OHORIZONS: Low-Tech, High Thinking: A scaleable approach to clean water access

New York, United StatesShyamnagar, Bangladesh
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

OHorizons designs, implements and scales low-tech solutions to benefit underserved communities. Our solutions are affordable, open-source and locally-sourced. We’re currently scaling our Wood Mold for BioSand Filters: a cheaper, easier and faster way to bring clean water to those who need it most.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if no child died from diarrhea caused by drinking dirty water every again and hundreds of thousands of children grew up to be healthy, productive global citizens.
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Lack of access to clean water affects nearly a billion people. A typical project involves a foreign NGO amassing funds and working with local partners to install community water systems that are highly technical, capital-intensive, expensive, and dependent on foreign supply chains. While people get clean water (for a time), they are entirely reliant on outside organizations for financing and technical expertise.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Our Wood Mold is a first step in altering this current model of dependency. Now, beneficiaries are the driving force behind a project instead of passive spectators. Our Wood Mold is a cheap, easy, and fast way to fabricate a robust, proven household filtration technology, the concrete BioSand Filter (BSF). Traditionally, concrete is poured into a steel mold and allowed to cure overnight. Then, the mold form is removed, leaving the filter body. Compared to a traditional steel mold, our Wood Mold is cheaper (~1/10 the cost), lighter (~1/3 the weight), and easier to use (100% local materials and tools, no prior experience required). This means that anyone, anywhere can build a Wood Mold, make BSFs, and bring clean water to their community.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In 2014, we worked with a university group from the US who had been working with a village in Mali and was travelling in order to train community members on using BioSand Filters (BSF). They were supposed to receive two steel molds upon arrival, unfortunately, the welder did not make them properly. With limited time and resources, the group used OHorizons’ Wood Mold as a substitute. Simply by downloading our manual and with minimal assistance from our technical team, they were able to make 3 Wood Molds with no access to electricity and successfully train community members on how to construct, operate, and maintain the Molds and BSFs. Now the community will be able to set up a BSF business to ensure everyone can have access to clean water

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2014, the Wood Mold was used in Bangladesh, Ecuador, and Mali. Each month people around the world download our construction manual. In Bangladesh and Ecuador we trained our partners to construct five Molds using 100% local tools and materials. Since then, 250 filters have collectively been installed, giving 1,250 people clean water. In Mali, equipped with only our construction manual, the group constructed three Wood Molds and have made nearly 20 Filters, demonstrating this is truly a low-tech, DIY solution. If an equivalent number of steel molds were made, nearly $9000 would have been spent. Instead, it collectively cost less than $1000 for 13 Wood Molds. These community members now have the knowledge to make Molds and Filters on their own for years to come. In 2016, we will continue work with our Bangladeshi partner to impact 10,000 people. We hope to reach 1 million people by 2023.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The Wood Mold is open-source so anyone, anywhere can download our construction manual and appendix to make the Mold and fabricate filters. Further, we encourage local adaptations; we understand tools and materials vary by region and encourage partners to slightly modify the process or design as needed. This grassroots, open-source approach means the technology can scale rapidly with few barriers to adoption. OHorizons also works to raise funds to support larger projects, as in Bangladesh, so millions can gain clean water access over the next 5-7 years.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

As a non-profit, OHorizons is funded mainly through private donations. This ensures we can maintain a technical staff to conduct trainings and consult with potential Wood Mold users. We are also building relationships with corporations to potentially offer in-kind donations (cement, sand, etc for Filters) for larger projects such as in Bangladesh. Beneficiaries also pay a portion of the cost of their filter.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Other organizations also provide training and educational resources for the BioSand Filter. These organizations use the steel mold in their trainings and materials; while effective in certain situations, the high cost and need for welding expertise is a significant barrier. Enter the Wood Mold. Other groups have tried to create a wood mold for precisely the same reasons as we have outlined (cost, skills, tools, infrastructure). However, the OHorizons’ Wood Mold is significantly more sustainable. Our Wood Mold is able to make +50 Filters. Other versions can only produce 5-10 filters.

Founding Story

There really was no “Aha!” moment. Our design process involves a lot of deliberate research to fully understand complex problems and systems. Only after this in depth analysis do we begin to brainstorm and iterate solutions. The process goes something like this: innovate – develop – test – test some more – innovate and refine – test again – refine some more – retest some more – validate - localize. We do all of this testing and refinement to ensure that we have developed the best solution for the problem at hand. In the case of the Wood Mold, the problem was how to get household water filters to communities in a way that was empowering, affordable, sustainable, and efficient.


OHorizons has two full-time staff: Natalie Relich, the Executive Director, and Dylan Lunney, the Director of Communications. Together Natalie and Dylan handle the program related aspects of the organization (finding and vetting potential partners, answering technical related questions about the Mold, etc) as well as the operation aspects like marketing and communications. Natalie was part of the original team that helped conceive of the Wood Mold concept and plan the initial field test in Honduras in 2012. She has a BA in Public Policy from the University of Michigan and a MPA with a specialty in international development from NYU’s Robert Wagner School of Public Service. Dylan has a BA in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin. Before joining OHorizons, Dylan worked in the private sector in startup environments. He is a quintessential self-starter and thrives on using critical thinking to solve problems. Natalie and Dylan are serious about their professional development and the impact their work will have. In addition to their traditional education, their methods have been influenced through social innovation work with StartingBloc, the Un-School of Disruptive Design, and Be Social Change. OHorizons is in the process of putting together a full Board of Directors, but currently Orlando Bustos and Tamara Minick Scolao make up the organization’s leadership. Mr. Bustos has over 25 years of experience in the automotive industry and has held multiple senior executive positions. Mr. Bustos has extensive experience managing global operations, executing complex restructurings and forging new business development in emerging markets, with specific emphasis on China. He is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of OHorizons Global, Inc., a global management consulting firm focused on the automotive and industrial sectors. Prior to founding OHorizons, Mr. Bustos served as Business Leader for Electronics and Controls, OE Powertrain, Hybrid systems, and Driveline at General Motors Global Powertrain Group and was the Executive Director of Global Purchasing. During his tenure at General Motors, his responsibilities included leading corporate wide initiatives in the areas of globalization, powertrain, operations, and global purchasing and supply chain throughout Europe, South America and Asia. Mr. Bustos is currently on the Board of Directors of Cooper-Standard, and serves on its compensation committee, of the Michigan Science Center, and of the OHorizons Foundation. Previously, he has been on the Board of Directors of GMI Diesel Engineering in Japan, Isuzu Motors Polska in Poland, and DMAX in the U.S. Mr. Bustos earned a B.S.in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and an M.B.A. as a Sloan Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tamara Minick-Scokalo is currently the President of Growth Markets at Pearson. She has over 30 years of experience in leadership positions in large multi-national corporations, where she has built businesses across a number of industries and regions, often requiring complex restructuring and significant change management. Tamara is currently Pearson’s President of Growth Markets, responsible for Pearson’s businesses in China, India, Brazil, South Africa and a number of other fast-growing economies around the world. Pearson has more than 13,000 employees in these countries. Tamara joined Pearson in 2012 and has previously held senior leadership roles in a number of global businesses including Procter & Gamble, Cadbury plc, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and Elizabeth Arden. More recently she led a high-tech start-up, Trax Retail, through fund raising and first revenue generation. Tamara earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Lehigh University and joined P&G in a manufacturing role. She later moved into research & development, then marketing and senior management positions within the firm. She has lived in the US, Europe, and the Far East and has worked all over the world. Tamara is passionate about improving people’s lives through education, and believes in the importance of attracting, developing and retaining top talent and operating with high integrity and ethics.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

social media

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Executive Director

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Clean Water and Sanitation.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

While at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Natalie was the co-chair of the Stonewall Policy Alliance, a student group aimed at fostering discussion around LGBTQ issues inside and outside the classroom. Natalie and the leader of another identity based group, formed a coalition for all identity based groups in order to more effectively meet the needs of these groups and their constituents. The coalition met with professors, the administration, as well as other student leaders to discuss how to better represent these identity based student groups and their concerns as well as how to more effectively incorporate issues of diversity into school programming. This coalition was the first of its kind and was institutionalized as a permanent fixture of student governance thereafter. Throughout this experience, Natalie worked with a diverse group of stakeholders towards a common goal and was able to balance a myriad of interests, sometimes competing, to achieve success. Working in international development with a diverse group of partners like donors, implementing partners, corporate sponsors, etc also requires leadership and management skills to balance each stakeholder's interests and make sure the project is carried out efficiently and effectively.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Our projects are implemented through our on-the-ground partners. In our initial pilots we worked with: a community organization, LEDARS, in Bangladesh, a local rotary chapter in Ecuador, and a University of Illinois School of Engineering group in Mali. We are also starting a new project in Kenya in the coming months with the NGO Amua-Africa Project. OHorizons has directly provided some sort of assistance to these organizations, whether it is financial or technical (training or additional resources beyond the Wood Mold Construction Manual). Every month we receive approximately 10 downloads of our Wood Mold materials. Because it is open-source, we do not control who is implementing it or where, but are available to assist any group that chooses to use the technology as necessary.