Philippe overcomes water access challenges by connecting a city’s mainstream water supply directly to households in slums, which were previously excluded from their city’s water grid. After receiving concessions from local authorities, Philippe negotiates with large water operators for a price to buy water in bulk. He then garners the investment to build out a city’s water infrastructure to an outlying slum community, equipping each house with its own personal water meter. In as intermediary role, Philippe sells this water directly to slum households in a way that is both affordable and accessible. Philippe’s model allows him to sell water at a cost 3 times less than what slum households were originally paying for water due to the efficiencies of the old system. These micro payments are also enough for Philippe to recuperate his initial investment and cover the majority of his operating costs.
There are many innovative components to Eau et Vie’s payment and maintenance model that enables the model to work in the context of slum communities, where large water operators have failed in the past. First, Eau et Vie’s initial connection fee is paid in installments versus a one-time payment, a critical component to lowering the barrier to participation for a slum household. Also, Eau et Vie employs community members from the slums to collect very small payments from households on a daily basis instead of on a monthly basis. In a situation of non-payment, Eau et Vie cuts off the water supply in only two days’ time (versus the average 1-2 months by a large operator); this reduces the burden of long-term debt on households. A further innovation is in the system of individual and clustered meters designed by Philippe that allows him to track the daily consumption of water, versus the standard monthly tracking. By creating a maintenance and payment system tailored to the daily reality of slum communities, water access has grown in affordability and accessibility. On average, households working with Eau et Vie are paying 3 times less for water.
Philippe’s model goes beyond critical process improvements to make water access a reality for slums; he is also focused on community mobilization and behavior change. He is building up the education, awareness and infrastructure necessary for slum communities to access the public services – often taken for granted – that coincide with (clean) water, such as sanitation, hygiene, waste management and firefighter services. Philippe identifies the best proven ideas in these areas and either works with existing NGOs (like the Red Cross) to expand their education and training activities in the slums where he works, or to replicate proven social business solutions with the backing of public authorities. For example, Philippe has signed a three-year contract with the city of Manila and is collaborating with Sanergy (an organization of Ashoka Fellow David Auerbach based in Kenya) to replicate its “Fresh Life Toilet” model to manage human waste. Furthermore, after experiencing a devastating fire in the first slum where he worked, Philippe is now training up volunteer fire brigades in slum communities and is installing fire hydrants so that fires can be put out in a timely and efficient manner.
Philippe is changing mindsets on two levels. First, he is demonstrating to public authorities that the best solution is to invest in slums, versus ignoring them or altogether resettling them. In the Philippines, Philippe has convinced public authorities to create a certificate of public convenience so that other private companies (besides Eau et Vie) can also extend water access as an essential public service; thus, helping other entrepreneurs to step in and replicate his model. Second, Philippe demonstrates to mainstream water operators (both publically and privately owned) that slum communities are indeed viable clients – as long as the right collection and distribution system is in place to ensure affordability and awareness. Over the years, Philippe has managed to increase his trust and bargaining power vis-à-vis large operators, convincing them partake in a system that is very foreign from their ‘business as usual’.
With Eau et Vie becoming recognized by the Filipino authorities, Philippe is ready to replicate his methodology globally. He has already begun work in Bangladesh and will soon launch Eau et Vie in a slum community in the Cote d’Ivoire. Philippe’s longer term scaling strategy is to franchise his methodology globally through a network of local entrepreneurs that will help him to bring Eau et Vie to 50 new countries. Ultimately, Philippe wants to change mentalities around water, proving that it’s possible to provide water through a market-based approach to the world’s most marginalized communities.