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Clean water group seeks nonprofit status

Rainwater for Humanity works to bring fresh water to an under-served rural Indian community

Rainwater for Humanity, a student group that makes clean water available to a highly polluted area in southwestern India, will present its plans to become a nonprofit organization at a conference at Yale in April.

Group leaders are attending the conference “to see what we need to do to go from a student group to an official nonprofit,” said Sam Lee ’15, the group’s president. “Also, it would be nice to win.”

The conference includes a competition to receive recognition for the group that delivers the best presentation of its idea, Ballard said.

Rainwater for Humanity was launched in 2009 by a group of Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students. Members develop low-cost rain-harvesting mechanisms in conjunction with a team at Mahatma Gandhi University, located in the state of Kerala.

Rainwater currently has 14 tanks supplying water to about 60 families in Achinakom, a village in the Kuttanad region of Kerala, said Zachary Ballard ’13, the group’s former president.

“Although (the area is) densely populated, it’s very rural, and the government doesn’t have the means of providing adequate water to everyone,” he said.

Rainwater for Humanity hopes to expand to more villages, Lee said.

The group meets on campus for weekly Skype calls with its partners in India.

The Brown students design collection tanks that are built by hired staff on site in India. Rainwater sells harvested water at a lower price than alternatives while still covering the cost and maintenance of the equipment, Lee said.

“We use that money to recoup our investment on the tank,” Lee said. “Now we’re trying to use that to turn this into a nonprofit business model.”

The team hopes to be established as a formal nonprofit and make its pitch to investors later this year. Members plan to use the revenue from each rain harvesting structure to pay for another tank.

“If an investor were to come along with money to pay for 10 tanks, in 10 years, there could be 20 tanks,” Ballard said.

Rainwater for Humanity will sponsor summer trips to India for Brown students with money awarded to its partner university from the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative. Mahatma Gandhi University awarded a portion of the $80,000 it received from the initiative for this project to a student-faculty exchange fund that will send Rainwater members at Brown overseas.

“Once you’ve been to India, you’re committed to this, and that’s a good thing,” Lee said.

According to a statement on the U.S. State Department website, the grant is awarded to groups that “strengthen, through faculty exchanges, joint research and other collaboration, partnerships between American and Indian institutions of higher education in priority fields, including food security, climate change, sustainable energy and public health.”

The Global Health and Innovation Conference will take place on April 13-14 at Yale.



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