Water Hack - UNSW Global Water Institute

Big ideas on show at GWI-MCIC water hack

UNSW’s Global Water Institute and Michael Crouch Innovation Centre (MCIC) recently held a ‘Global Water Hack’ aimed at solving a real-world water issue.

The four-day hack, held at MCIC from 26-29 September, invited students from all backgrounds to team up and develop a new social enterprise business model to support the implementation of water filtration technology in rural communities in developing countries. Students attend the GWI-MCIC Water Hack

42 students from Engineering, Business, Arts and Social Sciences participated in the Hack, which was led by Robin Au, under the supervision of Fi Tschaut and Mel Wimborne from MCIC.

After a briefing from Jonny Li and Michelle Dong from the UNESCO Centre of Membrane Science and Technology, teams set to work developing innovative ideas for community enterprises utilising mobile desalination technology developed at UNSW to enable better access to clean water. The case study area was India’s Junagadh district, which has a population of 2.7million with 70.6% of the population living in rural communities with poor access to clean water.

The challenges presented were twofold, requiring both an engineering and a business perspective as well as important social considerations. Students were tasked with identifying the best way to power the mobile desalination plant, mounted on the back of a utility vehicle, as well as the best way to turn the technology into a sustainable enterprise which would support livelihoods in the local communities.

The winning team was ‘Impact Engineers’, who proposed that using a micro-financing scheme to fund the truck and reverse osmosis water treatment system will enhance not only the water quality but also the quality of life in the villages. The time that women would’ve otherwise used to collect water from miles away can now be utilised in cottage industries, funded by the profits from the water system, to rake in added income for her family.

Professor Greg Leslie, Acting Director of the UNSW Global Water Institute and Chair of the judging panel, said, "The judging panel were unanimous in the decision to award first place to Impact Engineers. The proposed solution achieved the goal of integrating the water treatment technology into a sustainable social enterprise that could be replicated in many villages and scaled to provide a culturally-appropriate solution for saline groundwater problems in remote, rural Indian communities."

In addition to winning a $5000 cash prize, Impact Engineers now have the opportunity to work on the clean water project with lead researchers as it is implemented as a prototype in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and also the case-study area of Gujarat, India.

UNSW’s Michael Crouch Innovation Centre opened two years ago, and is focused on building creative confidence and allowing for experimentation, collaboration and skill sharing. The state-of-the art facility was the ideal host for the Hack or ‘Hackathon’ – a concept which started off as a challenge for computer programmers to create usable software, but has since developed into a more inclusive initiative where people with a diverse skillset collaborate to create something new. 

The GWI Hack was designed as a pilot for a larger student initiative that will be coordinated by the PLuS (Phoenix-London-Sydney) Alliance – a collaborative initiative between three of the world’s top universities – UNSW, Kings College London and Arizona State University.


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