The Last Mile: Building a Bridge

Last week in Paris, I met with Gregoire Landel and Laurent Savaete, two founders of an innovative new company, CityTaps. Together with their partner Miranda Phua, the CityTaps team is dedicated to the exciting mission of boosting the health, dignity and economic opportunity of the urban poor by enabling access to running water at home.  

CityTaps has developed a pay-as-you-go water meter that accepts micro-payments through a mobile phone.  This solution solves two problems.  First, many urban families in countries such as Kenya and Niger cannot afford the upfront costs of a water connection in their home.  Instead, they spend time walking to a community standpipe and waiting in line to carry water home.  Or they pay a local carrier to bring them water.  Both of these options cost families excessive time and money.  The second problem is that local water utility companies haven’t laid water infrastructure in poor urban communities because there hasn’t been a good system to ensure payment.

Civic Innovation

CityTaps unique approach is building a “last mile” bridge between local communities and water utilities. By creating the pay-as-you-go water meter, CityTaps is incentivizing water utility companies to expand their infrastructure to new paying customers.  And by utilizing mobile payment technology, CityTaps is creating an opportunity for the urban poor to receive clean water in their home for a fraction of the price they are currently paying.  

For me, what makes this approach especially exciting is its systemic reach.  By working to move utility companies towards better serving vulnerable communities, CityTaps is paving the way for a powerful example of self-sustaining civic innovation.

Opportunities for Design

What will it take to make sure that this “last mile” bridge succeeds?  As an expert in stakeholder engagement with a commitment to human-centered design, I believe CityTaps could be poised for a powerful cross-pollinating design relationship between its two key parties:  water utilities and the urban poor.  

By developing deep learning relationships with local communities and the water utilities, CityTaps will gain valuable insights to strengthen their product and inform the incubation and implementation stage. This process is critical not just for making sure the technology works, but for fostering the momentum and collective will to move the project forward.  Making local communities and water utilities true partners and co-creators in the design process, working directly from their perspectives and needs, CityTaps will have created the collaboration, ownership and upfront investment necessary to build the bridge they dream of: expanded water infrastructure serving the urban poor.

It will be exciting to see where CityTaps goes in future months!  

Interested in discussing social innovation and human-centered design? Contact me!