February 2, 2023
Fixing Water Systems In East Africa Before Problems Get Out Of Hand
When we last met Sarah Evans and Kathryn Bergmann, they were in the early days of running their startup, Well Beyond, which has an app that aims to help communities in rural East Africa monitor systems, diagnose problems and fix them before they get out of hand. They’d officially launched their company about a year and a half earlier, in Jan. 2020, but their plans had taken a slight detour for a while, thanks to the pandemic.
More recently, they’ve been using the app in 75 communities primarily in rural Kenya and Tanzania and are developing software to help NGOs efficiently adopt the technology. “We’ve identified many issues that would have been much more expensive to fix otherwise,” says Evans. “And communities have much more ownership of their systems.”
Maintenance and Diagnostics
Evans and Bergmann originally got the idea for the app through their work with Well Aware, an Austin-based nonprofit that builds water systems in East Africa. While the systems they’d installed were all still functioning, many in other communities weren’t, due to poor maintenance. With that in mind, they created an app with which communities could monitor systems, diagnose problems and fix them themselves, with remote advice from the company, and launched a company to sell it.
Community members have maintenance checklists that they send to Well Beyond monthly or quarterly via the app, depending on the type of water system they have. The app notifies them when it’s time to complete the checklist, even if they don’t think there are any problems. Then the company’s maintenance team remotely identifies potential issues.
There’s also a diagnostic capability, for times when communities encounter a problem in between check-ins. The app provides steps to take, presented in a decision tree, that walk individuals through the process with pictures and videos. “That also helps them become a lot more educated about their water systems,” says Evans. The app is able to help communities solve problems on their own about half the time, according to Evans. Otherwise, Well Beyond steps in and figures out how to address the issue.
Now Well Aware is using the app in communities where the nonprofit has installed systems. And they’ve been able to identify and fix multiple problems already.
Recently, while running through their regular maintenance checklist located at the primary school, community members in Tututha, Kenya, population 1,000, noticed leaking from pipes and problems with one of the pumps. After reporting that information through the app, Well Beyond remotely helped them troubleshoot and repair the issue on their own, without their having to wait for a technician to arrive and fix the problem.
As a result, they got the rainwater and UV filtration system back up and running in less than two hours, considerably faster than the usual two weeks it might take to resolve such an issue, according to Bergmann.
Evans and Bergmann are also putting the finishing touches on an administrative dashboard that other NGOs can use to monitor and help troubleshoot problems in real-time with water systems they’ve installed, along with tracking training of community members and overall impact. They hope to start licensing the software to organizations during the summer.
The first users will be NGOs they know well and can help with a beta test. After that, they’ll expand outreach to other organizations. According to Evans, there’s a “healthy” pipeline of organizations interested in becoming customers.