Our Smart Solar Purifiers are on their way to Haiti!

Our offices have been a hubbub of activity over the last months,  and we are delighted to report that the first production Smart Solar Purifiers are now available, just in time for our relief program in Haiti with World Concern!

We are excited to be making final preparations for a two-week trip to Jacmel, in the south of Haiti, where we’ll kick off our pilot test in partnership with World Concern. Together, we will help bring clean, safe water to more than 1800 people in two villages. (World Concern chose this project instead of another opportunity in South Somalia that we initially planned for). While it’s really the hardworking field workers and WASH managers at World Concern who will be running the program, we will be there firsthand both to help and to learn.

We’ve set aside a few Smart Solar Purifiers from the production run to provide as samples to interested institutions, and we started shipping those samples yesterday. If you’d like to try one and aren’t already on our list, drop us a line!

In the coming weeks, we’ll be providing updates and learnings from this important project in Haiti.


PotaVida Awarded $150K Grant for Pilot Test in Somalia!

WGHA Logo TitlePotaVida was selected by the Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA) for a $150,000 grant to test at scale their innovative Smart Solar Purifier, a product that provides clean water in disaster relief contexts while automatically tracking usage. PotaVida is partnering with World Concern, a global relief and development agency, to distribute and test 750 Smart Solar Purifiers in Somalia.

This is not the first grant for PotaVida, which has received a development grant from MIT’s D- Lab and won the 2011 Business Plan Competition at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. In 2014 WGHA awarded PotaVida $10,000 to further develop their Smart Solar Purifier technology, which they leveraged to close a seed round of $470,000 in angel investment. "We are thrilled to bolster the work of PotaVida, a repeat WGHF grantee, through this round of funding. WGHF has infused critical support for global health technologies on the verge of wide scale impact,” said Lisa Cohen, Executive Director of the Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA) which administers WGHF.

The Smart Solar Purifier has been designed specifically for the disaster relief context. It is a 10- liter capacity reusable unit that will operate for 1 year in the field and has a 5-year shelf life. Shipping costs are reduced and further supply chain dependency is eliminated because it packs flat and requires no consumables or filters. The purifier is simple to use: users place the filled bag in the sun, press the start button, and wait for a green light to indicate completion. A red light indicates in-progress status. Disinfection takes a few hours in full sun, allowing up to two treatment cycles per day.

The PotaVida Smart Solar Purifier is the only water disinfection device that automatically tracks every use. The electronic solar disinfection monitor logs usage, which can be downloaded by field staff. Each downloaded usage record is annotated with a location tag, and then uploaded to a centralized database for online access. The usage tracking feature eliminates the uncertainty typical of self-reported usage surveys.

An expert in disaster response, World Concern’s Chris Sheach says, “Tracking the actual usage of a product is hugely helpful, especially if you can access the data from afar. PotaVida’s approach to tracking data can change the way we measure the success of relief efforts.” Chris Sheach is the Deputy Director of Disaster Response at World Concern.

The PotaVida team was motivated by an understanding of the low usage rates of products in the field. Co-founder and CEO, Charlie Matlack, PhD, explains:

We learned that products distributed in acute disasters have usage rates ranging from 5% to 25%. The problem is not that we don’t have products that disinfect water; it is that they are not used. We developed our features to provide accurate and near real-time data from the field so usage rates can be tracked and improved.

The PotaVida Smart Solar Purifier uses a method called solar disinfection or “SODIS,” which is recommended by the World Health Organization1 and the Centers for Disease Control2. The method uses ultraviolet light from the sun. However, solar disinfection has long struggled to achieve high rates of adoption because it is impossible to tell whether disinfection is occurring, and when it is complete, since it depends on weather conditions and other factors. The Smart Solar Purifier addresses these concerns by measuring UV intensity and duration, showing users that disinfection is working and when their water is safe to drink.

The partnership with World Concern represents a first test at scale of the data collection and water disinfection, which were successfully tested in a small pilot in Uganda in 2014. Sheach states:

World Concern is excited to partner with PotaVida, especially in Somalia – an area of great need. Their products will help us provide life-saving clean water to displaced people, and have the additional impact of helping to measure - and continuously improve - the success of our programs.

Data, The Roadmap to Achieving Universal Access to Safe Water

Data, as the basis for evidence-based decision-making and accountability, are a crucial pillar of the post-2015 development agenda. UN Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

This September the UN General Assembly adopted The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda. The 17 goals include providing universal access to safe water by 2030 (Goal #6). Like so many people, I want to realize universal access to safe water – but it is an immense challenge. How exactly are we going to achieve it?

With any sufficiently complex challenge there is no panacea—it will require a myriad of ideas and solutions, and the work of countless amazing people and institutions. However, at the heart of the solutions will be the use of accurate data. UN General Assembly

Over the last 15 years, the number of people without access to safe water was halved during the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). From the successes and failures of programs during the MDGs the disaster relief and aid organizations learned many lessons. A principle lesson is the importance of collecting accurate data on what is, and what is not, working. Without it, you can’t identify solutions to promote.

The UN report from 2015, the final year to achieve the MDGs, is unequivocal that an essential lesson is the need to collect accurate data:

The MDG monitoring experience has clearly demonstrated that effective use of data can help to galvanize development efforts, implement successful targeted interventions, track performance and improve accountability. Thus sustainable development demands a data revolution to improve the availability, quality, timeliness and disaggregation of data to support the implementation of the new development agenda at all levels. 2015 MDG Report (p. 10)

Funders and thought leaders in global health agree. Bill Gates, a champion of global health, and especially access to safe water, stated in his blog that the MDGs “focused the world’s attention on disease and poverty, and by using data to measure progress, we could see which countries were succeeding and which were falling behind.”

At PotaVida, we make a strong assertion about data: we believe that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. We are fueled by our drive to collect accurate data, and believe accurate data are a fundamental component of achieving any large goal. Accurate data enables accurate analysis, and informs changes to optimize outcomes. Without accurate measures of success, aid interventions will replicate invisible failures.

On a more granular level, the data from our Smart Solar Purifiers allows us to see which communities, and even which households, are getting clean water and which aren’t – and provides an opportunity to address any gaps. We welcome the challenge of the SDGs, and the opportunity to contribute accurate, real-time data, to help achieve global health outcomes.