The Hippo Water Roller Project

The Hippo Water Roller empowers rural women and children to transport and store 90L (24gal) of water with relative ease while saving time and energy.

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Your idea

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Positioning of your initiative on the mosaic diagram:

Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Limited focus on long-term impact

Which of the principles is the primary focus of your work?

Move people up the sanitation ladder

If you believe some other barrier or principle should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic

This field has not been completed

Name Your Project

The Hippo Water Roller Project

Describe Your Idea

The Hippo Water Roller empowers rural women and children to transport and store 90L (24gal) of water with relative ease while saving time and energy.


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What is your signature innovation, your new idea, in one sentence?

The Hippo Water Roller empowers rural women and children to transport and store 90L (24gal) of water with relative ease while saving time and energy.

Describe your innovation. What makes your idea unique and different than others doing work in the field?

Despite many initiatives to address hardships endured by rural communities, access to water remains a monumental problem affecting at least 1-billion people, particularly in outlying areas.

The Hippo Water Roller is an appropriate technology designed specifically to improve a family’s ability to collect water with much more ease and in much less time. The weight of the water is borne on the ground requiring minimal effort to push or pull as they roll the drum over many types of terrain rather than carried on their heads.

Women and children in particular are empowered to carry out this cultural task without suffering the long term effects of heavy loads on their spinal column. They also have more time and energy to spend on other important tasks at home and school.

The durable and simple design of the roller ensures that: little maintenance is required, a flexible infrastructure for accessing different water points at different times of the year is provided and hygienic storage is possible.

Delivery Model: How do you implement your innovation and apply it to the challenge/problem you are addressing?

Most rural communities are impoverished and lack ability to purchase this technology. The first phase of this initiative is to solicit funds from donor organisations, individuals, fund-raising initiatives and corporate social investment budgets (with marketing potential) to fully subsidize the cost of these rollers.

Communities are introduced to the concept in partnership with local NGO’s and rollers are handed out on a one-per-household basis according to mandates given.

Once the manufacturing capacity reaches sustainable levels, partial-subsidy together with partial-financing options is envisaged.

How do you plan to expand your innovation?

Continuing interest and exposure of the Hippo Water Roller is generating much interest worldwide and it is hoped that Ashoka’s network could play a key role in identifying suitable partners in other countries. These partners would establish local distribution agencies where the roller is required. Local manufacturing is also a possibility.

‘Water 2 the People’, a non-profit NGO, has been incorporated in the USA to raise funds for this initiative. Partnerships with other NGO’s is an ongoing source of funding and empowers these NGO’s to be more effective in their objectives while at the same time improving access to water.

Currently, rollers are distributed to families with the greatest need. The introduction of microfinance would allow access to a new market of individuals who would not otherwise qualify for fully subsidized rollers.

Corporate sponsors are a further source of funding as the roller lends itself to marketing advantages for the sponsor by providing rollers to the community manufactured in corporate colours or with advertising banners.

Do you have any existing partnerships, and if so, how do you create them?

In order to maintain the ongoing success of this initiative together with the unpredictable and unreliable nature of donor funding requires that operating costs are kept to an absolute minimum. As far as possible, I partner with other NGO’s so as not to duplicate structures and costs. Some of these NGO’s include Operation Hunger (; Operation Upgrade (; Operation Mobilization (; and Africa Foundation ( Most of these partnerships have been established by word-of-mouth.

The initial phase of this initiative requires both fund-raising partners and local NGO’s with existing infrastructures for the identification and managed distribution of rollers as well as their own source of funders. A typical example of a fund-raising partner is Project-H-Design ( which has just completed a quick fund-raising initiative for a case study to be conducted in South Africa.

International or country specific partners are required for local fund-raising, distribution and possible local manufacture of rollers. Financing partners will be required to provide capital for micro-financing opportunities once sustainable levels have been achieved.


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Provide one sentence describing your impact/intended impact.

The simple innovative design of the Hippo Water Roller has ensured immediate benefits for its users, and continued interest and international demand has been significant.

What are the main barriers to creating or achieving your impact?

Securing sufficient and regular donor funding has been a major barrier to the further promotion and marketing of the Hippo Water Roller internationally.

Identifying and engaging with potentially suitable partners in other countries is difficult without funding and legal support.

The high cost of production linked with erratic manufacturing volumes makes it difficult to implement economies of scale.

Export from South Africa is expensive due to the volumetric size of the roller. A 6-meter (20-foot) container can accommodate a maximum of 175 rollers.

How many people have you served or plan to serve?

During the past 15 years of production we have distributed approximately 27,000 rollers in South Africa and other neighbouring countries. The majority have been sponsored or partially subsidised.

Most have been distributed on a one-per-household basis, benefiting on average 7 people per household. A typical household consists of an elderly grandmother who is looking after a number of children including orphans as a result of HIV/AIDS. This policy of identifying beneficiaries is determined by each individual community and varies from project to project.

The UN estimates that at least 1 billion people worldwide are without adequate access to water. This implies that we have only touched the very tip of the iceberg and that the need is of gigantic proportion.

The issue of sanitation has also been introduced to rural communities through the use of purification sachets and bleach. Interestingly, many recipients have simply requested more water, clean or not. More water means better hygiene which in turn reduces the incidence of disease.


On average, one Hippo Water Roller serves a family or household of seven people. Therefore 27,000 x 7 per household equals approximately 189,000 people have benefited directly from this technology.

By making the rollers available to needy households; they are immediately empowered to improve their own living conditions. They save time and energy that can be directed into either other household tasks, entrepreneurial ideas, employment and education.

There is no ‘incubation’ period while funds are poured into a large black hole, which may or may not eventually produce results. The benefit to the recipient is immediate.

The task of collecting water is traditionally left to women and children. However, with the introduction of the Hippo Water Roller, this ‘technology’ is found to be interesting and exciting to the men. Many men now collect water using the roller. It appears that the stigma of collecting water is no longer a barrier. Women have been empowered through the introduction of this technology.


Every time a handover ceremony takes place where sponsored rollers are given out to community members, guests are invited from local government, other NGO’s and local leaders to be part of the ceremony. Each of them are given an opportunity to say a few words and realise that they may be held accountable by community members, especially when it is time to vote for political parties.

These activities result in a lot of attention being drawn to these communities, and apart from the water access needs being met by the Hippo Water Rollers, many other issues like roads, transportation and medical facilities are given a better chance of being noted and addressed in the community.

Children now spend less time collecting water which typically takes place in the cooler early hours of the morning. This means that their attendance at school increases and their chances for a better education is vastly improved.

Collecting water using the roller also helps to regulate water consumption avoiding unnecessary wastage.

Please list any other measures of the impact of your innovation?

The long term health benefit to women is difficult to quantify at this stage, but there can be no doubt that the effects of not having to carry heavy loads on a daily basis will greatly improve their wellbeing.

For many, the ability to grow vegetable gardens has now become a real possibility which helps them to rise above poverty levels.

Some small businesses have been created by those who collect and sell water to others using their Hippo Water Rollers.

Is there a policy intervention element to your innovation, if so please describe?

Engaging with and getting communities to take ownership of a situation ensures their direct involvement in the solution. Many communities have seen that it is not worth waiting for authorities to deliver results; they have to become proactive. Government, unfortunately, shows an inclination to focus more on the urban communities. We however, continue to encourage rural communities to pressure authorities to improve their access to water.

An interesting phenomenon that I have witnessed is the increased attention from authorities once private or NGO ventures have taken place. Every hand-over ceremony of HWR includes at least one guest speaker from the government. This brings the communities plight to the attention of the government officials, resulting in further development including roads, medical clinics and social welfare needs.

Exactly who are the beneficiaries of your innovation?

The vast majority of beneficiaries live in rural communities, with very limited resources. NGO’s and other sponsors often select these communities as beneficiaries.

The beneficiaries are primarily women and children. Due to the impact of HIV/AIDS, there are an increasing number of elderly women who, by default, have inherited many grandchildren to look after, instead of enjoying their senior years. These grannies and children have to collect water on a daily basis.

In addition, there are many homes headed by children.

This Entry is about (Issues)


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How is your initiative financed (or how do you expect your initiative will be financed)?

The project initially requires the input of donor funds in order to operate, as the high cost of the Hippo Water Roller places it out of the price range of the families who need it most.
My first task is to identify possible sources of donor funding using tremendous emotional appeal. There are sometimes marketing spin-offs from the CSI (corporate social investment) which helps to encourage corporate involvement.

I also partner with other NGO’s that have their own infrastructure and source of donor funding. A recent example of this fund raising approach was the collaboration with Project-H-Design who managed to raise $7,500 in less than a month.

A non-profit NGO called ‘Water 2 the People’ has been incorporated specifically to fund raise for this project.

Provide information on your finances and organization:

Since 1998 the project has been run under the auspices of a private organisation called ‘Imvubu Projects’ based in South Africa. Imvubu Projects is responsible for the manufacturing and supply of a range of poverty alleviation products including the Hippo Water Roller. For this reason it is difficult to show specific financial reports for the Hippo Water Roller project as they are bundled with other sales.

Based on orders received for Hippo Water Rollers over the past two years, approximately 3,000 units were produced and distributed.

At an average price of $80 per unit x 3,000 = $240,000 for the past two years.

The organisation is run on an extremely tight budget and wherever possible, work is outsourced to avoid generating overheads that are difficult to maintain given the erratic and unpredictable nature of donor funding.

I have assistance from a number of part-time staff on an ‘as and when’ needed basis. Both manufacturing and administration for the most part is outsourced.

What is the potential demand for your innovation?

Approximately 15 million people in South Africa currently lack adequate access to water and are forced to walk long distances on a daily basis to collect their water.

Globally, approximately 1 billion people lack access to water.

Demand for the roller is likely to remain strong, as the effects of climate change add more distress to sub-Saharan Africa and other water-stressed regions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 75-250 million people will have to cope with additional limitations to water access.

What are the main barriers to financial sustainability?

Financial sustainability is dependant for the most part on increasing the volumes of Hippo Water Rollers distributed. Increased turnover will move the project into higher levels of profitability and enable further identification of suitable international partners. Currently there are no resources for expansion or effective marketing. Networking with suitable distribution partners will improve expansion capabilities.

More effective fund raising initiatives are needed from the largely untapped donor market.

The ability to employ professional skills and management will assist in growing the organisation.

The Story

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What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.

I had long been searching for different and more meaningful employment when I came across an article featuring a newly developed water transportation tool called the Hippo Water Roller. Its inventors, Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, had recognized the need for improved access to water, and their engineering background in the arms industry led them to develop a product that was appropriate for the environment yet extremely simple in design.

I saw the potential and incredible need for this appropriate technology, particularly in South Africa, a country with a relatively large rural community base, many without access to running water. In 1994 I was entrusted with the future of the HWR when Petzer and Jonker decided to pursue other careers.

With each batch of rollers I was instrumental in distributing, the more I was drawn to the communities for whom the roller was designed. This was spurred on by my own practical nature to continue to find simple solutions to the daily challenges and persistent problems facing poor, rural communities. During this process I have come to realize the significant need for rollers internationally.

Addressing the water supply and sanitation issues was one of the first priorities of the newly elected democratic government in 1994, and targets were set to ensure that all South Africans have equitable access to water and sanitation. However, this goal has yet to be realized. Until it is, the HWR has the potential to provide many families with easier access to water.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers marketing material

After matriculating at boarding school in South Africa, I attended compulsory military service for two years where I sustained extensive injuries. I entered the computer industry in both technical support and sales where I was awarded “sales person of the year” on two occasions.

I am married to Natalie, an interior decorator, for 20 years now and have two wonderful children, Warrick and Ryan, both boys.

I live in Johannesburg, SA and have been distributing Hippo Water Rollers for the past 15 years.

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