The Africa Water Innovative Solutions (AWIS) social start-up is modernizing an ancient technique for potabilizing water: the ceramic filter. Already present in Morocco, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Mauritania, its founder Kaoutar Abbahaddou aims to develop in English-speaking Africa.
Kaoutar Abbahaddou remembers the day, when just after she entered the Mohammadia Engineering School of Rabat in 2010, she turned to social entrepreneurship. Together with classmates, they take advantage of the Enactus International competition to think about products that address major societal challenges. They decide together to tackle the problem of access to drinking water, which still affects many villages in Morocco, rediscovering a traditional technique: the ceramic filter.
The ceramic filter is made from clay mixed with sawdust (or other combustible material such as rice bran). During the cooking phase, the wood particles burn and create microporosities that retain up to 99% of the pathogens present in the water. Added to this is a treatment with colloidal silver to eliminate more drastically bacteria.
For several months, the group is working on research to perfect the process and develops in the school’s laboratories a formula to add to the ceramic (kept secret) to make the filter even more effective.
Two types of ceramic filters available
With this project, the team won the competition Enactus Morocco and the international final in China in November 2014. Its creation will have required 6 months of development with the participation of the poison and pharmacovigilance Center, the National Institute of Hygiene and teachers of the IMS. Today, these filters are manufactured in Morocco by three women, in the regions of Aït Hbibi and Ouled Jerrar in Morocco.
We have already trained 1,300 women since the official launch of Awis in 2016
Operating for two and a half years, the social start-up AWIS (Africa Water Innovative Solutions) commercial two types of filters, one for personal use – a 750ml bottle with the device on the cap – and the other 5-liter , for family use. “We have already trained 1,300 women since the official launch of Awis in 2016, in Morocco, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Mauritania,” said Kaoutar Abbahaddou.
The company works with several partners, including the National Institute of Hygiene in Morocco, the incubator Colab in Ivory Coast and the company Soscience in France. “We have equipped six production units in the four countries where we operate, which have a production capacity of 5,000 filters per month. Micro-entrepreneurial women manage them. We provide them with some of the components and our know-how in return for a percentage of their sales, “says Abbahaddou.
Technical and financial difficulties
“We had technical difficulties in developing this project. This is the reason that prompted us to seek the help of several experts for the design of our products, “she explains.
“We also had funding issues. Starting with sponsorship, we then participated in several competitions. Winning prizes allowed us to launch our business, but we had to invest equity, as there was not enough funding to invest in R & D. She continues. 100,000 dirhams won during the various competitions have been invested since the launch of the AWI activity.
We plan to be profitable by 2020
As for the future: “We expect to be profitable by 2020. We are looking for investment to deploy our solutions on a large scale,” said Kaoutar Abbahaddou. “Our goal is to reach 0.5% of the population without access to safe water in Africa within 3 years and to train 5,000 women micro-entrepreneurs in Africa. ”
“The implementation in Africa must be done in a gradual manner to identify several aspects, including regulations, logistics, availability of raw materials and other technical aspects,” she says. “We want, in the medium term, to settle in several countries of West Africa and in the long term, we target English-speaking African countries. ”
“I’m currently working on prototyping a filtration system that will be powered by solar energy. We target the population that does not have access to drinking water, a market that is underestimated by most manufacturers because of its low purchasing power and the high cost of their solutions. Thanks to our solutions, we think we can become a leader very quickly in this high-potential market of nearly 600 million people, “projects Yassine Abbahaddou, a student at École Centrale de Paris and a sister partner at AWIS.