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The/Nudge Prize | Ashirvad Water Challenge Harnesses the Power Of Social Entrepreneurship To Provide Clean Drinking Water For All It was launched in February, 2022 in partnership with the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India

By Hardik Kundu

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India has been grappling with a disastrous and growing water crisis for years, although much of urban India is unaware of its scale and impact. India accounts for around 18 per cent of the world's population but only has access to 4% of the water supply. Less than 50 percent of the population in India had access to clean drinking water in 2021.

The central government launched the Jal Jeevan Mission Grameen (DDWS) in 2019 to fix this and provide safe and adequate drinking water through individual tap connections to all rural households by 2024. JJM has taken this up on a war footing and increased rural water access from 19% of households to 50% within four years, a remarkable feat.

However, in spite of laudable achievements in improving supply and access, providing clean water at this scale has proven to be a wicked problem to say the least. Challenges remain in managing the downstream systems ranging from water purification to working with the community to build last mile systems that are effective, durable and sustainable. Pipeline leakages are a major threat, with a conservative estimate 10 trillion litres of water lost annually, which could in reality be up to 500 trillion. Even when the pipes aren't leaking, contamination of water is another significant problem.

The Indian government faces a conundrum - should efforts to increase supply and lay pipes slow down while it optimises the system, or continue the pace and live with leakage and issues till they can be figured out?

This is when The/Nudge Institute decided to step in. The/Nudge Prize, employs a globally recognised inducement challenge format for social innovation by inviting entrepreneurs to solve complex development challenges. The solutions that come close to solving the stated problem, becomes eligible to win a large grant and catalytic support through partnerships, mentorship and ecosystem advice. The/Nudge Prize took on 'Clean Water For All' as its latest challenge, partnering with Ashirvad Pipes, who has sponsored a 2.5 crore prize for winners and finalists. The/Nudge | Ashirvad Water Challenge was launched in February, 2022 in partnership with the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, wherein 140 Applicants and 25 semi-finalists started a year long journey to pitch, pilot & scale their solutions, out of which the winner will receive a grant of 1 crore, the runner up a grant of 75 lakhs and five finalists 15 lakhs each.

The Ashirvad Water Challenge is not for the faint of heart. Although there is a promise of a market, entrepreneurs attempting to solve this problem also need to figure out a way to make the sector & their solutions monetizable, yet impactful. How do you build a business model when the primary product, water, is free and the costs hidden due to necessary government subsidies? Who will pay for improved quality and delivery when the end user expects that as a given, even if unrealistic in practice?

This is not to say contestants should slow down and change directions completely. Most participants have a personal connection to the problem, believe it can be done and are willing to show the grit and determination required for success in the sector.

"My interest in creating technology that addresses societal issues has always been strong. When my family and I repeatedly experienced water disruptions and water pollution during my school years, it inspired me to develop technological solutions to address the concerns of water scarcity and clean drinking water. This experience eventually gave birth to Solinas Integrity."

- Moinak Banerjee, Co-founder. Solinas, a company that is building remotely operated crawlers that can detect leaks, contamination and assess the condition of the pipeline network

"Having faced a drought-like scenario in final year of college where we were rationed to a single bucket of water per day has led us to explore alternative water sources and re-imagine how we can source and distribute high quality water. With science-based technological innovations we can inspire and drive more impactful work in the water industry."

- Swapnil Shrivastav, Cofounder, Uravu Labs, a solution that generates 100% renewable water from the air at scale

"Several lakes in Bangalore had turned into sewage pits and died over a period of time. A few of us in the area formed a Trust and worked with government departments, leading the efforts to restore one of these lakes. This experience got me exploring the larger water problems, and was surprised to see the supply-demand gap predicted by NITI Aayog (>50%) and urban leakage quantity published by the UN (120 Trillion litres per annum)"

-Sajin K, Cofounder, i47 Innovation Labs, a enterprise trying to host a platform to make all aspects of water management easy

These stories and more demonstrate the depth and breadth of the contestants trying to figure out the real challenges for India's water security and address them with cutting edge tech enabled solutions.

The Ashirvad Water challenge is disruptive in another way, by seeking collaboration among contestants along with competition. The scale of the problem will require an entire ecosystem of stakeholders, including multiple contestants to come together to address severely underserved spaces in water - the end outcome of the Prize being to catalyse the sector and find innovations faster, more than just establishing a single solution to solve everything. Participants are therefore encouraged to come together to develop a perspective on critical, common issues like water quality, potable water access, source sustainability, community mobilisation and then compete in how they provide different downstream solutions once that is addressed.

The/Nudge Prize has also onboarded an independent water expert assessor to conduct field based evaluations and an expert jury panel to shortlist the five finalists. The program will run for 18 months, providing all high potential finalists with access to a pool of leading market players, government stakeholders & investors like Social Alpha, Aavishkaar, BharatInnovation Fund, as well as mentorship and incubation opportunities from sector specific accelerators - IHE DELFT, Imagine H2O Asia, Indus Water Institute, etc.

However, for water - the most catalytic group of immersion partners are entrenched civic society organisations working for decades in water & sanitation. The/Nudge Prize has been privileged to partner with organisations like WaterAid, Water.org, India Water Portal, INREM foundation and others to create a ring side view for the selected entrepreneurs, to find on ground partnerships & immersion opportunities.

10 months in, the contest is heating up with an incredible array of innovative technologies and business models already in the reckoning - right from innovation heavy pilots to established organisations trying to solve for the last mile in rural India.

When the problem is cracked, and it is a question of when and not if, it will be one of the most significant developments in India's developmental history since the green revolution.

One day, you might drive through rural India and be able to stop and have a drink at any water tap, and know which companies helped make that reality - entrepreneurs & ecosystem partners who never gave up on the real challenge.

Follow us at https://prize.thenudge.org for updates on the Ashirvad Water Challenge and the latest breakthroughs as they are made. The/Nudge Prize will announce the 5 Finalists in January 2023, for the entrepreneurs to compete for the next 6 months for a grand finale. One of them will walk away with a Prize of 1 Crore, however all of them will have contributed to deep and long term solutions for India's water challenges.
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