Business model innovation in the water sector in developing countries

Sci Total Environ. 2014 Aug 1;488-489:512-20. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.02.046. Epub 2014 Mar 4.


Various technologies have been deployed in household devices or micro-water treatment plants for mitigating fluoride and arsenic, and thereby provide safe and affordable drinking water in low-income countries. While the technologies have improved considerably, organizations still face challenges in making them financially sustainable. Financial sustainability questions the business models behind these water technologies. This article makes three contributions to business models in the context of fluoride and arsenic mitigation. Firstly, we describe four business models: A) low-value devices given away to people living in extreme poverty, B) high-value devices sold to low-income customers, C) communities as beneficiaries of micro-water treatment plants and D) entrepreneurs as franchisees for selling water services and highlight the emergence of hybrid business models. Secondly, we show current business model innovations such as cost transparency & cost reductions, secured & extended water payments, business diversification and distribution channels. Thirdly, we describe skills and competencies as part of capacity building for creating even more business model innovations. Together, these three contributions will create more awareness of the role of business models in scaling-up water treatment technologies.

Keywords: Business model; Innovation; Low-income countries; Water services.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Commerce / methods
  • Developing Countries
  • Poverty
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Purification / economics
  • Water Purification / methods*
  • Water Supply / economics*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Arsenic