A group of local engineers and volunteers are tackling one of the world’s biggest issues – the water crisis. Some 660 million people across the world don’t experience the luxury of turning on a faucet to a seemingly endless supply of clean water.
“About 4,000 people die every day from lack of access to clean water and we knew we needed to do something about that,” says DesignOutreach Co-Founder & CEO Greg Bixler.
DesignOutreach is focused on not only engineering solutions, but disseminating the technology and knowledge to make their efforts sustainable.
Their initial product, the LifePump, is eliminating the hurdles that often arise with the pumps that are supposed to be the source and solution for communities facing water crises.
“We engineered a brand new water pump, a hand-operated pump that solves two major problems,” Bixler says.
First, much of the water supply is deeper than a traditional pump’s reach. DesignOutreach’s LifePump goes to depths of 100 meters supplying a steadier source of water.
Also, lack of parts, tools and know-how to fix pumps has also rendered some 125,000 pumps in Africa useless, according to statistics found by DesignOutreach. Instead, the organizations arms the community with the training and know-how to maintain their pump long after it’s installed.
“We’ve had a couple running continuously,” Bilxer says. “The longest running one is two years. That increases the sustainability significantly.”
By partnering with humanitarian organization World Vision, DesignOutreach has deployed about 30 pumps in fives countries in Africa as a pilot program. Bixler says they didn’t want to spread themselves too thin as they established their proof of concept.
“We don’t want to ever sell or provide a pump to an organization that would just install the pump and have no follow up,” Bixler says.
DesignOutreach wants partners that understand that their mission is about more than just installing a pump, but providing a community with the long-term capability for water sustainability. Their next steps will drive that mission even further.
As their proof of concept stage wraps up, DesignOutreach has shifted their focus to scalability and commercialization of the LifePump. The goal is to put a supply chain and distribution network in place to make parts and service continually available in communities with pumps. The model would put a community in control of their water sustainability without requiring outside assistance.
For DesignOutreach, the problem they are trying to solve isn’t a half a world away. It was seeing extreme poverty first-hand that initially sparked the idea, and the stories and opportunities they see in the communities where they have installed pumps that let them know it’s working.
While working as an equipment development engineer at Battelle, Bixler had the opportunity to go to on a short-term missions trip to central Asia 2006. He says it was the first time he saw extreme poverty up close and personal.
“I had this realization that people are very creative in doing with what they found,” Bixler says.
He wondered what would happen if an engineer could come in and help individuals further develop ideas and solve problems. It would spark a change in him, as he came back to Battelle much more interested in designing things that would save people’s lives.
He wasn’t alone, either. A group of colleagues began gathering at lunch time and started talking big – how could they apply their gifts and talents to solve some of the biggest problems in the world.
The group got in touch with a non-governmental organization in the Central African Republic doing community development work.
“We asked them if we could help you solve a problem that you have, what would that be?” Bixler says.
That’s when they started hearing about the water crisis and all the issues that surrounded broken pumps. Bixler would meet his co-founder on the board of directors of the organization, and together they decided to tackle the problem through engineering solutions.
The LifePump is just the first ripple of what DesignOutreach hopes their impact will be.
“We have a vision and an outlook of continuing to innovate in various areas around water,” Bixler says.
They are already working on a deeper version of the LifePump that would reach 150 meters and still be hand-operated, something that hasn’t been done before. A relationship with another non-profit is creating remote monitoring capabilities on the pump to tell them how it’s being used.
“It’s kind of like a check engine light,” Bixler says.
Before the pump stops working, an alert will be sent to perform preventative maintenance, an improvement over using it until it doesn’t work anymore.
A five year plan will move DesignOutreach to more areas outside of water. Bixler says that although they understand the water space very well, there are more things that need to be fixed.
For more information, visit doutreach.org.