The Q Drum - Water transporter for developing countries

The Q Drum - Water transporter for developing countries

South Africa
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

The Q Drum is a rollable water container with a longitudinal shaft through the centreline which is pulled with a rope run through the shaft.

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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?

Lack of access to equity/credit in the sector

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

Financing for the new consumer

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

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

The Q Drum is a rollable water container with a longitudinal shaft through the centreline which is pulled with a rope run through the shaft.

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

The idea of the Q Drum originated in response to the needs of rural people in developing countries for clean and potable water and easing the burden of conveying it. The uniqueness of the Q Drum lies in the idea and design of the longitudinal shaft or doughnut hole which is acknowledged by the fact that worldwide patents (including the US, 2 patents and Europe) had been granted for the concept, thus confirming the novelty and inventiveness of the design. The drum is pulled along using a rope run through the shaft. There are no removable or breakable handles and the rope can be replaced by means available everywhere such as a leather thong or rope woven from plant material. This simplicity of the Q Drum makes it an ideal tool for the African Continent and other developing countries where even a hammer and a nail are scarce commodities and its durability has been proven by extensive actual use in some rural areas of Southern Africa.

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

Fifteen years ago when we started with the project we soon realised that high manufacturing and transport costs put it out of reach for most people – those who need it cannot afford it … We then realised that funding by international donors, non-governmental organizations and private corporations is essential for sustainability but these organisations were then not as sensitive to the needs of ‘those who cannot afford it’. Sales didn’t materialise and having exhausted our resources, we decided to abandon the project.

How do you plan to expand your innovation?

In the beginning we received tremendous response from all over the world, received one of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise (1996), featured on Mercedes-Benz’s website, appeared in Time Magazine etc. but as mentioned above, no sales materialised. In 2007 the Q Drum formed part of an exhibition titled “Design for the other 90%” held at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York. Articles on the Q Drum also appeared in various publications and since then we’ve been inundated with inquiries from humanitarian/welfare organisations.
” It is my opinion that 15 years ago, you and your brother were just ahead of the times. Now the philanthropic and social entrepreneurial world are growing exponentially. Wealthy western companies are waking up to the world's needs and seeing the value of social ventures... NOW is the time”. These are the words of the CEO of a film company in America interested in making a promotional film of the Q Drum to approach some of these companies and foundations for donor/sponsorships.

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

No, we don’t have any existing partnerships.

Provide one sentence describing your impact/intended impact.

To provide a means of easing the burden of conveying clean and potable water to as many of the needy people in the developing countries.

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

As a result of its robustness and durability, the cost per unit, although every effort has been made to keep it as low as possible, makes it unaffordable to most people. The product is intended for the poorest of the poor… those who need it can't afford it and those who can don't need it. Funding by international donors, non-governmental organizations and private corporations is essential for sustainability. Although the idea and design of the container is unique, the container is manufactured from linear low density polyethylene through rotational moulding which is a low-tech and fairly uncomplicated process and with the necessary funding manufacturing plants can be set up in most developing countries to counter high transport costs. With polyethylene freely available the container can be easily replicated with the necessary technical assistance to whoever is interested in manufacturing it.

How many people have you served or plan to serve?

The vast number of people in developing countries ‘who need it’. The availability of clean water is one of the simple necessities of life for people everywhere. Millions of people all over the world, especially in rural Africa, live many kilometers from a reliable source of clean water, and conveying the water over long distances through cumbersome and far too often unhygienic means, becomes a wearisome burden.


During drought relief operations and refugee support programmes, the delivery of potable water is essential to prevent outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and other water borne diseases. Many women and children in developing countries carrying heavy containers of water on their heads sustain neck and spine injuries, which is a major concern to health organizations and can be prevented by using the Q Drum.


Water in adequate quantities is heavy to carry and fetching it by conventional means can take up several hours a day for each household. Additional hands become more valuable for such daily tasks, creating a demand for families to have more children. With the Q Drum more water per journey can be transported with less effort, reducing the need and usefulness of extra hands – smaller families would improve the quality of life of communities and put less of a strain on the environment.

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

The longitudinal shaft of the Q-Drum also serves as a vertical support structure for stacking purposes. It increases the compression resistance when filled containers are stacked on top of each other. Thus storage space as well as containers for transport can be utilised more efficiently thus countering the higher cost of the Q-Drum.
Packaging waste is a worldwide problem especially in the developing world and because of its durability and demand/use, the Q-Drum can help reduce the extent to which packaging becomes waste.

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

There is no policy intervention element to our innovation.

Exactly who are the beneficiaries of your innovation?

The women and children of the developing world. Even a child can pull a 50 litre drum over flat terrain for several kilometers without undue strain. This could shift the burden of water collection away from the adult women to children – they play with it and love to fetch water. Women can be left free to do other important work and by not carrying these heavy and unstable loads on their heads, many neck and spine injuries can be avoided.

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

Untill a few years ago when we decided not to pursue the project any further having exhausted all our resources, the development costs of the project, other costs and patent costs, were financed by ourselves out of private funds and through the selling of assets, and a few individuals who bought an interest in the project. As already mentioned elsewhere all the renewed interest in the project, very likely as a result of the ‘current growth in the philantropic and social entrepreneurial world and wealthy western companies waking up to the world’s needs seeing the value of social ventures’, opens up avenues of donor/sponsorship not previously available. Possibilities look very promising at the moment, the reason why we decided to pursue the project further.

Provide information on your finances and organization:

Since we decided not to pursue the project any further a few years ago, the company Q Drum (Pty) Ltd has been dormant but was revived now with the renewed interest and a Non Profit Association or Section 21 Company was also established with the international firm of KPMG appointed as auditors in the event of any donorships materialising.
At the moment I’m practising as a civil engineer again and took care of a few expenses for the manufacture of some Q Drums and the cost of sending them to inter alia the Science Museum in London for exhibitions to be held in Europe and the US, the Parque de las Ciencias, a museum in Granada as a permanent exhibition, ten samples for an organisation called Raising Malawi Global Village established by Madonna, two to a Dr. Faith Kostel-Hughes of The College of New Rochelle in New York doing charity work in Tanzania etc. and hopefully this will pay dividends in the long run.

What is the potential demand for your innovation?

If one considers the title of the exhibition held at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, “Design for the other 90%” (of the world’s population), then the potential demand for our innovation can be enormous. As stated elsewhere literally millions of people in the developing world, especially in rural Africa, live many kilometers from a reliable source of clean water.

What are the main barriers to financial sustainability?

If the necessary funding can be raised through donor/sponsorships the main barriers to financial sustainability can be overcome and to quote the film company’s CEO again: “What you need is a film to tell the Q Drum story in an exciting/educational way to reach new funding sources which will allow you to develop a longterm strategy that can be self-sufficient through partnerships … grants … sponsorships etc”.

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

In the early 90’s my work took me through some of the rural areas and villages around Pietersburg and I noticed how the women and children struggled to get the water from the few taps to their homes, in some cases kilometers away. The few who had wheelbarrows used them but mostly women carried the containers on their heads like in the rest of rural Africa invariably causing many neck and spine injuries. I thought there had to be an easier way and eventually me and my brother came up with the idea of the longitudinal shaft or doughnut hole through a cylindrical container. I made a prototype and the enthusiasm of the people in a nearby village was so great that we decided to go ahead with the project.
Conceiving the idea was relatively easy, but to find a way to manufacture the drum with the longitudinal shaft became a big challenge and proved to be time consuming, expensive and frustrating. At the time the longitudinal shaft was a totally new concept and no known production method existed (according to the industry) that would produce such a feature. Rotational Moulding seemed to be the only process that might be suitable and eventually we found a rotational moulder willing to take the risk and spend some time, effort and money on developing the container. The first trials were a total failure, the shaft did not form throughout but after many more failures and almost giving up, we eventually achieved success.

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

Finished school 1962, did naval military training 1963.
Obtained a B.Sc degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Pretoria 1969.
Worked for consulting engineers.
Left for Europe 1971, spent 2 years sailing and worked in Iran for a year.
Returned to SA in 1975.
Worked for consulting engineers untill 1980, spent a year sailing in the West Indies.
Had my own business untill 1992.
Got involved with the Q Drum untill a few years ago.
Went back to the Civil Engineering profession untill now.