We design, develop and implement solar-powered water kiosks, called the Project Maji Cube.
We need to rethink water supply models to fight rural water poverty. Failed infrastructure investments in Africa over the past 20 years represents a lost investment of 1.2 billion dollars and millions still lack access to water. The failure of these current approaches propelled us to challenge the rural water landscape through a market-based approach in which we have combined the strengths of entrepreneurship and sustainable development. Project Maji is a non-profit social enterprise that harnesses business expertise to deliver sustainable access to water.
We typically serve rural communities of less than a thousand people, as well as rural growth centers with a population ranging between 2500 to 3500 people. Our model is demand-driven, and we see villagers as consumers, willing and able to pay a fair price for water. The price is agreed on by the community through an inclusive consultation process. This modest charge is collected through an automated e-payment system that supports accountability and sustainability of operations. It covers operating expenses, technical support and a reserve fund for long-term repairs. This makes each Maji kiosk self-sustaining after the capital investment is made.
Harnessing the power of the sun
Designed to withstand harsh climates, our kiosks are fitted with IP67 military grade solar panels that can exceed a lifespan of fifteen years if properly maintained. In addition, Maji kiosks operate solely on solar energy, incurring virtually zero energy costs. The kiosks are environment-friendly, emitting no greenhouse gasses, not seldomly replacing motorized pumps that typically rely on diesel or fuel.
Our work begins when taps open
Aligned with the SDG approach, our work begins once the taps are opened. We are not only implementing the hardware, but also act as the service providers. A robust site-servicing scheme supported by remote monitoring systems, is non-negotiable. The monitoring system allows for our technical teams to monitor the performance of each kiosk on an everyday basis. In addition, we have a trained and qualified technical support team available in all countries of operation, with necessary tools and components on hand to repair any problem. In the unlikely event of an issue, these teams aim to restore kiosk operation within three days.
Ability and willingness to pay
We recognize that willingness to pay for a water service depends not only on the affordability or price but is driven by reliability and service levels as well. We are inspired by a behavioral approach in trying to understand what rural consumers value in terms of water quantity, quality, proximity, and reliability and how do these attributes shape their willingness to pay for a water service. Simply put, by valuing what our consumers value, we can ensure profitability and sustainability of each kiosk. It is, therefore, indispensable for us, to ensure the most reliable and best possible user experience for our consumers.
To begin with, we situate our kiosks in the heart of communities, ensuring the safety of women and girls and saving them precious time and energy to be channelized towards more productive activities. The e-payment system is also a significant addition that eliminates queuing time and fast-tracks access to water. Second, our solar-powered water kiosks have in-built water treatment features that ensure good taste and overall consumer satisfaction. Third, remote monitoring helps us measure our kiosk performance on a real-time basis, vital in ensuring maximum uptime and community reliability on each of our kiosks. All of these service level attributes in turn shape Maji communities’ willingness to pay for our water service, contributing to the sustainability and profitability of our model.
Cracking the rural water business case
Financial sustainability is one of the biggest challenges in rural water economics, yet at the same time the biggest opportunity to reach universal access and meet SDG 6.1. Most supply models aspire to cover operation and maintenance costs through performance-based management, which is a challenge in itself. However, we are aiming even higher and challenge ourselves to truly crack the rural water business model to ensure full cost recovery. Acknowledging that water revenue is limited by low ability-to-pay levels, we focus on reaching economies of scale and bringing the price of the hardware down.
Working with disruptive likeminded experts, we have embarked on a multi-year engineering challenge to prove a financially self-sustaining smart technology water kiosk whereby the revenue can pay back the capital investment. Driven by our innovation ethos, we invest in R&D to significantly reduce the price of key kiosk components. By rethinking and challenging the status quo, we try to unlock repayable development finance. This will then have a ripple effect leading to impact acceleration. As a result, we will open more sustainable taps and transform more lives.