- Small water enterprises enabling the transformation of women’s roles.
- 170 water entrepreneurs providing safe and clean drinking water to over 150,000 people.
Stockholm/New Delhi: Rural women in India are increasingly overcoming traditional barriers and are participating in water provisioning through social enterprises. This fact has been revealed in a report Small Water Enterprises: Transforming Women from Water Carriers to Water Entrepreneurs 2019 released at World Water Week organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) in Stockholm. The report has been prepared by Safe Water Network India, a NGO, with grant support from Honeywell Hometown Solutions India Foundation (HHSIF) and working with USAID. The report details how Safe Water Network has helped mainstream women switch to entrepreneurial and operational roles to own and manage small water enterprises (SWEs). SWEs are locally owned and operated water treatment plants that expand access to safe, affordable water for communities of 3,000-5,000 people.
Women are grossly underrepresented in the Indian economy, says the report. They comprise only 26% of the total workforce and contribute merely 17% of India’s GDP as compared to the global average of 37%. Further, rural women are responsible for collecting 80% of the water consumed by households that do not have access to safe drinking water on their premises.
The report highlights the success of Safe Water Network India’s iJal Women’s Empowerment Program that was piloted in Medak district in Telangana with strong participation from lawmakers, district administration and local government. The project has empowered over 170 women entrepreneurs and provided 150,000 people with affordable access to safe drinking water. With the support of Honeywell, the program will eventually provide safe water access to over 540,000 people in Telangana and Maharashtra.
Ramona El Hamzaoui, Deputy Mission Director of USAID said, “World over, we have seen that it is women who have the responsibility of ensuring that their family has a ready supply of clean and safe drinking water, for which they have to walk for miles on a daily basis. Hence, it was imperative that an initiative like Safe Water Network’s iJal should be taken forward to empower women to become water entrepreneurs rather than water carriers. The report has showcased the successful journey of many women. The water kiosk model has buy-in from the community, the private sector and the Government of India, paving the way for replication.”
An official from North Delhi Municipal Corporation, said, “Affordable water kiosks like 24×7 water ATMs provide affordable and safe drinking water security and prevent plastic scourge as consumer collect water in their own bottles. It is heartening to see women break through the glass ceiling, and become entrepreneurs and livelihood generators.”
Mike Bennett, President, Honeywell Hometown Solutions, said, “Honeywell is committed to creating lasting solutions for sustainability challenges facing communities around the globe. The Honeywell-Safe Water Network Initiative is helping tackle one of the most critical challenges in the communities we serve – the need for clean, safe drinking water. This initiative is also helping change centuries-old traditional behavior by enabling women to participate in the household decision-making process.”
Poonam Sewak, V.P. Programs and Partnerships Safe Water Network India, said, “This program enables women overcoming traditional barriers and acquiring skills for managing small water enterprises and bridges the gender gap through economic empowerment and reduction of water collection drudgery for the women and girl child. We are thankful to Honeywell for their grant to develop a women-centric water entrepreneurship model.”
Safe Water Network has been working alongside communities in Ghana and India since 2009 to establish decentralized and locally-owned community water purification systems that provide affordable, reliable and safe off-grid drinking water. Over the past ten years Safe Water Network India, has established about 300 safe water stations called ‘iJal stations’ in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh providing access of safe water to over one million beneficiaries and 800 livelihoods. We work along with local governments (Panchayati Raj Institutions) and enable self-help group, local communities / entrepreneurs by providing training, tools and support to enable financially sustainable iJal stations. We have launched the Small Water Enterprise Alliance, a multi-sectoral partnership for sector collaboration and advancement of affordable safe drinking water for poor. Working with government and other stakeholders, our priority is to document the success of this approach and, working with other entities, reach millions in need of safe water through its broad-scale replication. We regularly publish the India Sector Review, share best practices in the sector through our field insights and spotlights that are disseminated nationally through our ‘Beyond the Pipe’ forum and internationally at the Stockholm World Water Week. We work with urban local bodies for city water delivery assessments and are the key resource center of Ministry of Drinking water and Sanitation.
Ravi Sewak, India Country Director, Safe Water Network
Ravi leads Safe Water Network’s activities in India since its operations commenced in 2009. Safe Water Network is a US-based non-profit organization, engaged in bringing safe, affordable drinking water solutions to millions in need. Today, the organization has empowered nearly 260 communities across three states in India.
Known for his hands-on expertise of over 10 years in water operations, green energy sources, wastewater, bulk-water processing and vending machine point-of-use purification systems, Ravi has spent over 25 years in the private sector and other corporates. As Sustainability Director with PepsiCo India prior to joining Safe Water Network, he reduced plant water consumption annually by over 2.6 billion liters across 34 plants nationwide.
Ravi’s prior experience has proven invaluable in overseeing Safe Water Network’s productive growth and developing high standards and systems to support large scale replication. Drawing upon his proficiency in engineering and management, Ravi guides the development of business and operational protocols, training programs and management systems to enable cost-effective replication.
Ravi is a Post Graduate in Management from Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad. A national member of the Bureau of Indian Standards (FAD 14) for water and beverages and Water Purification System Sectional Committee, MHD 22, and FICCI and CII National Water Committees, Ravi has also been a mentor in Legatum Center MIT and Santa Clara University.
Poonam Sewak, Vice President – Program & Partnerships
Poonam leads Programs & Partnerships at Safe Water Network. She brings rich multi-disciplinary experience in policy, strategy consulting, research, entrepreneurship and institution building. She founded the organization’s flagship sustainable and affordable social enterprise model called ‘iJal stations’ that provides safe drinking water to the communities. She has pioneered the development of knowledge hub consisting of tool kits and education modules for promoting livelihoods by training social entrepreneurs in safe water.
A public policy professional, Poonam co-authored sector reports in Drinking Water Sector ranging from City Water Assessments to Status of Urban / Rural Water Supply in India. She has provided policy recommendations to the ‘National Rural Drinking Water Program’ of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation for the vision ‘Har Ghar Jal’ by 2024. Further, she also convenes ‘Beyond the Pipe’ forum at national level engaging with government officials, multilateral organizations, industry, and civil society. She conceptualized and launched the Small Water Enterprise Alliance, a multi-sectoral partnership for sector collaboration and advancement of affordable safe drinking water for poor.
Poonam brings over 25 years of experience, having had consulted pharmaceutical industry on medico marketing, and working with the United Nations Asia Pacific Center for Technology Transfer on tools to promote women entrepreneurship in the past. A recipient of the Indian Drug Manufacturer Award and with over 70 publications in marketing and the water sector to her credit, Poonam is currently a Member of the Bureau of Indian Standards committee and a Guest Speaker at national and international forums. She holds a Master’s degree in Pharmacy from the Nagpur University with a Gold Medal in her graduation.
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