Henry Jewell: Making the case for open

by Henry Jewell

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This is part of a series of posts by Akvo staff members called “Reflections and Perspectives”, timed to coincide with the publishing of the Akvo 2014 Annual Report.
‘The days are long and the years are short’, is a phrase I have heard a lot of as a new parent – spare time very quickly obtains a high premium and before you know it months and even years have passed. This phrase takes on even more significance when at the same time you are trying to figure out parenthood, you are setting up a non-profit.  Akvo Foundation USA is a little over 18 months old and whilst it has been a whirlwind of activities, it is important to take stock to understand what we have achieved, where we are now and what our goals moving forward are, before the next 18 months has passed by in a flash.

So far our attention and energy has been focused on:
  • Obtaining funds for the core development of Akvo tools – nearly $1.5 Million raised from US partners to date
  • Introducing Akvo’s tools to new partners – through training, demonstrations and presentations
  • Working to promote the value of common standards, innovative ICT interventions, open data and how to use this data effectively
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Supporting Vanuatu’s disaster response: our experience so far

by Stefan Kraus

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Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu on March 13, 2015. Cutting a line of destruction across the eastern side of Vanuatu’s archipelago of islands, it was one of the worst natural disasters in Vanuatu’s history and the third most intense storm ever to occur in the southern hemisphere.

Since 2014, Akvo has been working with the government of Vanuatu and UNICEF Pacific to map all the Water points in Vanuatu. Vanuatu’s Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources (DGMWR) and UNICEF have been closely involved in the response effort to Cyclone Pam. From the very early stages of this natural disaster, Akvo staff have been actively supporting our partners in Vanuatu with the recovery efforts, on the ground and from afar.

Directly supporting a disaster response has been a new and enlightening experience for the Akvo team. We learned a lot while working with our partners in Vanuatu over the last month and would like to share some of our observations from this process. Here’s a timeline of events and activities from our perspective.

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World Water Forum 7, Korea – the debrief

by Frodo van Oostveen

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I believe building partnerships is all about human connections, shared values, quality-time and mutual interests. The people we met at the 7th World Water Forum in Korea between 12th and 16th April 2015 were definitely water-professionals, curious about technology and eager to learn and share their stories.

People understand and appreciate our combination of solid scalable tools, that have a human touch, and how they unleash the potential of personal connectivity. They are convinced that training and support is needed to gather proper credible data, and for the embedding of tools into organisations, including governance structures.

Photo: The Akvo stand featured our “hero shoot” backdrop. It was popular throughout the week, as people posed for photographs. Here, two visitors said a brief hello. Photo: Frodo van Oostveen.

For Akvo the forum was the perfect opportunity to meet partners in new sectors we’ve now entered, such as conservation, and to update partners we met during last World Water Forum in Marseille in 2012. As my colleague Amitangshu Acharya highlighted during his presentation about “Producing water quality data digitally: next evolution in data revolution”, a lot has happened since then – our partners have collected more than one million surveys with Akvo FLOW and we are in the development process of Akvo Caddisfly, which we demonstrated to people all week.

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Akvo expands to Bamako, Mali

by Dagmar Verbeek

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Above: Fisherman in the Niger river near Bamako. Photo credit: Lars Heemskerk.
When sharing with people that I will shortly be moving to Mali, a very common reaction is: ‘…ahh Bali’. Well, no… this move is not a reinforcement of our hub in Indonesia. We are at the point of opening another spot in West Africa that will function as part of our existing hub in Burkina Faso. In the past two years of expanding our work in the West African region, we really got into a flow.

When I joined the West African team of Jeroen and Emeline, Akvo was active in Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana through our participation in two Dutch consortia (Connect4Change and Dutch WASH Alliance) and a new contract had just been signed with the Ministry of Water in Benin to start a pilot to collect data with Akvo FLOW.

Today our team is active in about ten countries and we are very happy to have doubled in size recently; Giel joined us a year ago, and Abdoulaye, Frédéric and Lars now strengthen our team and bring in different capabilities. Although it would have been very nice to join our colleagues in Ouagadougou, as a team we decided to explore ‘new’, and already known grounds in Bamako. New because Akvo has no office yet there, and there are many opportunities to explore. Known, because we’ve already undertaken several activities in Bamako and recorded some nice results. And also personally known to me as I spent six months in Bamako in 2007. Read More »

Over one million surveys, collected with Akvo FLOW

by Peter van der Linde

Over the last years, Akvo has worked with governments and many partners across the globe to introduce and support the introduction of mobile phone based monitoring. As of today Akvo FLOW is used in 37 countries, and our partners have conducted over 1,150,000 surveys to improve decision-making in the fields of water and sanitation, food and agriculture, energy, health, education, forestry, fishery and conservation.

Worldwide usage and spread of 1,150,000 surveys that used Akvo FLOW.

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From all surveys, around 60% relate to the water sector. Many of the partners that use our tools are willing to share data that is not private or sensitive, so it can support the common good. This has enabled us to develop the map below that shows key water functionality data for 126,251 water points that are being monitored with our tools. We sincerely thank all partners and governments for willing to share this key data publicly.

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Introducing Akvo Caddisfly, the water quality testing kit

by Mark Charmer

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We’ve been asking ourselves a number of questions about our future product mix. One is how do we expand our research and development capabilities on the ground, in the countries where our tools are used? A second is whether Akvo should expand into hardware (physical products), as opposed to being purely about software. A third is which kind of products can build on our existing strengths, our market presence and capabilities. This includes having a sharp eye on what kind of product concepts could be financed and developed with the backing of our existing investors and partners.

A key area we have identified is water testing, at the local field level. Globally, 780 million+ people still don’t have access to clean water. For example, in India (and elsewhere) fluorosis is a serious health issue and more than 100 million Indians are at risk because they drink water containing fluoride or other contaminants such as arsenic or coliform bacteria. Existing water quality-testing procedures fall short in a number of ways. Field-test equipment is often hard to use and unreliable and lab tests are costly and slow. Resulting data is generally stored locally and not shared effectively. This makes it hard to quickly collect, analyse, present and efficiently use data to resolve drinking water issues.

We think we’ve got a promising new product, that really takes things forward. And this week we started demonstrating it to anyone who wants to see it, at the 7th World Water Forum, in Korea.

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The time people spend with us (with a nod to Adrian Collier)

by Mark Charmer

adrianbyloicsans_181012_850One of the things I’ve come to realise is how much of people’s time work demands. And how much of themselves they put into it.

So it felt important last week to be around in Amsterdam when Adrian Collier had his last few days working at Akvo. Adrian started working in the Amsterdam team just over three years ago, and within three months had taken on the job of product manager for Akvo RSR. His legacy is everywhere, as is the shuddering memory of some of his terrifying jokes. We both went to the same university, Aston, ten or so years apart. But his tutors definitely came from a scarier place than mine did.

Adrian is by no means the first person to leave Akvo – we’ve also just said goodbye to Carl Crowder, our super-smart Berlin-based development operations engineer, and recently Kendra Terry who has been supporting our team on the US East Coast.

In fact, as I switched Adrian and Carl’s Twitter names over from the Akvo staff list to the Akvo alumni, I realised the alumni one is now getting quite long, at 14 people. But I guess that eight years in, a Twitter alumni list of 14 isn’t too bad when the staff Twitter list numbers 53.

But still, every departure matters, because you lose personalities and institutional knowledge. You lose the ability to add any more of a particular ingredient, than what has been created. Which I guess means we need to understand and respect what was added.
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Akvo’s watercourse: looking ahead to World Water Forum 7 in Korea

by Frodo van Oostveen

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Last weekend I enjoyed reading Tao: the watercourse way by Alan Watts. One reviewer summed it up: “The Tao is like a river, a river of non-duality. A great river banked by duality, yin and yang…Taoism is neither a religion nor a philosophy though it has aspects of both. Taoism is about living a balanced life”. 

Akvo means water in esperanto, and, for me, being Dutch, I feel as if water issues are in my DNA. For almost a decade Akvo has been participating in strategic water events such as World Water Week (every year in Stockholm) and the World Water Forums (every three years at different locations). As I prepare for the upcoming World Water Forum 7 in Korea, I can’t help thinking about Akvo’s relationship with the water sector and how we are finding our way – our new equilibrium – with new activities in different sectors such as conservation, agriculture and palm oil production. 

Doing some googling about Akvo’s history, I found some interesting information about our roots. In the August 2007 issue of World Water Council magazine (No.27), Akvo was dubbed “the water wiki”.  And a news item at World Water Forum 5 in Istanbul (2009) described us as “an open-source water and sanitation web portal”. I wonder what one-liner we will leave behind as a legacy in Korea… “The smartphone as a lab” might be one aspect at least.  Read More »

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation awards $750,000 for “Akvo DASH”

by Henry Jewell

akvo-dash_850We have been talking for some time to partners around the world about the potential to build on the momentum and global take-up around Akvo FLOW, especially around the effective use of the data that is being produced. In particular, it’s been something that has excited our partners in the United States, especially those with the vision to help kickstart FLOW in its early years, after it was instigated by US-based NGO, Water For People.

So I’m really pleased to tell you that the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has agreed to become a key funding partner in what is (for now) called “Akvo DASH”.

Below is a joint statement. I want to thank all my colleagues around the world for their help building out the concept behind DASH, and for the team at Hilton for their advice and steering. Design and development is underway and we’ll work hard to make that process really open.



Tuesday 7 April 2015.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation awards $750,000 to Akvo Foundation.
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Rattling chains in the palm oil industry

by Aulia Rahman


It is awe-inspiring how man can draw a pattern on the world. I mean literally draw a picture, using his evolved skills of agricultural management on a huge scale, using massive tools to cut down trees and change the landscape through bulldozing, ploughing and planting schemes. 

What I saw from my plane seat looked like an abstract painting. As we buckled our seatbelts and approached the airstrip for landing on the one hour flight from Jakarta to Jambi, Sumatra, a hundred or more passengers gazed down at a hundred thousand hectares of monoculture. For the half hour before landing, all we saw were blocks of colour, creating fantastic cubist imagery on earth. In fact they were palm oil plantation fields, and maybe some mulberries or papyrus trees, and pines for the pulp and paper industry. The palm oil fields dominated, at least that’s what I concluded just before landing.

After spending some time doing Akvo FLOW training in a meeting room, finally the training participants and I got the chance to go off-road a bit. We headed out to Muaro Jambi, a rural district three hours from Jambi City. Along the roadside, all we saw were palm oil plantation fields. We were scheduled to meet a local farmers association willing to comply with sustainability conditions for their crops. Read More »