deprived health sector in Burma.

The solution:  Koe-Koe, in Yangon, creates software for hospitals, labs, and government and has created a mobile health app for the general population. Koe-Koe’s software has been installed at several major Burmese health institutions. The company’s goal is to develop a nationwide health information exchange where health information can be shared between health institutions.

Off.Grid:Electric: Tanzania
The problem:
  85 percent of Tanzanian households operate without electricity. The alternative, kerosene, is costly and dangerous, and solar devices are often cost-prohibitive.

The solution:  Tanzanian-based start-up Off.Grid:Electric realized they could approach solar lights as telecom companies do cell phones: as services, not as products. With this unique approach, Off.Grid has connected 12,800 homes to energy over the past year and attracted investment for expansion.

Pixatel: India
The problem:
  Low-quality teaching and absenteeism in India are major obstacles to improving student performance.

The solution:  Pixatel’s business model is based on evidence that computer-based learning is effective in supplementing varying teacher quality and responsive to student needs. The company created an adaptive, tablet-based learning platform that tailors content to each student. Teachers and administrators are provided with visibility into individual student performance as well as reports at a class and school level.

Eco-Fuel Africa: Uganda
The problem:
  Many Ugandans cook food over wood or charcoal fires, causing chronic illness and death from smoke as well as deforestation.

The solution:  Ugandan firm Eco-Fuel Africa combined a unique business model with simple, low tech machines to convert agricultural waste into clean cooking fuel briquettes, which are sold as healthier cooking alternatives. The briquettes burn cleaner and longer and are cheaper than charcoal from wood. Over 10,000 Ugandan households are now using Eco-Fuel’s briquettes.

Sanergy: Kenya
The problem:
  Contact with human waste in Kenyan slums is a leading cause of diarrheal disease, resulting in thousands of deaths each year.

The solution:  Nairobi-based Sanergy collects and recycles human waste into organic fertilizer, which is sold to the region’s commercial farmers. The company serves 18,000 Nairobi residents with hygienic sanitation daily.

Stromme Foundation: Peru
The problem:
  Women in remote regions of the Andes often spend eight hours a day herding a flock of sheep, yet make just $120 a year. Overgrazing by livestock is the primary cause of environmental degradation in these areas.

The solution:  The Stromme Foundation uses a technique called Hydroponic Green Forage (HGF), which allows Andean region residents to grow grass at home. The technique uses less water and produces higher yields than other methods. It also saves time, allowing residents to engage in other, income generating activities.

Drinkwell: Bangladesh
The problem:
  In Bangladesh, 20 percent of deaths are due to arsenic in the water supply.

The solution:  Bangladesh-based DrinkWell’s filtration technology delivers 60 times as much water, is 17 times more efficient, and reduces waste by seven times compared with existing solutions. DrinkWell uses a local franchise model, creating jobs and income.

Buen Power Peru: Peru
The problem:
  In Peru, 6.7 million people don’t have access to electricity.

The solution:  Buen Power Peru provides affordable, renewable solar lighting products to rural communities through unique distribution channels including rural teachers and radio station distribution hubs.

BioLite: India
The problem:
  Cooking on open fires results in 4 million premature deaths each year and contributes to climate change.

The solution:  BioLite has created a low-cost biomass Homestove that, by converting waste heat into electricity, reduces smoke emissions by 90 percent, reduces fuel consumption by half, and delivers electricity to recharge mobile phones and provide an evening’s worth of light.

Carbon Roots: Haiti
The problem:
 Ninety‐four percent of the Haitian population relies on charcoal and wood as a primary source of energy, resulting in health problems and deforestation.

The solution: Carbon Roots International has been refining “char” technology, which converts biomass-like agricultural waste into cleaner cooking fuel as well as an alternative to fertilizer.


Jill Boezwinkle is a Senior Program Manager in the Office of Development Innovation Ventures, U.S. Global Development Lab.


Startup lets clean water flow (Boston Herald)

Note: This was originally published by the Boston Herald (original link | PDF ).

When you are tackling one of the biggest problems on the planet, you need as many people on your side as possible.

That is the strategy Drinkwell, a Cambridge-based startup, is using to help provide clean water to the Third World.

“You really want to work with locals and have local ownership of the problem,” said Minhaj Chowdhury, CEO and co-founder of Drinkwell.

Drinkwell, which has developed a cheap, reusable system of removing toxins such as arsenic, fluoride and iron, partners with people in third-world villages to treat and sell clean water to their neighbors.

“What you really want to do is create a true opportunity for the community to maintain the system and, while you’re at it, create some kind of economic opportunity,” Chowdhury said. “What we wanted to do is come up with a solution that actually lasts. It’s really life and death for a lot of these folks.”

Nearly 800 million people do not have access to clean water, and as many as 8 million people a year die from water related illnesses, according to the United Nations.

Drinkwell’s model is designed to create a permanent solution. Many programs that have tried to bring clean water to the Third World have fizzled when funding waned. Drinkwell will not have this issue, Chowdhury said, because towns and villages will rely on local employees instead of an international group.

Drinkwell’s water purifying system fits over existing wells, making a liter of clean water available for half a penny.

The system cleans water using ion-exchange technology, stripping toxins from the water using reusable resin beads, to provide enough water for 600 households. It produces 99 liters of clean water for every 100 liters of water put in, much more than established methods.

Drinkwell systems are connected to Twitter, so they can be monitored remotely. Because many people have basic access to cellphones and Twitter in the countries Drinkwell is serving, information about the levels of toxins in certain systems and even how long the line is for clean water can be shared in real-time.

Announced as a MassChallenge finalist last week, Drinkwell currently has 200 systems in place in India, Laos, Nepal and Cambodia through various partnerships, but is hoping to put its own model in place soon.

Turning Poison into Economic Opportunity (Stanford Social Innovation Review)

Note: This was originally featured on the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Original Link | PDF )

According to World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 million resource-poor people are threatened with arsenic poisoning by drinking contaminated groundwater in South and Southeast Asia, and other regions of the world. In this university podcast, host Sheila Sethuraman speaks with Arup SenGupta, professor of civil, environmental, and chemical engineering at Lehigh University, about his project to eliminate arsenic from groundwater without using electricity or chemicals. SenGupta describes the successes and challenges of this project, which has created economic opportunity in the developing world and has helped more than 200,000 people benefit from cleaner water.

Arup SenGupta is the P.C. Rossin Professor of civil and environmental engineering and also of chemical engineering at Lehigh University. His award-winning research has expanded the field of ion exchange science and technology in solving critical environmental problems, and has led to the development of new classes of hybrid ion exchangers that have been incorporated into water and wastewater treatment processes globally. SenGupta teaches courses in environmental chemistry, reaction kinetics in environmental engineering, and environmental separation and control