This sponsored post, part of a series on Asia’s Young Social Entrepreneurs, is brought to you by DBS Bank. In partnership with the National University of Singapore, DBS is a proud supporter of the Social Venture Challenge, an Asia-wide competition for social enterprises.
In a five-year span, Chandrasekaran Jayaraman (Chandra) visited approximately 1,000 villages in India to restore dilapidated temples and heritage structures. He first discovered the problem when visiting some villages in Chennai, noticing that most buildings had heavy vegetation but were still standing strong.
“Basically they were made up of limestone, granite, and some natural ingredients added to the structures which binds the materials together and keeps it strong. It really interested me and I started restoring the temples and structures,” said Chandra, who says it is an “astonishing and sad story” that there are approximately 125,000 dilapidated historic structures in southern India.
During these five years, whenever he searched for drinking water, he would be directed to the store to buy bottled water. Whenever he searched for a toilet, he would be brought to a location that had a clean toilet. As a guest he was offered these options, but he realized that the locals do not have access to water service or toilets.
“This problem struck my heart,” said Chandra. “Almost 75 percent of the Indian population don’t have access to good drinking water. People get waterborne diseases very easily because of unfiltered water.”
Seeing this as a fundamental problem to solve, Chandra set out on a mission to provide water and toilets to all.
“What we are trying to do is make affordable, electricity-free, maintenance-free water filters,” he said. Chandra explains that current filtration products on the market work by way of electricity or reverse osmosis, but these options are unaffordable to the bottom of the pyramid (BOP).
He then found that the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, a government-funded research and development organization, had developed a formula to make a clay-based water filter. Since it was cheap to make and didn’t need electricity, Chandra thought he found a perfect solution. But after applying for a license to use the technology, he quickly found a flaw in the formula.
“When we started there were almost 116 licensees who have taken a license of making this particular [clay] candle from the government. But there are a lot of issues following the formula. The characteristics of clay change from one place to another. You cannot just take any material and make this candle. When I checked up with most of [the licensees], they all failed. The formula is not foolproof. So now down the line, we are only 3 players who are doing this candle,” he said.
Chandra says there are three basic ingredients for making the candle: clay, sand, and sawdust. Each of the ingredients has to have specific properties to form the candle. After a few years of experimentation, he was able to develop a standardized formula.
In May 2013, Chandra founded Watsan Envirotech to distribute the water filters which cost $12 each and, because of its unique microfiltration technology, doesn’t need replacing.
“The top bucket contains the clay candle. Its holes are nanoparticle-sized holes which will not allow the pathogens or any impurities to pass through. It allows only clean water to penetrate and only clean water is collected in the bottom. You can use it where there is no electricity. You don’t need to change filters or anything like that.”
Over the last year, Watsan has distributed filters to 40,000 households across India, mainly through primary health centres where the BOP often go to gather medication. Chandra says the BOP have no problem purchasing the filters because they can pay by installments and earn a commission for helping distribute them.
Having finally developed a simple, cost-effective solution to bring water for all, Chandra began to dream bigger.
“The DBS-NUS Bootcamp was a good eye-opener. I thought only India has this problem. Now I feel I should scale it up another ten times more and maybe start this type of establishment in various countries,” he said.
Watsan is currently building a manufacturing plant to automate and scale up production. “We also have plans to make toilets,” added Chandra. Conventional toilet facilities are too costly and time-consuming to make. Instead, Chandra wants to create a ready-to-assemble product similar to IKEA furniture that anyone can install and fix.
“We teach villages the knowhow, supply the materials, train the underprivileged and dropouts to make their own living, and supply the village with assembled modular toilets.”
Watch this video to learn more about Watsan Envirotech:
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