Water for All: Sustainable Solutions for Reducing and Utilizing Sarvajal's Reverse Osmosis Brine in Northwestern India (2012)

Client Organization: 
Piramal Water Private Ltd, -- a leading social enterprise in India (under the brand Sarvajal, Water for all)
Project Location : 
Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Summary of Project Idea: 

The Piramal Foundation, operating under the brand "Sarvajal", provides clean and affordable drinking water to over 64,000 people in rural India through locally leased and operated reverse-osmosis (RO) water purification franchises. RO produces liquid brine that is not potable. Due to water scarcity and contamination, making the most of water resources is especially critical in India, particularly within the context of global climate change and development pressures.

This project aims to find economically and socially acceptable solutions for the brine. A team of six SNRE students, led by Sarvajal staff and SNRE faculty, researched, developed, pilot-tested and analyzed creative and culturally relevant solutions for using the brine produced as a by-product of reverse osmosis. The team ran on the ground pilots at selected Sarvajal franchisee locations in India over the summer. The team aims not only to provide Sarvajal with a viable solution but also to contribute to the literature on solutions for dealing with brine from small scale RO processes.

Skills/Expertise Needed: 

In order to be successful, the following skills should be represented collectively amongst the project team members:

  • Understanding of the science around water and its potential uses
  • Ability to assess environmental impact of waste water generated from the Reverse Osmosis filtration process, and be able to quantify its impact
  • Ability to find, evaluate, and execute on potential solutions for wastewater within the parameters of the business model
  • Experience/understanding of challenges and opportunities faced by "social enterprises" in developing countries
  • Ability to estimate costs of projects, and net economic benefit added to the entrepreneur

As a fast growing startup, Piramal Water operates in a dynamic, entrepreneurial environment. For the team to be successful, the students will need to be comfortable with and thrive in such an environment. Specifically, qualities we are looking for:

  • Experience and/or passion for finding solutions that work in a rural context, and benefit both the business and the environment
  • Self-starters who can take initiative on creating and following up on operating mechanisms with the client; Be persistent or patient as the situation demands
  • Strong communication and presentation skills
  • Comfortable with immersion in rural Indian villages and interaction with community members and local entrepreneurs in order to understand the local context and societal implications/acceptability of the recommendations

While the management at Piramal Water is fluent in English, and can serve as a translator in most field visits, having one or more members being fluent in Hindi or Gujarati will serve as a big plus for the team.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Sustainable Systems
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Piramal Water is a highly visible social enterprise, dealing with an emergent issue that is gaining unprecedented traction in the social impact community.   The organization is extremely pragmatic and swift in implementation.

Any individual who chooses to engage with this project will:

  • Get to work immediately and directly on a real world problem with applications far beyond the realm of Piramal Water
  • Will have ample opportunity to take initiative to present solutions at relevant venues and source assistance from wherever possible
  • Will have significant latitude to determine the strategy and approach to resolving the issue, and will be giving a mandate to execute on the strategy
  • Will have access to the social enterprise community and networks represented by Piramal Water, an award winning social enterprise (http://www.sankalpforum.com/Sankalp/winnersbio.php?wid=7)
Funding Sources: 

Piramal Water will provide:

  • All project-related expenses (such as materials and labor required to implement the pilots)
  • Shared boarding and lodging at headquarters and while visiting Piramal Water franchises. Given the rural settings of our franchises, the accommodations will be quite simple.
  • Cost of travelling, per company norms, between Piramal Water franchises
  • Translator as and when needed
  • Dedicated point-of-contact

Students will need to raise funds for:

  • Plane tickets to India
  • Personal Expenses/Travel
  • Lifestyle requirements
Identify expected products/deliverables: 

A rough estimate of the timeline for the project is as follows:

  • Month 0: Draft and sign Letter of Engagement (LoE)  that details the scope of the engagement, and key deliverables and milestones
  • Months 1-2: Understanding the Context
  • Months 3-4: Researching potential utilization of wastewater and criteria for "fit" into Piramal Water context
  • Months 5-6: Design and implement pilots, asses social and cultural viability of pilots (in this phase, field visits will be critical)
  • Months 7-9: Monitoring pilots and collecting data
  • Months 10-12: Assessing economic, environmental, and social/cultural impacts of each implemented pilot.  Development of a scaling solution through all franchisees
  • Month 13: Final presentation and recommendations
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Ming Xu
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Lilly Connett, MS, Sustainable Systems/ Aquatic Sciences
  • Kathryn Harris, MS, Behavior, Education and Communication
  • Vaishnavi Tripuraneni, MS, Sustainable Systems
  • Lauren Berent, MS, Sustainable Systems/ Aquatic Sciences
  • Caitlin Harren, MS/MBA, Sustainable Systems
  • Meredith Neely, MS/MSE, Sustainable Systems
Project Status: 
Past Project