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Thanks to Ari Grief, we have a short film of Thomas Bjelkeman’s presentation on Akvo at Stockholm World Water Week in August 2008. View it on YouTube by clicking here.

Read on for a full transcript of Thomas’s 3 minute ‘What is Akvo?’ presentation.

What’s changing?

“With the internet, the cost of communication goes rapidly towards zero. It means I can use a mobile phone, the internet, a computer, to connect to someone far away to someone with no cost – or where the cost is rapidly disappearing.

Take Sunita from Arghyam, who just now had a good chat with her young son back in Bangalore, using the internet. She could show him by turning the camera around on her laptop where we were on the stand, etc. You can chat to someone really far away – of course we’ve paid for an internet connection. But the extra cost was zero.”

What has inspired Akvo?

“I don’t know how it was where you lived, but where I grew up, if I wanted to sell my bicycle I would take a piece of paper, make a note to say I had a bicycle for sale and I would put it up at a local store. And you think that this is as local as you can get – someone would see this and say “yes I’m willing to buy your bicycle”.

But with the internet we’ve gone way beyond this. Today, there is a company that I’m sure you’re familiar with – eBay – they’ve taken this small business of selling bicycles and other things to somebody you’ve never met, and probably never will meet, and made it really easy. The point that’s really interesting is that they have nearly 100 million users and their turnover on the website is $60 billion per year. So they took this note from the local store that said “I want to sell a bicycle” and made it into a multi-billion dollar business.

So this has been the inspiration for us. To me, that was the thing that started us doing Akvo. There are other things, like Wikipedia, like Linux, the free operating system that runs on computers that we use, or like Blogger, YouTube – all of these have been inspirations for us to make this work.”

What is Akvo about?

“It’s about communications, but it’s about making the communications scale. And we’re talking about scaling really big. So we’ve got water projects to help these children so they’re not going to have diarrhoea problems, etc, from a lack of clean water and proper sanitation.

But we don’t do one project, we don’t do five or ten projects, we’re not talking about having to do hundreds of projects, we need to be able to do thousands of projects.”

95,000 projects – per day

“When I came into the water and sanitation sector and started looking at the types and volumes we need to do, I was astonished that we need to do 95,000 projects. But it wasn’t 95,000 projects this year, or this month. It’s 95,000 water or sanitation installations per day. It boggles the mind. And at the moment we’re all struggling with this – and we’re all saying how we can scale up to that level?

And the internet companies have taught us that we can do this. We can reach this fantastic level that wasn’t possible before, when we have new and modern tools. Akvo.org is part of the toolkit that we’re trying to present to you to give you the opportunity to reach scale. So if you’re doing 50 small projects in the field today, we want to make it possible for you to do 200 projects, to do 500 projects.”

So what does Akvo do?

“We do three things.

First, we make it easier to share knowledge – and we do that through something called Akvopedia, based on the Wikipedia, that most of you are probably familiar with.

Second, we help match projects and funds, so that if you have projects, they should be easy for you to find funds. And we have this thing called Akvo Direct, which is a marketplace for projects.

Third, we simplify the reporting process – the reporting process is cumbersome today and difficult for people to make it work. We’ve got Akvo “Really Simple Reporting” – it’s web-based, but it’s also mobile phone-based. The mobile phone component is coming later, but anywhere in the world where there’s mobile phone access, you will be able to take a photograph with your phone, saying today we’ve been to the project. Today there were 30 people educated on maintenance of these rope pumps. Here’s a picture of it, upload it, and it’ll be there.”