Although Uganda is a prosperous agricultural country, most agrarian communities still do not have access to a water supply but continue to rely on wells for their daily water use. Problems associated with pumping the well water pose a threat to people’s livelihood.
Local residents are supposed to collect monthly fees from each household and prepare enough fund for rehabilitating broken pumps, as a direction of Government of Uganda. However, in many cases, the money is not collected and the pumps are left broken. The reason for this is not poverty. In fact, the problem is caused by the unfair methods of collecting the repair costs.
The cost of rehabilitating a broken well is collected from each household by a water user committee, composed of representatives of water users of the well. However, many residents refuse to pay. This is due to dissatisfaction with the payment of a flat fee by each household, even though the amount of water actually used varies from household to household. In addition, there is distrust in the management of money collected.
Residents in areas where wells have broken face a number of risks. Women are often at risk when making the kilometers-long trek to another well. This is because women in rural areas often bear the responsibility of fetching water. Using unsanitary water from reservoirs can cause the spread of diarrhea, endangering children’s lives, and relying on people with motorbikes to get water for them can be prohibitively expensive.
Sunda Technology Global Co., Ltd. is grappling with solutions to solve this water problem with digital technology. Sunda has developed a system utilizing “mobile money”, which is commonly used in Uganda, to make automatic payments in connection with water meters attached to the pump. When an ID tag distributed to each household is inserted into the pump, the amount of water drawn is deducted from the water balance charged to the user account associated with that ID.
Aya Tsuboi, the founder and CEO of Sunda Technology Global, participated in the activities of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers program as a part of an in-house program, while she was working for Panasonic Corporation, to mentor staff in supporting developing countries. Ms. Tsuboi was posted to Uganda where her efforts in solving local water supply issues were a trigger for setting up her own business, Sunda Technology Global.
“Sunda” is the English equivalent of “pump” in common Ugandan parlance. “Pump up Water, Pump up Africa”, our company’s slogan, emphasizes the concept of revitalizing Africa by literally pumping water.
In 2020, Ms. Tsuboi founded Sunda Technology Global Inc., and in 2021, it received the 6th Japan Entrepreneur Award. She has since left Panasonic and has relocated to Uganda to pursue her own business on a full scale.
Currently, the number of wells equipped with “Sunda units” has increased to approximately 150, and, although the business is expanding steadily according to plan, it is now facing a new problem, namely that the current products will not turn a profit as a business unless its maintenance costs are decreased.
In addition, Ms. Tsuboi considers her goal for this year to be laying a foundation for future business expansion by creating a system for mass production and a service system for residents as well as taking on the challenge of fundraising.
Although the business has just gotten off to a start, its vision for the future is not only to solve the problem of water throughout Africa but also to create jobs and solve all manner of social issues.
“Water is not the only problem the world faces. So, I want to develop products that can solve more social issues. Right now, our team is getting ready to form, with me looking at the issues and proposing a direction for solutions, local engineers developing the products, and Japanese engineers providing support for mass production and quality control. If this process works well, we can make the best use of engineers in both Japan and developing countries, and this will lead to the solution of issues. We hope to create such a new form of business.”