A friend in Hubli, Karnataka, told 27-year-old Anu Sridharan that she was spending her time waiting for water to come to her house. That set off an idea in Sridharan's mind to start a social initiative to solve a problem that most Indian households experience on a daily basis.
A Berkeley University graduate, Sridharan's venture, NextDrop makes the waiting-for-water a simple process. Users of NextDrop get a text message on their phone that informs them the time the water supply will come in their area. The 25,000 registered users of Next Drop across three cities, Hubli, Dharwar and Bangalore, get an SMS alert an hour before the water is likely to come in their areas. Users can also ask for specific information related to water supply and the company replies to that as well.
Experts say uncertainty of water supply is a huge problem similar to having no water at all. "To have the knowledge of water supply timings beforehand helps one to be prepared to collect the precious resource. There is a huge opportunity cost associated with irregular water timings. We are aware of the absenteeism of girl students in rural, semi-urban and even many urban localities [forced to stay at home for collecting water when it comes]. To a great extent, water timing information would help curb this menace," said Dr. Girija Bharat, Fellow, Water Resources, TERI.
Bharat said sending text message to people about water timing is an innovative approach. However, she cautioned that, "it does not solve the water problem totally."
How it works
The NextDrop team sources the information about water from ground level staff who have the most recent and accurate updates about water supply. Sridharan said that the accuracy of water timing predictions is around 85 percent to 90 percent. While working with local water officials, she realised that they don't have any system in place to know which locality received water and which did not, resulting in either oversupply or no supply of water at all.
"People did not have the tools to manage the distribution system in real-time and that is what we are creating. While informing people of the water timings, we are also helping utilities to set and manage the distribution system in real-time," Sridharan said.
To make the communication process two-way and direct, NextDrop users can also inform the water officials directly if there is any problem related to water supply, resulting in quicker solutions. "We are working with government officials to help them create data visualisations, get SMS alerts from people facing the problem, etc. If it has to work, we need two-way communication between water officials and citizens," she said.
While NextDrop is a for-profit social initiative, there is no concrete revenue source for the company. Currently the service is free of cost for the users, though Sridharan said she is juggling with a few ideas which will take at least a year to implement.
In 2013, the company had started charging Rs 10 every month to its users in Hubli, as a pilot project. However, due to a few RBI regulations, they realised it cost them more to collect the money than what they were charging for the service.
The company raised $900,000 of seed fund in two rounds from The Social Capital Partnership, a Silicon Valley-based venture fund, which invests in social enterprises.
Sridharan has plans to expand internationally, as she says water is not just an Indian problem. "If we can solve the water crisis by such a simple tool in India, I am sure it will be a success in other countries as well," she said.
Updated Date: Jul 12, 2014 12:41:40 IST