From COCO to H2O--Building a facility to make activated carbon water filters from coconut shells

From COCO to H2O--Building a facility to make activated carbon water filters from coconut shells

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

In the end, we want to see the world be a place where clean drinking water is abundant and children do not become sick from the water they drink. We are devoted to providing clean drinking water to communities in Ecuador. This project will start out as a simple construction of an activated carbon water filter factory in Muisne, Ecuador, and will end up being a program that stimulates new innovations, promotes nationwide health through improved access and affordability to clean water, creates a new local industry and new jobs, and helps our organization reach its goal of providing clean water treatment plants on a national scale. We hope that this project, when fully developed, plays an integral role in the development of a national Ecuadorian clean water industry.

About Project

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

Our project will have its effects on many levels. First, it will provide Agua Muisne and other groups with a necessary material for drinking water treatment, thereby improving health directly through the prevention of waterborne illnesses. Second, the sale of activated carbon to private companies and shrimp farmers will pay for us to employ skilled workers in the activated carbon plant. In a community like Muisne with very little reliable employment, this aspect of the project is crucial. Third, we will be utilizing all local materials in the production of the activated carbon, reducing dependence on outside resources and finding new and innovative ways to utilize unwanted waste products from local coconut palm farms. Fourth, and most important, this project is designed to have an impact on a national scale. If Ecuador hopes to sustainably provide clean water to its citizens, it must first develop local industries that provide the necessary raw materials instead of relying on importation. We hope that this project will represent not just the start-up financing for a small factory in a small town in Ecuador, but an essential cog in the machine moving towards a reliable Ecuadorian national drinking water supply.
Impact: How does it Work

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

As we have grown over the last four years, we have learned to use locally-available products whenever possible. In our construction, we use local materials because they are cheaper and more readily available. We buy water jugs made locally for the same reasons. We also believe that by spending our funds locally, we are bolstering local Ecuadorian industries, providing jobs and reliable sources of income for people within Ecuador. However, we have been forced to purchase imported activated carbon--an important element in removing dangerous chemical contaminants from drinking water--because there is no local production. Other organizations like ours in Ecuador also purchase activated carbon from abroad. This should not be the case. Activated carbon is a simple material made by heating charcoal in a special type of kiln. In fact, Muisne has one of the best available sources for making activated carbon: coconut shells. With this project, we plan to build a small factory in Muisne for manufacturing activated carbon from unwanted cocnut shells. The facility will include a structure with an office and small storage area and an open space with a earth pit for producing charcoal and the steam kiln needed for the process of activating the charcoal. Our project aims to produce ample quantities of activated carbon from a local waste product. The activated carbon will be used to purify water in our water systems and will be sold at cost to other Ecuadorian NGOs for use in their water projects. Furthermore, the activated carbon will be valuable to local entrepreneurs such as shrimp cultivators who need to grow shrimp larvae in clean water. Our own factory will be a stimulus for the local economy, providing jobs to people in a place where unemployment is the norm. This project will initiate a broad shift toward better health in Muisne and Ecuador as a whole. We will be supporting the growth of a clean water industry in Ecuador through a creative approach to an old problem, while simultaneously fostering entrepreneurship and providing a boost to the local economy.
About You
Agua Muisne
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Agua Muisne

Organization Phone


Organization Address

6014 The Terraces

Organization Country

, MD, Baltimore City

Country where this project is creating social impact

, E

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.

Muisne is a county in Ecuador on the northern coast. It has a population of about 30,000 people scattered through dozens of towns, the largest of which has about 12,000 residents. Compared with the rest of Ecuador, Muisne is impoverished. The life expectancy in Muisne is about 10 years less than in other parts of the country. There is a small hospital and several clinics in the county, but they are understaffed and lack necessary equipment such as operating rooms and sterile tools. Nowhere in the county is there a reliable piped water source. The municipal government, because of instability and corruption, has repeatedly failed in its efforts to build adequate water treatment systems, leaving the job to small NGOs like Agua Muisne to provide small-scale drinking water purification. Additionally, Muisne's population is rapidly growing, making it difficult for our water programs to expand rapidly enough to keep up with the steadily increasing demand.

People in Muisne value their health. For the most part, they know they do not have access to safe drinking water and they are motivated to finding ways to obtain it. While the municipal government is generally disorganized, it has committed to support Agua Muisne's efforts in the past and is sincerely interested in improving the health of its citizens.

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

I first visited Muisne in 2006. I had spent six weeks working in Muisne's hospital, seeing dozens of children every day with severe gastrointestinal illnesses. I suspected that drinking water might have been the culprit in many of these cases and completed a study to test available water sources in the area. I found that none of the local water sources was safe to drink and in fact, most had thousands of E. coli in just 100mL. Making the link between the hundreds of sick children I had seen while working in the hospital and the bacteria I could see growing on petri dishes motivated me to do something to improve access to clean water in Muisne.

When I came back to the USA, I founded Agua Muisne officially and raised money so I could return to Muisne and build drinking water treatment systems there. Four years later, we have 5 water treatment systems purifying water using sediment filters, activated carbon, and UV sterilization. Each system provides water for 500 people daily. The water is sold for about one cent per liter, enough money to pay for the salary of a manager at each system and for operating costs. Each of our five water systems is a self-sustaining entity that provides both clean water and a source of employment. We have found that people consuming our water have only 48% the diarrheal illnesses of people consuming water from other sources..

I am proud of the success Agua Muisne has had. The credit belongs entirely with the people in Muisne who have supported this project and all the foreign volunteers who have devoted their time to assist Agua Muisne.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

There are several ways we have measured our success. One is through a survey completed by a public health student for her master's thesis that demonstrates that people who consume Agua Muisne's water have 48% the rate of diarrheal illnesses as people consuming water from other sources.

Another is the fact that we have succeeded in making our water systems sustain themselves entirely based on the revenue from their own water sales. Each water system manager is encouraged to take on an entrepreneurial role, finding ways to improve the service we provide, thereby improving our distribution of clean water while simultaneously generating a larger income for her/himself. Our economic self-sustainability is an indication that our systems attract a broad market, as reflected in the fact that each water system provides water to about 500 people each day.

We believe there is a third aspect of our program that has been successful. Our educational efforts have been aimed at creating a long-term awareness of health issues related to water. While it is difficult to quantify the success of an educational program, we have taught directly over 1000 students in Muisne about the importance of clean water, and we have seen this effort reflected in the interest that young people take in our water programs.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001- 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Build a fully functional activated carbon factory in Muisne, Ecuador.

Task 1

Design an activated carbon factory. Consult with foreign activated carbon manufacturers. The plant will contain a storage space with an attached office and an outdoor charcoal pit and kiln.

Task 2

Build the factory. This factory will be built on an area of land donated by the municipality, approximately 25mx25m. We will need three workers for two months to complete construction.

Task 3

Complete a market analysis, including identifying local suppliers of coconut shells, other activated carbon vendors in Ecuador, and entities purchasing activated carbon.

Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Become a national supplier of activated carbon for water projects and other applications.

Task 1

Hire staff. Find local employees to operate the factory, including two workers and one administrative assistant.

Task 2

Begin production of activated carbon. Test our product for comparability to imported products.

Task 3

Find customers. Because we will not be subject to import duties, our activated carbon will be much more affordable than alternatives. We will also sell the activated carbon at cost to aid agencies.

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

We hope that over the next three years we will have founded a local activated carbon industry in Muisne, with reach throughout the entire country of Ecuador. This will facilitate more water aid projects, considering that a reliable source of affordable activated carbon will reduce operating costs for many water treatment applications. This will help Agua Muisne become a recognizable and well-respected name throughout the country and will assist us in promoting our other drinking water interventions as we continue to expand in other fields.

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

There are a number of technical and logistical barriers we will face.

Producing activated carbon is not tremendously complicated, but there are several aspects about the process that require repeated revisions to ensure the proper conditions to obtain a good product. We will consult thoroughly with activated carbon manufacturers about best practices before designing the plant.

We will need to complete a thorough market analysis to identify purchasers and their specific needs so that we can ensure our activated carbon sales are adequate to keep the plant in continuous operation.

This project cannot be completed with a $10,000 grant alone. Therefore, we must obtain other sources of funding. We have already obtained commitment from the local municipality for the right to a plot of land for construction of the plant. We have several private donors who committed to make contributions for this project. Finally, we will also need to reach out to other NGOs and foundations to ensure that this projects adequately funded. We will be submitting proposals to a number of other organizations and starting a fundraising campaign to complete fundraising for this project.

Tell us about your partnerships

Over the past four years, we have worked with several other organizations in Ecuador. In one town inside Muisne County, Estero de Platano, we recently completed the construction of a water treatment system that was funded and built jointly by Agua Muisne and another organization called Yanapuma. We have worked with the Rotary Club in Esmeraldas to build household biosand filters for a community north of Muisne. And we have collaborated with the Catholic University of Esmeraldas to do health education and promotion of Agua Muisne's water systems. We have collaborated on health campaigns with the Women's Forum in Muisne; we have an ongoing partnership with the Ministry of Public Health and the Hospital of Muisne to provide clean water for communities in urgent need during the flood season; we have worked with the municipality to design a new water treatment plant in Cabo San Francisco, another community within Muisne; and many other similar collaborations.

Explain your selections

Much of our funding comes from the donations of friends, familiy members of people involved with Agua Muisne, and outside individuals who have learned about Agua Muisne through our website or word of mouth.

We have worked with foundations and NGOs in Ecuador on joint projects. In some cases, these groups provided some funding for the projects.

We have received corporate support from several water filtration companies in the USA and one private company in Ecuador. In some cases, donations were made in the form of filtration equipment and in other cases cash donations paid for part of the construction of water treatment plants.

The local government of Muisne has supported Agua Muisne in the past by providing construction materials to build our water systems and will be donating land for our current project.

Customers are the largest ongoing supporter of Agua Muisne. Through water sales and in the future through the sale of activated carbon, we keep our operations running without the need for any further outside investments thanks to the revenue obtained from sales to our customers.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Agua Muisne has five water systems functioning steadily in two provinces of Ecuador. We intend to raise funds to continue with the construction of new water systems. We also hope that by extending into the area of activated carbon production, we will deepen our impact throughout the country. We will use activated carbon production as a link to build relationships with other NGOs, and any profits from the sale of activated carbon will be reinvested to pay for the construction of new water treatment facilities. In three years, we hope that Agua Muisne will have a flourishing activated carbon production that will have also contributed to the advancement of our primary goal of providing clean drinking water to the Ecuadorian people through the construction of drinking water treatment plants.

Which barriers to health and well-being does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Limited access to preventative tools or resources


Lack of physical access to care/lack of facilities


Lack of affordable care

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Clean drinking water is a preventive health measure and has been shown to be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve health. It prevents acute illnesses and the long-term effects of chronic or repeated infections. Our project will make clean water more affordable by reducing the cost of necessary supplies. It will also make clean water more prevalent by providing a reliable and consistent means of obtaining clean water. Finally, by initiating the growth of a local industry in Muisne, we will move towards a more prosperous and self-reliant community in Muisne and all of Ecuador.

How are you growing the impact of your organization or initiative?
Please select up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services


Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

We currently are expanding our reach into neighboring provinces by building more drinking water plants in surrounding areas. We plan to continue our expansion through this program, which will allow us to make connections with NGOs throughout the country, facilitating their work while simultaneously strengthening our own organization.

We believe this program will allow us to expand geographically through nationwide activated carbon sales, to expand the services we provide, and to build relationships with other organizations in Ecuador from which we will both benefit.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

The local government has collaborated with us by giving access to the land where our plant will operate and in the past through the donation of construction materials. We have collaborated with several NGOs in Ecuador. Two notable ones are Yanapuma Foundation and the Rotary Club. Their support has allowed us to expand our efforts in communities where we had a less strong tie to the community than did these organizations. We have received support from for-profit companies interested in developing corporate responsibility programs focused on clean drinking water. These include the American companies Sun Water Systems and APEC, and the Ecuadorian Hotel Casa Ceibo. The Catholic University of Esmeraldas has also supported our work and provided students for some of our research projects.