PATH and the Safe Water Project Empowering the Poor Through User-Centered Design

By Lyn Denend, Tim Elliott, Stefanos Zenios
2013 | Case No. OIT107 | Length 13 pgs.

This case provides an overview of the nonprofit organization PATH and its Safe Water Project—a five-year effort launched in late 2006 with $17 million in funding from the global development unit of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The purpose of the grant was to evaluate to what extent market-based approaches could help accelerate the widespread adoption and sustained use of household water treatment and safe storage products by low-income populations. Through a portfolio of field-based pilots, PATH intended to experiment with different sales and distribution strategies to improve consumer access to safe water solutions, such as water filters and chlorine-based water purification tablets. It also planned to test different pricing and consumer financing models to address the affordability of these products. However, extensive market research revealed another problem—few products in the space were both effective and designed specifically to meet the unique needs and preferences of these consumers. Accordingly, PATH applied for and was awarded $7 million in additional grant funding from the Gates Foundation to design a water filter product that would meet high standards of efficacy, be desirable—or aspirational—to low income consumers, and work effectively within the rural conditions where the majority of the poor resided. The PATH team would accomplish this through a process that the organization called user-centered design.

Learning Objective

Expose readers to the concept of user-centered design. Explore how a user-focused product development approach can lead to more desirable.

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