Roundabout Outdoor and PlayPumps International: A Hybrid Business Model to Tackle the Water Scarcity Problem

Roundabout Outdoor and PlayPumps International: A Hybrid Business Model to Tackle the Water Scarcity Problem
Case Code: BSTR380
Case Length: 23 Pages
Period: 1994-2010
Pub Date: 2010
Teaching Note: Available
Price: Rs.600
Organization: Roundabout Outdoor, PlayPumps International
Industry: Social, Safe water
Countries: Africa
Themes: Business Models, Hybrid Business Models, Strategic Planning
Roundabout Outdoor and PlayPumps International: A Hybrid Business Model to Tackle the Water Scarcity Problem
Abstract Case Intro 1 Case Intro 2 Excerpts


Trevor Field, who wanted to help solve the water problem faced by communities in Africa through his 'business solution for a social problem', found himself confronted with various challenges in scaling up operations. His innovative PlayPump and the business model he adopted to achieve his mission were both widely appreciated by experts. However, issues related to funding and other challenges related to international expansion posed potent roadblocks in the way of his achieving his mission.

In Africa, 40% of the people lack access to potable water supply (Refer to Exhibit I for key facts & figures).

The lack of access to water leads to deaths and economic loss. Moreover, women and girls, on whom the burden of obtaining water for the family falls, have to trek long distances and spend hours collecting water from dams, springs, rivers, streams, and farm reservoirs. Where such traditional sources of water are not available, they have to rely on bore wells and toil hard to work the hand pumps. While this is back-breaking work, alternatives such diesel, petrol, or electric pumps are too costly to install and maintain.1 They have also to contend with the fact that hand pumps break down often and remain un-repaired for a period of time.

Since this responsibility is linked to gender, women and girls spend a disproportionate part of their time hauling water - time that could be better spent with family, on economic activities, or in school. According to experts, in many regions of sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls have to trudge an average of 8 kilometers to the nearest water source every day, and haul back containers of water weighing about 40 pounds.

The absence of potable water supply has not only led to gender inequality but also affected the growth potential of the region, they said.

The PlayPump, a child's roundabout (merry-go-round), was attached to a water pump, a storage tank, and a tap. As children played on the merry-go-round, the system pumped water to the storage tank and communities living nearby could use this clean water.

The four surfaces of the storage tanks also doubled up as billboards for commercial and public education/social messages. Revenue earned from the advertising helped maintain the water systems for up to a decade.

"It's a win-win situation...Children enjoy riding on it, particularly as these are places with no toys. Villagers no longer have to walk hours to the nearest well... The beauty of the roundabout pumps is that they are really simple, low-tech, and exactly what Africa needs,"3 said Field, who visualized the concept and gave up his well-paid job with an established publishing house to pursue it.

Roundabout Outdoor (RO), a for-profit organization with a social mission co-founded by Field, installed and maintained these PlayPumps while PlayPumps International (PI), a non-profit organization also co-founded by Field, helped arrange the funds for installing the water systems. Over the years, RO and PI were able to build innovative partnerships with individuals, corporations, governments, foundations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to donate PlayPumps to African communities......

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