Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2022 winners have been officially announced, you’ll want to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is an online competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world’s toughest problems. Since 2017, the competition has awarded $3.25 million USD to 78 start-ups from 25 countries.
We are excited for you to learn more about the 2022 winning teams addressing some of the biggest challenges we face through technology-based solutions.
I had the opportunity to meet with Raghav Goyal and Eish Nangia, Co-Presidents of Asbah, which was awarded $15,000 USD as the winner of the Cisco Employees’ Choice Award. Asbah provides clean and safe drinking water at a low-cost to underserved populations in urban and rural areas of India by building and maintaining community water filtration plants. The water is dispensed with the help of rechargeable digitized cards that are used for payment. Each plant is managed by two women entrepreneurs who are members of the community where the plant is located. Currently, Asbah is impacting 67,500 lives daily through its 21 plants operating pan India.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Raghav: In India, finding clean and safe drinking water is challenging. Water can be both unaffordable and inaccessible. People may need to travel up to 10 kilometers (≈6 miles) just to obtain half a day’s worth of drinking water. To address this problem, we came up with a technology solution to build water filtration plants in areas located within underserved communities, eliminating the barrier people face of having to travel long distances to obtain drinkable water.
Can you explain how the solution works?
Eish: Rural areas in India receive water supplied by the government through pipelines, but this water is often unsuitable for drinking. The method we use to determine how clean this water is yields results that are below the acceptable limit. Asbah’s water filtration plants filter the water and remove unhealthy components, making it safe and drinkable.
Raghav: Our water filtration plants also act as huge water dispensers which multiple people can draw from at one time. We use a triple filtration technology to clean the water, just like what is found in home water purifier devices.
People who go to Asbah’s local water filtration sites to collect drinking water for their households do not have to worry about bringing cash to buy water. They are given a card with pre-loaded funds to use for purchasing water and can simply swipe their card to pay.
The water we provide costs 4 INR (≈0.05 USD) for 20 liters (≈5 gallons), which is considerably less than the 20 INR (≈0.24 USD) we usually pay in India for 1 liter of water (≈0.26 gallons). This allows even the poorest of families to afford safe drinking water.
What is innovative about the way you are solving the issue? What sets your solution apart?
Eish: In most places in India, you can buy clean drinking water in packages or in water bottles. By setting up filtration plants within the communities themselves, Asbah is bringing clean water directly to people in need. We also plan to expand our model to include a service which will deliver water conveniently to peoples’ homes.
Raghav: There are other entities in India that provide water for free to households. Our business model differs as we provide water at a very low cost. This funding enables us to bring the technology used in our water filtration plants to the communities, providing a sustainable solution.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Raghav: In India, you don’t have to go far to find inspiration. Even if you are just sitting at home, you will find inspiration. Everywhere you turn, people are trying to do one thing or another. We wanted to address an issue that is faced by people daily.
We acknowledged that a necessity which we all take for granted such as clean drinking water is not accessible to so many people. A little effort from our side could bring significant change. We are also inspired by the relationships we’ve built with the women entrepreneurs we employ to manage our water filtration plants and by the families we serve.
Eish: Our business model is not complete without the women entrepreneurs we hire. They are the ones who are handling issues and finding solutions to problems that may occur at our plants each day. Encouraging and supporting them is something we prioritize. We are thankful to all the women entrepreneurs out there who are helping us in creating change.
When we set up a plant within a particular area, we employ two women who are from that area to manage the plant in shifts. They are compensated with a fixed salary. Additionally, 10 percent of the plant’s monthly profit is allotted to each of them. This empowers women by providing them with an opportunity to contribute financially to their households to care for their families.
What advice do you have for other social entrepreneurs?
Raghav: Keep pushing forward and believing. We set up our first plant through crowd funding—we literally went around with boxes asking people for donations. Once we collected enough money, we built our first plant in 2017. Five years later, we’ve expanded to 21 plants. Follow the process first, without worrying about the results.
Eish: Following the process without worrying about the results is the mindset of our entire team. We focus on bringing something good to society, putting in the effort and going the extra mile. In doing so, we can achieve success.
Stay tuned for more articles in our blog series, featuring interviews with every Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2022 winning team!