The Start of a Journey - Francesca
Hey everyone! Welcome to our blog! As well as sharing our vision, and our passion for using technology to help combat the biggest global challenges of the 21st Century, we wanted to share the story of our journey of what it feels like to build a social enterprise. We’ll be blogging regularly with updates on our progress and, in time, with stories from the field.
We’ve spent the last 12 months as a team working out how to get our technology working as well as possible, and now we’re building a movement that will hopefully, one day, have reach across the globe. Here’s a bit about our story and how it all began.
The Blue Tap team formed in 2016. We met through a group called Impact Through Innovation Cambridge. I had this idea to build a water purifier, I’d been working on it in Mexico City for an Engineers Without Borders Project in 2013, but I put the project aside when I joined MSF (Doctors Without Borders) to work in refugee camps in South Sudan in 2015.
While I was in South Sudan, I worked as a water engineer, and a few things happened that made me want to start up Blue Tap. Firstly, I spent a lot of time working with local water engineers and plumbers. I discovered that these guys had serious skills they’d developed from working as technicians in a place with poor supply chains, no facilities and no real access to tools. Their resourcefulness was mind-blowing. I remember thinking that the hipsters would have loved the way we lived there – we had no glasses so had to use jars to drink beers from, and every building was made from old shipping containers and fuel barrels. These guys were really good at fixing and maintaining things rather than just throwing things away and replacing them with newer shiny things.
One of my favourite memories was arguing with the obstetrics doctor about our constant misuse of gynaecological gloves. It was the rainy season, and medical stocks were always in short supply because the small planes couldn’t land on the flooded airstrip. A major pipe that supplied the operating theatre with water had sprung a leak and we were desperately trying to fix it. We had no rubber o-rings and we found that the gynaecological gloves created the best seal and commandeered a box of 100 to seal up our leak. I guess now it seems surreal now having to barter with the maternity ward to borrow gynaecological gloves to seal up leaks! Working with the local water engineers in South Sudan made me realise that they had seriously good plumbing skills, but just had no access to the products and tools that they needed to provide good, clean water.
A few months later in my mission, there was a outbreak of Hepatitis E, a waterborne diseases, spread by contaminated water. I remember negotiating with my coordinator that in the face of a Hepatitis E outbreak, it was essential for us to order a chlorine doser to chlorinate the water. The doser I ordered cost close to £1000. I remember us both agreeing that it was a high price to pay. This made me realise that if one of the largest international charities in the world was hesitant to spend £1000 on a chlorine doser, there was no hope for individuals who needed clean water ever being able to afford it.
It got me thinking about the chlorine doser that I’d built in 2013 in Mexico City. At the time, it had cost me $16 to put it together. I thought there had to be a way to help people chlorinate their water for less than £1000. For my second mission in Central Africa Republic, I focused a lot on capacity building and training of the local communities. I ran a course on how to treat water while living in precarious situations. Part of the course was to teach people how much chlorine to dose their water with to make it safe. It got pretty complicated. We all felt very confused, and I could see people’s will to use chlorine at all was waning. Again, this made me think: if we can design a chlorine doser that is low cost and can easily be installed on people’s houses, this could really prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.
In 2016, I came back to Cambridge to begin my PhD. I knew I wanted to begin Blue Tap, but I was on the hunt for a team who could help me spread the message and help me build the technology. That’s when I met Tom and Becky, and we got working straight away on building the Blue Tap technology and the Blue Tap brand. In just 12 months we’ve been finalists in two competitions and are now ready to take our technology from the lab to test in in the field, with users who can really benefit from more reliable, clean water. Blue Tap started from frustration that there is no product on the market that can automatically chlorinate people’s water for a reasonable price. Over the coming year, we hope to change that. Like our Facebook page, and look out for our monthly blog where we share our story of what it feels like to build a social enterprise with a positive impact.