WHI blog

Other than affordability

It is 6am and Ghana’s sometimes scorching sun is gentle and refreshing. The communities in Ga West, west of Ghana’s capital Accra, are bustling. Open fires and cook-stoves are set up, children are being bathed. Women wrap their babies in colorful cloths around their waists and stroll towards a WaterHealth International community water system with empty containers to be filled with water.

Containers are placed in clusters against each other as closely as possible in front of the tap. It is an unspoken rule that after each container is filled with water, a bystander in closest proximity will help the owner to place the container on her head. There is no need to ask. Each lady balances the water weighing about 30 kg on top of her head. With a child on her back, she walks with caution and is steady without spilling a drop of water on the red dusty path.

The next moment I realize I am the one standing closest to the lady whose container has just been filled. So we both kneel down and lift the container up simultaneously. It reaches my shoulder height then my arms start to shake. I hold my breath. Our eyes meet across the container. She looks puzzled why I am frozen. Then she realizes my weakness, laughs and signals me to put the container down.

Not far away, a child is defecating outside his family’s abode. When her mother passed by, she scooped up her child’s excrement with a shovel and put it in a plastic bag. Though there are no visible toilets, the community areas are kept spotlessly clean. Later in the afternoon, the heat picks up. Some customers will stop to take a break in the water center before heading out again, sometimes quenching their thirst with a water sachet.

Photo credit: 1person.wordpress.com

A water sachet is water sold in a 500-ml, sealed plastic bag. It is one of the most prevalent consumer products in Ghana. It is sold everywhere, from road-side vendors and snack bars to high-end supermarkets. What is striking from research conducted in 2009-10, is that sachet consumption is predominant amongst the urban poor–half of households in a sample of Accra’s slum reported using sachets as their primary drinking water.

On a per unit basis, a water sachet is 20 times more expensive than WaterHealth’s product. So we asked people why they drink sachet water. A common response is ‘Sachet water is pure water’ – the individual plastic pack being heat-sealed implies it is pure. It is for a one-time use, convenient, easy to handle, which means it is extra palatable.

It is not only affordability. It is convenience and packaging as well.

WaterHealth’s water is tested and qualified every month. Water quality results are posted publicly in the center. It is really pure according to WHO standard. It is cheaper. Yet it is not patronized as prevalently as sachet water.

How do we understand and reconcile theoretical/rational knowledge versus on-the-ground evidence? How do we understand customer behavior so we can increase adoption of more economic and environmentally-friendly alternatives? Probably by asking ‘why’ more than 5 times in different ways and experiencing the world of the customer day-in and day-out.

I started to drink sachet water the way Ghanaians do and plan on asking more why’s differently.


Christina Tang is a Class of 2013 Global Fellow working for WaterHealth International in Ghana. You can follow her blog here.


Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]

No, not silence again!

The Acumen Fellowship’s Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) training is notorious for digging deep, breaking Fellows down to reveal their deepest fears, identifying the sources of resilience that will fuel them with the tenacity to continue along the path to social change. Kahabi G. Isangula is an East Africa Regional Fellow living in Tanzania and recently participated in our CLA training. Get an idea of what it is like, below!  [Read More]

Announcing the Class of 2015 Acumen Global Fellows

Acumen Global Fellows are architects for the impact sector. They are innovators, game changers, visionaries, with various professional experiences looking to make substantial change in the world. They have thrived in companies such as Google; they have started their own companies in Sri Lanka, Canada and Malaysia.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]

Welcoming Ajit Mahadevan as Acumen India Country Director

We are pleased to announce that Ajit Mahadevan will be joining Acumen as India Country Director. Ajit joins Acumen from Ernst & Young, where he has served as Advisory Partner & Leader (Life Sciences) for the past six years.  At EY, he was a strategic advisor to the leadership of some of the leading Indian and global life science and healthcare players with the focus being business transformation and growth.  Prior to his time at E&Y, Ajit was President of Piramal Healthcare, one of the leading pharmaceuticals companies in India, where he built the international business from inception in 2002 to $300M by the end of 2008. Ajit held multiple leadership roles across strategy, M&A and business leadership. During his tenure at Accenture’s Strategic Services practice in UK and India, he led the development of one of the firm’s largest and most successful internal projects – the Offshore Development Centre in 2001, which has now grown to about 100,000 people across multiple cities in India. Ajit has worked in an advisory capacity to Acumen in the past, most recently participating in Regional Fellows selection panels in Mumbai. [Read More]

Why We All Need A ‘Rikki’

Caren Wakoli is an emerging leader in East Africa who has launched a foundation to support the next generation of female leaders for Africa. Caren applied twice for the fellowship and was not accepted, but she did not give up. Her resilience and grit allowed her to persevere, and this year we are proud to have her as an East Africa Fellow. Below she shares her story on why everyone needs a ‘Rikki,’ and failure is never final.  [Read More]

Acumen Joins Beyond the Grid as Founding Partner

Acumen is proud to be a founding partner of Beyond the Grid, an innovative framework under President Obama’s Power Africa initiative to increase energy access for underserved populations across sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond the Grid will leverage partnerships with investors and practitioners committing to invest over $1 billion into off-grid and small scale solutions for this underserved market. [Read More]

Life after Lean

In May 2013, Sabrina Natasha Premji & Afzal Habib participated in +Acumen’s inaugural Lean for Social Change course based on Lean Start-Up principles. Enrollment for the next session of the Lean for Social Change course is open now. If you are working on a social issue in your community, are interested in pursuing your own social venture, or are just interested in creating an impact in this world…Register today! Sabrina & Afzal joined the course with a simple idea and the passion to transform the childcare crisis in East Africa’s informal settlements. Seven weeks later, they had developed a customer-tested business model ready to pilot in Kenya’s densest slums. Read their story below. [Read More]