Malawi Pump Aid Water Pump Blog
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Self-supply: What it means and how it will change lives forever

Posted on: February 28, 2017
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What is Self-supply?

Self-supply is exactly what the name suggests – you fund yourself. In the context of our work, this means individuals making improvements to their own water supplies with no financial aid from charities or governments. The products and services are usually provided by local entrepreneurs on a fully commercial basis. So people not only get access to improved water, but they also support businesses in their community, contributing to the health and economic wellbeing of everyone.

Demonstrating the Rope and Washer Pump

Why does this approach work?

I guess that most people’s first instinct is that it doesn’t really seem like the traditional ‘aid’. Why would people give to charity just for others to profit? This is a valid point, however, the traditional method of giving something for free doesn’t always work. Despite their best efforts, charities and governments just haven’t been able to meet their water access targets in this way. Primarily this is because giving something away rarely includes provision for ongoing maintenance or repair. Self-supply results in local people buying from local entrepreneurs which is far more sustainable, both for the entrepreneur, and also the customer. Realistically, we wouldn’t choose a plumber for ourselves who lived in a different country, fitted the water supply and then never came back. So why should people in Malawi? More importantly local entrepreneurs who are paid to improve water supplies will use the money they receive to buy the things that they need from other local suppliers. This creates a local economy, which promotes growth and development in every sector across the community, which can only be good news for all involved.

Through our own work with communities we have identified the need to encourage ownership. In the past, if a pump had our name on it and it broke, nobody fixed it; they expected us to, and why wouldn’t they when it seemed like it belonged to us? Now, when a group of households club together to buy a pump, if it breaks it’s their responsibility to fix it, which motivates everyone to take better care of it. As our pumps are made entirely with local materials if there is a problem, it is easily fixable and, because it was installed by a local entrepreneur, there will be someone readily available to fix it.

But our main reason for promoting self-supply is that quite simply it works and it works fantastically well. We wouldn’t dare make such a claim without backing it up so keep reading to find out how we are so sure.


What have we done so far?

Pump Aid received funding from UNICEF to pilot this approach in a district of Malawi called Kasungu. This was chosen because it had relatively high levels of groundwater, a supply of artisans working at community level and a large enough population without access to an improved water source. We approached 25 entrepreneurs who were either well diggers, mechanics or masons. Over the course of a year, Pump Aid provided these local entrepreneurs with training in well digging and pump maintenance and key skills to help them market and promote their businesses. Over such a short time the entrepreneurs achieved astonishing results:

All in all, they provided access to an improved water source to over 20,000 people, with more business lined up to help another 12,000.

Every entrepreneur at least doubled their income from the previous years, proving this to be a financially viable way of creating new businesses.

The average distance those purchasing a household pump now have to travel to the nearest improved water source is just 11 metres. (Previously, 65% of households were travelling over 500 metres!)

Brighton 4b

What’s next?

Hopefully by now, you are also convinced that this is a concept worth pursuing. We fully back this idea having seen how successful it can be. Our future plan is to scale this up across Malawi, but we can’t achieve this by ourselves.

We believe this will happen naturally in part because the speed of adoption is an escalating curve whereby the more people who see the benefits, the more others will want them for themselves (similar to other fast growing technologies such as mobile phones).

However, we also need backing from the Government of Malawi to ensure appropriate quality assurance is put in place and we need help from you! Whilst the majority of the cost is borne by the individuals involved, Pump Aid are still actively supporting our entrepreneurs, promoting the concept and encouraging others to get involved, which we are currently funding from our reserves. If you’re now as passionate as we are about this, stay in touch via Newsletter, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to be the first to hear more about it!

To read more about our Self-supply project and watch a video of our entrepreneurs in action visit the programme here.

To help support our Self-supply project please help by making a donation.