• Written by Mark Charmer
    28 July 2011

Though our staff are spread across Britain, the United States and Sweden too, Akvo’s headquarters are resolutely Dutch.

Here’s a quick history.


We started up (it would be fair to say we were “incubated” in startup terms) on the UNESCO-IHE campus in Delft. This is an academic campus in this beautiful Dutch college town, also home to radical engineering centre TU-Delft and sporting a church tower that leans almost as much as its better-known friend in Pisa. UNESCO-IHE was (and is) a great hub for knowledge sharing about water and sanitation techniques in the developing world and it was the right place to be as we conceived Akvopedia and began trying to define what the water sector – and beyond – needed from a software tools and partner infrastructure perspective. All our initial scoping meetings were held here and it was the site of our first development Sprint, in April 2008.


Akvo at the International Water House

In February 2009, we followed Netherlands Water Partnership to a new centre for water and sanitation innovation in a disused building bang across the street from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hague. The Hague is the Dutch seat of government (it’s about forty minutes south of Amsterdam Schiphol by train) and is where the Dutch decide how and where they’ll spend money. Other neighbours from UNESCO-IHE came too, such as IRC, and Akvo became established as the internet startup in the lobby of the building. We could see everything going on and we were on show to everyone passing through. I’m sure that being based here, so close to the government action, was a crucial factor in helping develop a long-term financial and implementation partnership with the Dutch Ministry – we’re now embedded in two major aid consortia (WASH and Connect4Change, worth around €100 million) and are working to help the Ministry bring its wider aid portfolio online.

Het West Indisch Huys Amsterdam 1655

Moving to the Warehouse of the West India Company, Amsterdam

It feels the right time now to make the move to Amsterdam. The city has a creative and cultural edge and is a city that talented people from around the world are drawn to. We want our next home to be a hub – a place where people can drop in and there’s always exciting things happening. Because our actual team is distributed around the world (and is quite small, currently 15), we knew we needed to share space in Amsterdam with dynamic organisations who we could grow alongside, which complement our work and bring new skills close by, that both we and our partners can tap. So we’re moving to a new shared space with the 1%CLUB and Text to Change.

The 1%CLUB connects smart development projects with talented people, money and know-how across the world. It focuses much more on linking to the “consumer” than Akvo, an opportunity we’ve always wanted to leave to others. This short video I did with 1%CLUB co-founder Anna Chojnacka back in January, gets under their skin.

Text to Change is already our partner in the €50m Connect4Change consortia. They’re pioneering inventive and interactive SMS-based mobile phone programmes to improve health, education and economic development activities in the poorest parts of the world. More on them, soon.

It looks like we’ll move in around 1st September. But here’s a photo set of my visit last week (click on the collage below):


For the full geek-out you can follow this video as Peter and Anna-Marte show me around for the first time.

A few key facts:

The building is historically listed, and dates back to 1642.
It was the Warehouse of the West India Company and in Dutch is called the West-Indische Pakhuis (pronounced as far as I can work out as “vest indy-ser pak haus”).

It’s set on a canalside street called ‘s Gravenhekje. This is pronounced “scraven-hekyer”. I understand that ‘s Graven means “of the earl” and hekje means “small gate”.

The building’s history is fascinating and there’s some pretty heavy colonial baggage in these walls – the slave trade made up 13% of the company’s income, though the majority was gold, sugar, tobacco.

More soon, as we move in. We’ll be less than ten minutes walk from Amsterdam’s Central Station. We look forward to welcoming you.

Mark Charmer is a co-founder of Akvo.