Improving Water and Sanitation Resources Online: An Interview with Akvo's Peter van der Linde

Claire Sale
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Akvo has developed a concept called ‘ Really Simple Reorting’ to allow field teams that work on development projects to share short text and picture based updates online via SMS. Budiya, Kutch, 16 December 2008.I recently had the opportunity to connect with Peter van der Linde, the co-founder and director of Akvo. Akvo is a platform dedicated to realizing drinking water and sanitation projects in developing countries across the globe. The open source platform allows users to share knowledge, provide financial contributions to specific projects and simplifies the reporting back for field teams.   

Peter has an Msc. in integrated water management and disaster studies - and directs Akvo’s partner network - that spreads out over 47 countries.

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Q: What is Akvo?

Akvo means ‘water’ in esperanto. We are an entrepreneurial software foundation that combines the dynamics of an internet startup with the experience of development institutions. Our goal is to provide at least 3 million people with safe drinking water and sanitation before 2013, that lack it today. Via our platform we are now supporting over 200 projects in 47 countries.   

Q: What inspired you to build Akvo and how has that vision played out?

We felt that poverty reduction was happening too slowly. Our team believes that internet and mobile phone services can underpin local ‘doers’ that can make things happen on the ground faster - more effective -  and more transparent. We also feel we can help to unlock more money to solve the problem - by making sure donors can follow project progress online. Every dollar invested in providing safe drinking water has a knock-on effect of between 3 and 34 dollars - so the water ‘sector’ was the best place to start. 

Q: Can you tell us about one of your projects and how it is benefiting from the site/donations? 

Two Dutch students Joost Notenboom and Michiel Rodenburg are contributing to an Akvo water project using a very Dutch tradition, bicycling. Their plan is to carry a bottle of water on bamboo bicycles from the Alaskan Beaufort Sea down to the seas at the tip of Argentina. The 30.000 kilometer long journey will take them approximately18 months. They aim to fund one Akvo water project in each of the 14 Latin American countries they are travelling through. In their first month they travelled almost 2000km and raised already 500 euros to fund the first chosen project: “Design Research and Implementation” in Guatemala. The project is embedded on their website using an Akvo widget - so all fans can follow the project's progress, openly online. 

Q: What is Akvo ‘Really Simple Reporting’? 

Akvo Really Simple Reporting is a web- and SMS-based reporting system that allows our local field partners that work on projects to easily share short text updates, images and movie clips. RSR is an easy and transparent way to track projects in the field on a regular basis, and to share and visualise results in an appealing way. Each project in the system gets its own webpage, on which the updates (text, photo or video) of the project can be placed through a web interface or via mobile phones of field teams. 

Here is an example of how it looks on the site:

Example of Akvo's Really Simple Reporting feature

Q: What is Akvopedia - and how can people take action?

Akvopedia is an open knowledge sharing database, based on the principles of Wikipedia - but focused on low-cost water and sanitation solutions. It is meant for field teams across the globe to find out more about solutions that have proven to be effective - in other parts of the world. The goals is to stimulate water and sanitation solutions that make use of local materials, and that are easy to maintain. We currently have approximately 1000 visitors a day. Water experts can help to add information themselves.

We are also looking for support to translate the information into Spanish, French and Portugese.   

Q: What’s next for Akvo?

On the 30th of October we expect to sign contracts to provide the online reporting platform for $90 million worth of water and sanitation program’s, and $103 million worth of economic development, education and health program’s for the period 2011 - 2015. That means we have to scale significantly - and will start to facilitate other development sectors. We’re furthermore interested to roll-out a campaign called Walking for Water internationally - and secure corporate partners, interested in water related CSR programs. Last but not least we will launch ‘Akvo 2.0’ in a few weeks from now - with an entire new look and feel.    

Q: How can projects, funders, and individuals get involved? And how can people stay informed?

We would love for people to spread the word about who we are and what we are doing. People can donate to projects - but also help by embedding ‘widgets’ to profile our projects in blogs or on other websites. Just go to a project you like to promote, click add widget and take it from there. Our software platform is being developed open source - so we are also interested to link to techies willing to help us out. You can also follow us via facebook or twitter or just give us a call

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Thanks so much to Peter and to Akvo for sharing this information with us! For more information about Akvo, check out Akvo.org.