Community is key to sustainable rural water security

28 JUL 2019

Today, more than 780 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion do not have access to proper sanitation facilities. Most of these underprivileged live in rural areas. While there are considerable improvements in countries such as China, the overall global situation remains dire. Such low levels of access to safe drinking water in rural areas ultimately affects urban areas negatively due to pollution of water sources, higher healthcare costs and the impact on the food chain, among other factors. 

It is commonly held that the water and sanitation needs in developing countries, especially in rural areas, can only be met by large investments in infrastructure by the public sector and large private utilities companies. However, the low population density and lack of funds cannot limit the reach of conventional centralized water treatment systems and networks. As a result, major technology, business models and funding model innovations will be needed to address this major water, environmental and social issue.

There has a been a major push by governments, aid organizations and multi-lateral institutions to provide water and sanitation services to rural communities in developing countries such as India, which contains the world’s largest population without access to clean water and basic sanitation. 

While the intent of many such initiatives are commendable, the current models suffer from several limitations: 

  • Standalone interventions, such as hand pumps or bore wells without recharge, building of toilets without water supply and management of human waste;
  • Lack of community engagement, mobilization and capacity building, leading to long term maintenance problems;
  • Insufficient deployment of appropriate technology, especially for treatment of contaminated water and wastewater;
  • Inadequate education and social change towards improved sanitation practices, leading to unused or misused toilets;
  • Governance problems in deployment and accountability of funds allocated;
  • Failure to address an important root cause of the problems – lack of livelihood improvement opportunities.

The Community Led Transformation for Water, Sanitation, Wastewater and Livelihoods was started by ECOSOFTT in India. The basic principles of the program are:

  • 100% inclusion: No family or unit is left out;
  • 100% engagement: The whole community has to participate, contribute and work individually and collectively;
  • Self-governance: The community has to take care of their own progress and development with commitment to undertake development work on an ongoing basis;
  • Caste and gender equality: Women and men of different social strata will participate equally and have equal rights;
  • Value-based commitment: Skill-based training and agreement on areas that are non-negotiable for community benefit, such as no open defecation, no pollution and contamination of water sources, involving themselves in open vocational training and improving their livelihoods




  • Early Conditions
    Silua Village, with a population of 200 in 36 households, was at the bottom of pyramid. On average, each family lived on less than US$5 per day. The only source of water was a polluted rivulet and scattered hand pumps, which ran dry during the summer. Often, the villagers, especially women, had to spend two to four hours a day fetching (contaminated) water. There were no toilets; everyone practiced open defecation, which contaminated water sources further. 
  • Project Execution
    A Community Led Transformation program was initiated by ECOSOFTT in 2013. The key activities in the project over a nine-month period included:
  • A comprehensive survey of each household, including demographics, employment and income level, education, health, access to energy, water and sanitation;
  • Engagement and buy-in from village elders;
  • Development of model toilets;
  • A written agreement signed by the head of each household to participate in the program;
  • Collection of INR1,000 (US$15) per household towards a village corpus fund that was managed by the village itself;
  • Training of villagers to build and maintain the system;
  • Design and supervision of construction of water tank, toilets and mini-network


  • Results

The project provided critical and sustainable access to water and sanitation for Silua Village. In tangible terms, the following were delivered:

  • Clean water supply through local bore well to each person at 75 litres per capita per day;
  • One toilet and bathing room for each of the 36 households;
  • A wastewater treatment system that enables ground water recharge and nutrient recovery for sustainable eco-friendly development;
  • Improved livelihood opportunities for villagers through vocational training for young men and women;
  • A village council with full gender and caste equality that takes charge of governance and infrastructure maintenance;
  • Personal hygiene, health, menstrual health, nutrition, education and well-being awareness through partnerships with other NGOs.

The approach to water management and sanitation is also holistic and integrated, with management of "Source to Source" by sustainable extraction of water, and recharge of groundwater through treatment technology based on nature-based principles.

As demonstrated by the villagers in Silua, the integrated and sustainability-driven approach to Water, Sanitation, Wastewater and Livelihoods is the key to success in rural water management. It dispels the myth that rural communities are unwilling and unable to contribute financially for their water needs. Silua has become a model village and the villagers’ lives have been transformed, while there is now recognition from aid organizations, local and state government to scale up the model.

In addition to project funding, it is implementation capacity that will become the imperative to scale up this successful model across India and other developing countries. Given the massive needs, more participants from all sectors, including corporates, individuals, students and last-mile entrepreneurs will be needed in this movement.

By Marcus Lim and Stanley Samuel / Co-founders of ECOSOFTT


20 AUG 2019

The future of healthcare

Globally and in the region, the healthcare sector is being transformed by a number of dynamic trends, including digitalization, personalization and internationalization. It’s truly one of the most exciting times to be a caregiver, as new technologies enable us to offer care to more patients wherever they are and whenever they need it. 

It is important to understand, however, that the full benefit of these innovations can only be delivered by focusing on the human factors that underwrite them, and – like all industries – that healthcare has a responsibility to deploy new technologies in a sustainable manner. 

Transforming Healthcare Delivery through Digitalization 

Digital platforms will play a much greater role in the future, supporting the work of primary care physicians and family practices. In terms of speed of response, telemedicine is already helping patients in Abu Dhabi, ensuring they are able to consult experienced physicians from home, and book appointments as required. 

These platforms are being supported by online systems that aggregate and analyze medical data earlier and more effectively. A great example of this is the online IT system we deploy at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi to help detect heart problems. The system collects data from pacemakers and other implantable cardiac devices from anywhere in the UAE and sends alerts to doctors when it detects that patients could be experiencing rhythmic disturbances of the heart. The data is aggregated to track patterns over time and accessed by doctors using their mobile devices.

When combined with new technologies, such as blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the possibilities are almost limitless.  AI is already being used to detect diseases, like cancer, more accurately and at earlier stages. For example, the use of AI in the review of mammograms is delivering results 30 times faster and with 99% accuracy, reducing the need for unnecessary biopsies, according to the American Cancer Society. If applied to reviewing data from consumer wearables, AI could provide a vital overview of population health, enabling doctors to address community health issues at an earlier, more treatable stage. 

Even in the field of surgery, new technologies are having a transformational impact. Robotics enable surgeons to enter any part of the body through tiny incisions, reducing the invasiveness of the surgery and subsequently the recovery time that patients need. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is at the forefront of robotic surgery, particularly in cardiac care. The most exciting potential future application of robotic surgery would be the opportunity to perform operations at a distance. Patients could receive the support of a world-class surgeon in a different hospital or even a different country.

Applying a ‘Team of Teams’ Approach 

Delivering the full benefits of these new innovations will require healthcare organizations to rethink their traditional methods of organization. Healthcare is traditionally siloed into departments, which creates limiting barriers for the potential to share knowledge and collaborate. We need to move towards a model where care is delivered through the coordinated efforts of diverse professionals with complementary qualifications, enabled by technology.

This is the most important differentiator for Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, where our model of care is organized around a ‘team of teams’ approach. Every patient who comes to the hospital is cared for by a team of providers, enabling us to address the most complex issues.

Building Sustainability into an Innovation Strategy 

As a leader in the healthcare industry, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi understands that climate change is a risk to the health of our communities, as well as to our organization. As a result, sustainability has to be at the heart of every innovation strategy. This means that it is essential for any new initiatives to be assessed from an environmental, social and economic impact perspective – as well as for the potential health benefits. 

Of course, new technologies also enable us to manage our environmental impact. At Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, we deploy a greenhouse gas tool to quantify and exhaustively log the exact amounts of greenhouse gas emissions the hospital produces, as part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions. We have also started a food waste dehydration program that converts food waste into an organic byproduct, which is used to produce compost for the hospital’s landscapes and gardens.

By coupling new models of care with new technologies, healthcare organizations will be able to offer greater personalization in treatment plans and delivery. In addition, they will be able to tap into an international network of experts, ensuring that patient cases are reviewed by leading specialists in their field, no matter where they are in the world.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is already deploying an integrated, international healthcare network to ensure that our patients have access to 57,000 of the most sophisticated and connected medical minds in the world. Working together, we believe the healthcare industry of the future will be able to tackle even the most challenging issues of our time. 

By Dr. Rakesh Suri / CEO, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi


19 AUG 2019

Need to know: top 10 facts about world humanitarian day

  1. World Humanitarian Day is a United Nations initiative that aims to honor humanitarian efforts worldwide and raise awareness of supporting people in crisis.
  2. In December 2008, the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly designated August 19 as World Humanitarian Day.
  3. The date of August 19 was chosen as it marked the anniversary of the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, in which 22 people lost their lives.
  4. This year’s theme for World Humanitarian Day focuses on “Women Humanitarians” and their contributions to making the world a better place.
  5. Women make up a large number of the world’s humanitarian workers, many of whom are working in difficult conditions, including Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria, among others.
  6. Globally, more than 7 million children in 2018 were provided with emergency education in more than 20 countries around the world.
  7. The UAE was last year named as the world’s biggest donor of official development assistance (ODA) after contributing a total Dh19.32 billion to humanitarian aid in 2017.
  8. Natural disasters and climate change affect 350 million people on average each year and cause billions of dollars of damage.
  9. In 2018, global humanitarian funding reached a new high of $22 billion, surpassing the $21.5 billion raised in 2017.
  10. According to the UN’s Global Humanitarian Overview 2019, nearly 132 million people in 42 countries around the world will this year need humanitarian assistance, including protection.

Source: United Nations


28 JUL 2019

Why innovative technology is key to delivering energy access for all?

Meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is still a long way off, in particular SDG 7 – energy access for all. Progress has been made to close the energy access gap but there are still almost 1 billion people without electricity.

BBOXX’s vision is to use innovative technology to tackle this challenge. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century there are still people across the globe without electricity, and many more without reliable access. Electricity is a basic need – and living without it is a major hindrance to achieving a better quality of life and fostering economic development. 

The falling price of solar batteries and storage methods combined with the uptake of mobile money has meant that for the first time clean energy such as pay-as-you-go solar is now cheaper than alternatives in Africa. The conditions are ripe for BBOXX to leapfrog costly traditional infrastructures in favour of smarter solutions. 
Improving lives and unlocking potential through access to energy 

Having established operations in 12 African countries to date, BBOXX has delivered clean, affordable electricity for the first time to nearly one million people, powering the growth of communities and businesses. 

Winning the Zayed Sustainability Prize for Energy in January is testament to the way the company is making a meaningful difference to people’s lives around the world. Funds from the Zayed Sustainability Prize will enable the company to further invest in innovation, scale up and accelerate the roll-out of affordable, clean and reliable energy to previously underserved communities.

BBOXX recognises that electricity is the entry point to other utilities and value-added services that would never have been possible without the prerequisite of electricity. Energy provision creates demand in other areas – such as gas, water, internet and finance – a demand which the company also seek to meet.

To that end, BBOXX has developed cutting-edge products all managed via BBOXX Pulse. Pulse is a comprehensive management platform which allows the company to manage customer service, the maintenance of solar home systems and other key functions across vast and often remote locations. Pulse harnesses data, pioneering technology and machine-learning – all essential to scaling up and providing energy as a service to many more people. 

Contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Urgency is required to meet the UN’s SDG global targets for 2030. As a leading next generation utility, BBOXX directly contributes to SGD 7 – ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. 

When BBOXX customers switch from kerosene and other fuels to clean energy, this also brings average annual savings of $200 per household. Off-grid solar is not only cheaper for customers than kerosene and traditional fuel alternatives, but also has the added benefits of being safer, healthier, more reliable and better for the environment. Additionally, the systems are available on a pay-as-you-go basis via mobile money, which is best suited to individuals from low income backgrounds as they only pay for what they use. BBOXX has also worked with governments to launch the roll out of subsidies.

It is estimated that oil consumption via traditional kerosene lamps worldwide are responsible for 190 million tonnes of CO2 greenhouse gas per year. BBOXX’s solar home systems are helping to displace more than 86,720 tonnes of CO2 annually. This reduces greenhouse gases and contributes to SDG 13 – combatting climate action. 

In addition, the company contributes to meeting SDG 8 – decent work and economic growth; SDG 9 – industry, innovation and infrastructure; SDG 10 – reduced inequalities; SDG 11 – sustainable cities and communities; and SDG 17 – partnerships for delivering the goals. 
Vision for the future 

BBOXX has bold ambitions to positively transform the lives of even more people and unlock potential across the developing world through access to energy. In order to do so, the business is scaling rapidly by forging strategic partnerships with global telcos, energy firms, investors, governments and technological partners. For example, BBOXX is already working with Orange in West Africa, EDF in Togo and GE in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

BBOXX has also gone a step further in articulating the vision for the future. This year in Sikpe-Afidegnon, a village in Togo, BBOXX launched its community of the future called “Tomorrow’s Connected Community”, alongside EDF, the company’s partner in Togo. This village runs on a micro-grid as well as solar home systems, providing access to a range of utilities including clean cooking solutions, internet services and water pumps. It showcases BBOXX’s complete solution to meeting the developing world’s energy challenges.

While meeting the UN’s SDGs is a huge challenge, BBOXX is convinced that using innovative technology is the key to achieving energy access for all and 100% electrification for the first time in Africa. 

By Mansoor Hamayun, / CEO & Co-Founder of BBOXX