Alleviating the Achilles' Heel of the Global Water Crisis

Alleviating the Achilles' Heel of the Global Water Crisis

Port-au -Prince, HaitiDelaware, United States
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

The PackH2O water backpack is the lowest cost, ergonomically correct way to manually transport and store household water in the developing world. It holds 20L and allows women and children to avoid the in-transit contamination and water loss that often occurs when they transport water in buckets and jerry cans.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The poorest gather and transport water in discarded jerry cans and buckets originally used to ship fuel, pesticides and other chemicals. The plastic absorbs these toxins, which end up in the household water. On average, women and children travel 3.5 miles daily to collect water, carrying up to 20L per trip. Medical studies have shown that repetitive head carrying of heavy loads is harmful to the body. Furthermore, water is lost during transit and arrives home contaminated. Numerous organizations invest in clean water-drilling wells, purifying water and filtering, yet human transport of water from access point to home remains the “Achilles Heel” of the global clean water challenge. The design targets the challenges of carrying water in diverse geographies, under difficult conditions.

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

The water backpack, PackH2O, is the lowest cost, ergonomically correct way to manually transport and store household water in the developing world. It holds 20L and allows women and children to avoid the in-transit contamination and water loss that often occurs when they transport water in buckets. A wide mouth allows for fast filling, minimizing wait time at the source point that can expose women and children to danger in unstable regions. Lighter weight (7x lighter than the average jerry can) allows for fast, high-volume emergency relief shipments. A roll-down closure reduces water loss and contamination during transit while the protected spout keeps water clean for drinking. The backpack is leak proof, durable and easy to clean and sterilize and collapses when empty. It is designed to be sewn in developing markets with minimal capital and training to create needed jobs. Made from an industrial-grade woven polypropylene, it delivers strength while reducing weight and cost.
Impact: How does it Work

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

The average woman in the developing world is under 5’4” and weighs less than 125 lbs and walks on average 3.5 miles everyday to get water to bring home, making the challenge of carrying up to 40lb of water every day and over long distances a significant health issue. Water is lost during transit and more importantly arrives home contaminated. A test conducted by Battelle of jerry cans being used by Haitians to carry water found that more than 90% were contaminated with E.Coli; more than 70% previously held oil and other toxic chemicals. By using the water backpack, a woman’s life changes in the following ways:
 -Because the backpack is lighter, distributes the weight evenly and can be adjusted to the size and strength of the person wearing it, it is much easier and safer to transport water home -It can stand on its own or be hung up for dispensing water making water storage easy -Roll-down closure reduces water loss and contamination while the protected spout keeps water clean for drinking -With no chemical coating, it is water safe, easy to clean and sterilize -A wide mouth allows for fast filling, minimizing wait time at the source point that can expose women to danger in unstable regions -It leaves hands free, which helps a user to navigate steep inclines and slippery terrain and defend herself against any danger -It is available in kits that are optimally priced to be sewn and sold by women with minimal capital and training providing them jobs -Sanitizing the backpack liner in the sun removes E.coli from the liner nearly as effectively as chlorination

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

Current known alternative methods developed to carry water include: 14-liter Oxfam Bucket,
CDC Safe Water 20-liter modified jerry cans, 5-gallon (19-liter) buckets, clay pots and a barrel shaped container called the Hippo Water Roller, which carries 24 gallons of water. The Oxfam Bucket and Safe Water jerry can are moderate cost, hard-sided solutions with higher distribution and storage costs than PackH2O. The Hippo Water Roller is often filled by pouring water from dirty buckets into the drum and is not suitable for pushing over rugged terrains, such as slopes or mountains.
At scale, PackH2O costs lower than other options and is collapsible and lightweight, driving down transportation and storage costs.

Founding Story

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Greif was among the first companies to commit long-term resources to recovery efforts there. On a trip to Haiti to help install a rain catchment system in a rural village, Greif CEO David Fischer observed women carrying water in containers on their heads, and children lugging home dirty jerry cans and buckets full of water. Recognizing that the containers being used were likely chemically contaminated, he knew there was a better way and that Greif could apply its business innovation and technical skills to create a solution so he challenged a group of employees to find it. The result is the PackH2O backpack that alleviates the physical and safety challenges of getting water home.
About You
About You
First Name


Tell us about yourself/your team.

As the Chief Sustainability Officer for Greif, Scott Griffin is responsible for leading the sustainability strategy for the world’s leading industrial packaging company. Since joining Greif in 2006, Scott has helped Greif not only reduce its environmental impact, but also implemented a “sustainability-in-action” program that includes developing business innovations to alleviate humanitarian issues.

David Fischer joined Greif in 2004 as senior vice president and divisional president. He later assumed responsibility for operations in Asia, Australia and Africa. He was named CEO in 2011. Fischer identified the Achilles' Heel of the global clean water crisis and he knew that Greif had the expertise to devise a solution. It was under his direction that the water backpacks were created.

What makes you an intrapreneur? What are the skills, capabilities, and personality traits that make you an intrapreneur?

As a team with years of experience in managing and growing organizations, we have a strong entrepreneurial core. We seek and identify opportunities and focus on developing business innovations that alleviate humanitarian issues. While the scale of the problem we have identified is big, our technical skills and capabilities in manufacturing and distribution have put us in a unique position to solve this problem. We are aware of our strengths and weaknesses and where we see a weakness we partner with leading groups such as The Clinton Global Initiative and Habitat for Humanity International who can help us achieve our goals. We are fully committed to our goal.

About Your Organization
Company Country

, OH, Delaware

Primary country where this project is creating social impact

, SD, Port-au -Prince

Additional countries or regions

Kenya, Guatemala, Uganda



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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Scaling (the next step will be growing impact on a regional or even global scale)

The Solution: Why is this solution innovative for your company and industry?

We identified an important problem and knew that Greif, a global leader in industrial packaging, had the expertise to devise a better alternative. We took an industrial grade polyethylene material that is used to manufacture flexible, industrial containers and redesigned it to solve an essential need at the base of the pyramid. The result is a lighter, stronger, more sterile water transportation vessel that also produces 57.6% less CO2 emissions than traditional containers.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

• In total more than 16,000 water backpacks have been in distributed in Haiti, Guatemala, Kenya and Uganda.

• More than 4,000 water backpacks were distributed in four communities in Haiti with support from the Clinton Foundation.

• In Guatemala, women are selling the backpack to other community members, generating or supplementing income for their families and building economic stability for local communities in two successful pilot projects, one of which has been expanded through support from the Knights of Columbus.

• In Marsabit, a remote area in northeast Kenya, we have partnered with Partners for Care and Habitat for Humanity to field test 600 water backpacks with women who spend 6 hours a day obtaining water for household use.

• A study conducted by Partners in Health in Haiti found that 100% of users said the backpack is comfortable, 72% could carry more water than with buckets, 60% said it took less time to carry water home with the backpack.

What is your projected impact over the next 1 to 3 years?

We are pursuing three separate business models simultaneously: disaster relief model, livelihood model and entrepreneurship model. The first two models involve the distribution of the backpacks via NGOs and other partners. The third model involves creating micro-entrepreneurial opportunities in developing economies.

We estimate that by combining the three models, by 2016, we will distribute close to 500,000 backpacks and touch two and half million lives in 10 countries.

*Based on the assumption that each backpack touches five lives

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

1) Generating awareness about the problems surrounding the current methods of personal water transport and storage and effectively communicating the benefits of the new solution. We are working to overcome this by collaborating with partner organizations who have experience in training and educating community members.

2) Scaling something as aspirational as transforming the way water is carried. To address this we are working hard to build an investment model vs. and aid based model. We have a for profit approach as opposed to a foundation/ charity based approach.

What is the benefit or value you're creating for your business?

- The application of our expertise and core competencies to the creation of new products that help improve the lives of individuals in developing economies

- Gaining a better understanding of the needs of the base of the pyramid

- Entrance into new markets

- Increasing visibility on the issue with key stakeholders

- Increase visibility of the company via awards such as the Popular Science's Best of What's New and Global Green awards

- Strengthening of our relationship with our customers

How are you leveraging internal resources (funds, time, knowledge, etc.) to support this initiative?

Greif has committed its internal manufacturing division to produce and improve upon the development of the backpack. We are also leveraging the capabilities of our partner Partners in Health (PIH) for testing and validation of impact of the backpacks. Greif has provided significant funding for the program to date.

Greif has also partnered with a Columbus based venture capital firm, NCT Ventures, to lead operations and marketing efforts for PackH2O. NCT Ventures along with Greif, has built an exceptional team with the necessary funding needed to accomplish our mission.

Expand on your answer, explaining the long-term funding and support plan.

Our focus is on building a sustainable model based on commerce. Greif & NCT Ventures have made a commitment for the long term. Both companies understand that to tackle a global issue such as the crisis tied to water takes time, resources and requires funding. From a resource perspective, Greif has offered its core competencies in manufacturing and distribution and invested two million dollars in R&D and design; they are committed to continuing this investment to provide a product that is both environmentally and economically better than the alternative. NCT supports this vision and is ready to make the necessary investment towards this social venture. Our strong partnerships with PIH, the Clinton Foundation and others are helping us scale our efforts.

Tell us about your partnerships across your company and externally that are key to your project's success.

Within our company we work in full cooperation with our manufacturing, product development, marketing and communications departments.

We partnered with NCT ventures to lead operations and marketing efforts.

Our partners are:
Globally: Operation Blessing, Partners in Health
Haiti: Clinton Foundation
Kenya: Partners for Care, Habitat for Humanity
Guatemala: CXCatalysts, CEMACO, Knights of Columbus and the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala

What internal support have you gotten for your project? What kind of push-back have you received?

We have received full support from Micheal Gasser, former CEO, current chairman of board and from our current CEO David Fischer who has initiated this project. We also have full support of Greif's manufacturing, distribution and communication departments. We have not received any push-back.