Interview with Grant Gibbs, founder of the Hippo Water Roller Project

The Hippo Water Roller seems to be as simple as it is ingenious. How and why did the inventors Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker come up with this solution?

Pettie & Johan both grew up on farms and had seen the difficulties experienced by rural communities collecting water over long distances. As engineers they decided to put their skills to developing a solution to make it easier to collect and carry water. They started developing a wheelbarrow with a moulded tank to give a low centre of gravity. When they did the costing, they realized that the wheel was the most expensive component. With a little lateral thinking, they came up with the idea to put the water IN the wheel. Simple but brilliant!

Where do you get the materials for the Hippo Water Roller?

The major component is LLDPE (linear low density polyethylene). South Africa has a monopoly supplier in the form of Sasol Polymers and we purchase our powders from value-added suppliers, who add the UV stabilization and colour pigments, from other South African suppliers. The steel handles are supplied by South African steel merchants.

Hippo Water Roller

Hippo Water Roller

The innovation has been on the market for some time now. Has it evolved during the years?

Over the years we have introduced a number of minor improvements and optional extras. We have changed the screw cap to the same material as the drum and done away with the rubber seal as this became a maintenance issue because rubber perishes after a few years. We wanted a product that is maintenance-free due to the extreme rural locations. One of the new features is an irrigation cap which enables small-holder farmers to irrigate their crops more easily while improving access to water for the household with the same equipment.

You have used crowd-funding to finance your projects. How have your experiences been with this?

We are still busy with our first ever crowd funding attempt on Indiegogo. The response has been quite good and we have increased our social media support base quite extensively as a result. We are currently sitting at about 68% of our first target to sponsor 67 Hippo Water Rollers. It is clearly a numbers game, in the sense that the more exposure we can get the more funds will be made available.

You mention that you would preferably like to partner with NGOs to spread the use of the innovation to communities around the world. How do you reach these NGOs?

The primary reason we mention NGOs is because of their focus on developing communities and their access to funds. The Hippo Roller also assists these NGOs to be more effective in meeting their own objectives by addressing the water access needs of the community. Networking and personal introductions are a key success factor in securing support from NGOs.

We are still not retailing the Hippo Water Roller to end-users, based on the assumption that most are unable to afford the capital outlay. We are currently exploring the potential to ask NGOs, sponsors and corporate businesses to consider a partial subsidy (50%) in exchange for branding on the Hippo Roller to make the roller more affordable to purchase.

How did you personally become involved in the Water Roller? What was your motivation?

I was first involved in the IT sector. During this time I grew unsatisfied with what I was doing and looked for an alternative. I started as a casual distributor of the Hippo Water Roller and eventually took over from Pettie & Johan. Over the years I have grown more and more attached to these types of communities and derive much enjoyment from identifying simple and appropriate solutions to some of the problems they experience. Despite many challenging times, I have never been able to let go of this rewarding experience.

Has the Water Roller been accepted by the communities it is used in? What do you think the impact has been on these people?

There is no doubt that the Hippo Water Roller has been warmly accepted by the communities lucky enough to have them. This is also in evidence when we return to these communities who express their appreciation and desire for more. A couple of unintended benefits include men who are proud to be seen collecting water with the Hippo Roller – this is a positive cultural change since traditionally, men see this as a menial and degrading task. I have also been told that the Hippo Roller does not conflict with traditional customs and is viewed very positively by all members of the community across a wide variety of locations and countries.

Although many would prefer water on tap in their homes, they do understand that this ‘interim’ solution is a very appropriate technology to assist them and provides a flexible infrastructure to access a variety of water points which change according to rainfall patterns and water tables.

The impact is wide-ranging: From children being able to attend more school time for a better education and opportunities for employment, to mothers who no longer struggle to collect heavy buckets of water and can dedicate more time to other family needs including improved hygiene, vegetable production and other income generating opportunities.

Do you believe that groups such as the “empowering people. Network” can be beneficial to developmental work? How can you benefit from the Network personally?

The “empowering people. Network” is exactly what is says and provides a critical link in the chain of support to match funders with good projects. It empowers both organizations to be more effective and the very people who need assistance and empowerment.

We need to increase our exposure significantly with appropriate organizations who either wish to make use of the Hippo Roller technology in their projects or who are willing to sponsor more Hippo Rollers for communities in need.

The current need for improved access to water affects about 1 billion people and by the year 2050 it is projected that half the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. The need for this simple and appropriate technology will be with us for many years to come.

Grant Gibbs
Grant Gibbs

Grant Gibbs

Grant Gibbs has been instrumental in assisting rural and undeveloped communities improve their access to water since 1993 and founded the Hippo Water Roller Project. Designed in Africa for Africa, the social impact benefits derived from this 90-litre Hippo Water Roller include reduced suffering, better health and hygiene and improved education and economic opportunities. Grant’s persistence in building the brand and determined approach to Governments, NGO’s, corporations and donors has resulted in improving at least 300,000 lives in 21 countries throughout Africa. Born and raised in South Africa, this social entrepreneur is a passionate family man, actively seeking partners to scale-up distribution to transform Africa.

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