Mendeley is proud to help spread the word about how research makes a positive impact in people’s lives, which is why we were really happy to work more closely with Elsevier in Research4Life. At its core, research is about making the world a better place, and technology is a key way of enabling this. As part of our series of guest blog posts highlighting interesting ways in which that happens, this time we bring you the story of Jay, Viv and Kirsten, 3 young researchers from the University of Southern California, who have used crowdfunding to take their life-saving solution to communities in Rwanda.
By Jay Todd Max, co-founder of the Community Water Project
Next month, my research team and I are flying to Rwanda to build innovative water treatment systems we have been designing for the past three years. While we were earning our Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Engineering at the University of Southern California, Viv Pitter, Kirsten Rice and I were in the USC labs, researching into different innovative water treatment methods. The result is that we have created a new model of water treatment systems, tailored specifically to the needs and resources of rural communities in developing countries. This September we will make those designs a reality.
Having access to clean water is obviously a huge issue for millions of people around the world. The communities that we are targeting are ones who have access to dirty water, but no means of cleaning it. Typically these are rural communities that also do not have access to sophisticated water treatment technologies and typically do not have the technical know-how for maintaining complex water treatment systems. Our design is incredibly low-tech and uses only the natural resources found locally in these communities. It is essentially a large concrete chamber filled with gravel and sand. It traps the dirt and uses the naturally occurring micro-organisms to break down and remove all of the dangerous contaminants. Because the materials are local and there are no moving parts, the system is incredibly easy to maintain and operate.
But there’s more. Many projects fail for social/cultural reasons rather than purely technical ones. Because of this, our implementation strategy diverges from usual aid models. Typically, when aid groups enter a community, they prescribe a specific technology that they have shipped from far away, install it without much community buy-in, and then leave, patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately, the majority of these projects fall out of use and into disrepair within the first 5 years. Our implementation strategy, however, avoids this fate in two main ways. Firstly, our primary focus is on community engagement and buy-in. After all, it is the people we are interested in helping. The village leaders of Bwana, Rwanda are already eager to help make their new water systems a reality. Secondly, the systems will be monetized. The village leaders are in the process of selecting individuals from within the community who will become the owner/operators of these systems. They will charge a small fee for each container of water that gets dispensed. This money will go toward the maintenance and repair of the system, and will also act as compensation for the owner’s work. Because the owners are getting paid for their work, there will always be someone in charge of keeping the systems in operating condition.
We believe that our design, combined with our implementation strategy, have the potential to dramatically improve the success and sustainability of water projects around the world. Our model will not be validated, however, unless we take the first step of building the first ones in Rwanda this September. That is why it has been so helpful these past few weeks when donations have come from all over to raise more than $15,000 of our $20,000 fundraising goal on IndieGoGo. All of the communities that have supported the IndieGoGo campaign by sharing the link and by donating are really enabling us to prove out our water treatment concept. They are making it possible to do so much good for the community in Rwanda and possibly for water projects around the world. It really is a case of whole communities coming together to help other whole communities. It’s all made possible by crowd-sourcing funds, and it’s all for the purpose of proving out research that will improve people’s lives. If you’d like to help support the campaign or receive updates on the project’s progress, be sure to visit our campaign page!
Do you have your own stories of using crowdfunding or other social media technologies and platforms to advance your research? Join the discussion on our Crowdfunding Group on Mendeley or leave a comment below!