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The Hippo Roller is a distinct wheelbarrow-like product that makes it easier for those living in rural areas to transport water. I interviewed Darren Smith, head of media relations at Hippo Roller. We spoke about what it means to be a sustainable business in today's world and how Hippo Roller creates both business value and societal value. This product provides many "hidden" benefits that are elaborated upon below.
The Hippo Roller is heavy-duty, barrel-shaped container with the capability of holding 90 liters of water. With its tough outward exterior and steel handle, it is able to be pushed or pulled through rural terrain where it is most needed. What makes the Hippo Roller functional is that the water goes into the barrel-shaped container, otherwise known as the wheel of the tool. The weight of the water in the wheel allows for the heavy barrel to deflect its weight evenly across the barrel onto the ground instead of that weight being burdened by the person carrying it. This allows for a smooth rolling motion across the floor, much like a continuous wheel of a car.
This technology is not only award-winning but innovative. Using the Hippo Roller, communities are capable of carrying water faster and less strenuously than those communities practicing traditional methods. But the Hippo Roller has not stayed complacent, and has continued to think of new ways to expand on its already innovative product. This is where the creation of the Utility/Irrigation Cap as well as the Hippo Spaza come into play. The Utility/Irrigation Cap is most useful to farmers, since it doubles not only as a travel water barrel, but as an irrigation tool with its cap-in-cap design.
On the other hand, the Hippo Spaza is more useful to the entrepreneurs of the community. It is a steel frame that simply attaches to the already existing water barrel, and converts it into a trolley. This conversion allows for its users to transport the trolley and use it as a stand for other items. Using the Hippo Spaza, the entrepreneurs can more easily transport their items to more profitable areas. It is easier because the weight of the items would be felt by the ground via the weight on the wheel, and not the user. When they have arrived at their destination, the trolley for transport can convert into a display stand. However, its uses do not end there. Due to the Hippo Spaza’s durable and tough build, it can function as an emergency stretcher for the needy in rural communities.
With all of its capabilities and displays of innovation, the Hippo Roller has won awards in 1992 and 1997 for the “Design for Development Award," given by the South African Bureau of Standards and its Design Institute.
The idea for the Hippo Roller first came from Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonkar, two men from South Africa who couldn’t ignore the problem of scarce water access. This problem was not only relevant to South Africa, but all of the continent. The traditional methods of water transport allowed for minimal water to be transported, and was also more strenuous for the members of affected communities. With their engineering backgrounds, Petzer and Jonkar were able to develop the Hippo Roller in 1991 and provide a solution to the water crisis that had even affected their very own communities.
Both engineers hailed from rural farms in South Africa and observed how many members of their communities were forced to carry these large and hefty water buckets on their heads daily for what seemed like never-ending long distances. Having witnessed the water crisis for themselves, both men sought out a solution on their path to developing the Hippo Roller. Jonker saw that the workers on his family’s farm carried empty 20-liter flimsy plastic containers to fetch water. From there, Jonkar along with Petzer were able to come up with a more durable and high-quality version of those original flimsy plastic containers.
But still, the transport of these barrels by hand was not very practical. That’s where the Hippo Roller gained its most attractive feature: the use of a handle. This turned a heavy barrel into an easily moving wheel that most could use without much effort.
Worldwide there are 1.2 billion people being affected by access to clean water, one of the largest socioeconomic barriers to a community’s overall growth and health. The reasons for this are the vast uses of water that arise daily. Water is essential for drinking, farming/food production, bathing and many more essential daily activities.
Smith believes that "water is at the core of sustainable development." The way that water is normally attained is via water fetching, an activity primarily and traditionally done by women. Balancing a heavy bucket on one's heads for several hours a day is extremely time consuming and has negative long-term affects on neck and spinal health. The Hippo Roller innovation has reduced the time it takes to collect water by 80%. It has the capability to carry five times more water than the traditional bucket. It is easier to transport because the weight of the barrel is on the ground instead of on someone’s head.
The Hippo Roller provides immense benefits to the community: increased water availability with benefits for health and food security, reduced neck/back strain, hygienic water storage in the home, and finally time savings. As Smith noted, "Time is our most precious resource.” By addressing the difficulty of retrieving water, the Hippo Roller simply buys more time. This time can be put toward more productive use for education, social development, and local entrepreneurship.
In addition, the Hippo Roller has some residual advantages for its women users. Smith recalled a story about a girl in South Sudan who was asked by a Hippo Roller representative why she likes the product so much. She responded “now I can look like a city girl.” She went on to explain that she couldn’t braid her hair to look attractive when carrying heavy buckets of water on her head. The Hippo Roller’s overall impact is immense in the communities who use the product.
The innovative product has spread to several continents and has approximately 500,000 direct beneficiaries in over 20 countries. The Hippo Roller has received international recognition and won several awards as it continues to lead the charge in providing sustainable solutions to water-scarce communities.
The Hippo Roller's business model allows it to be financially profitable and sustainable. The revenue from sales grew because the company focused its resources on advancing their retail sector. Because it has won so many awards and attained international reputation, it has gained revenue from corporate sponsorships. Government corporations and NGOs are some other purchasers of the Hippo Roller. The company also has implemented strategies to lower its own production costs as an enterprise. The business outsources its primary manufacturing and also has a local manufacturing strategy for other countries to avoid high operational, overhead and labor costs.
Improved access to water reduces inequality and helps communities grow. The benefits of the Hippo Roller are experienced immediately by the communities using the product. With more clean water available, health and hygiene are improved. There is more time available for food production, household tasks, education and economic development. Women, children and the elderly are now able to transport 90 liters of water easily and provide enough water for a family of five people a day, with a single trip. Men are often intrigued by new gadgets. Some men in these rural communities have actually started volunteering for water fetching duties because they are proud to be seen using the Hippo Roller. The product's societal impact is multi-dimensional in the communities that it.
The Hippo Roller also has environmental benefits. The water collected with the Hippo Roller is often used for farming. Communities can use the Hippo Roller's Irrigation Cap to water the fields and make more food. Another environmental benefit is that the Hippo Roller doesn't produce much waste because it lasts so long and is constantly being used by so many people. The Hippo Roller is estimated to last about seven years and even after its usable life is over it can be repurposed. The body of the Hippo Roller is made from UV stabilized linear low-density polyethylene, the handle from steel, and the end-caps from a special polymer designed to reduce friction and wear and tear, prolonging the life of the pivot cavities in the drum. Hippo Roller also plans to introduce solar-powered rotational manufacturing in certain countries for a zero-carbon footprint and to reduce shipping costs to remote locations. This will also support local economies by creating employment opportunities.
One of the greatest benefits of the Hippo Roller is that by providing efficient access to water, more time is available. This extra time enables communities to become more economically active. Local entrepreneurship, community development and the move from subsistence to commercial farming on a small scale basis have all been possible because of the extra time available due to The Hippo Roller innovation. This puts more cash into the hands of communities and empowers them with entrepreneurial hope. With this money, the community leaders can make more purchases that will continue to grow their communities.
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Darren Smith, Head of Media Relations