Technology can offer tremendous added value in solving the water problem - Aqua for All

Technology can offer tremendous added value in solving the water problem

Published: 9th December 2021

The Jerry Can Water Filter is an easy-to-use water filter that fits onto standard jerry cans to provide clean drinking water in developing countries. Its filter removes chemicals, dirt and 99.9999% of bacteria and parasites from the water, resulting in clean and safe drinking water.

We interviewed Olivier de Gruijter, an award-winning design engineer and founder of social enterprise JERRY, to find out what drives him:

“I studied industrial design at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. During my studies, I travelled through India, where I was confronted with enormous water scarcity. I saw people carrying heavy water pitchers on their heads for miles. As I was reading about the topic, I found out that access to safe drinking water is still a huge problem in many parts of the world. I figured out technology can offer tremendous added value in solving the problem.

Almost 800 million people have no access to clean drinking water. My studies offered me a very good combination of technology and creativity. I wanted to be involved in socially relevant projects, work on ‘real world problems’, and decided to focus my studies on the water challenge. After graduating on the subject of water filtration, I took up the challenge to develop an affordable water filter with usability at the core of the design.

I started developing a water filter that fits onto the jerry cans that many people already possess. By using these jerry cans, which are an integral part of the existing water infrastructure, we minimize the size and cost of the Jerry filters. Therefore, the filter is compact to transport (e.g. to emergency areas), and, combined with a jerry can, it functions as a tap for household water that is easy to operate and maintain.

My idea gained momentum when I won the Dyson Award (Netherlands) where the assignment was to ‘create a product that solves a problem’. As a result of the exposure after winning the award, journalists and experts within the water sector approached me to continue the development. Together with Eise van Maanen, a former financial consultant with experience in the water sector from both UN organisations and the private sector, I went for it.

Thanks to Aqua for All’s subsidy, Eise and I could quit our jobs to dedicate 100% of our time to JERRY. It is a complex assignment, from developing the product to setting up the distribution and the sales. We work together with Bopinc, as part of the Aqua for All trajectory to find the optimal product-market fit, and with the Delft University of Technology to optimise the technical working principle.

We have just conducted a small product trial in Ethiopia with Aqua for All, where 20 households used the product for a week and were asked to provide feedback that we can now feed into an improved version of the design. Aqua for All’s experts advise us on this matter, as well as on the question who our customers are, and they support us in writing a business plan.

Also, we are currently testing 130 Jerry filter prototypes in an informal settlement in Iraq and Gaza, in collaboration with Oxfam and Cesvi, funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund. Field research is extremely important in the phase Jerry is in, and this pilot allows us to ‘tweak’ the filter based on the feedback we receive before we start producing it on a larger scale.

Our business case is not easy. We deliver a product to people who often do not have the financial means to pay for it. In the long term, we want to produce our filters locally to create jobs and, in the end, we want to make profit to ensure our sustainability.

Our goal is to reach one million people in five years, but we realise this is only a drop in the ocean. To create significant change, we need to produce at a large scale. That is why we are looking for large international organisations to partner with us in the field of production and distribution”.

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