A woman gives Drinkwell water to a family member in Manikganj district, Bangladesh, in 2018. (Courtesy of Tigre.Paris/Drinkwell)

People in Bangladesh need a consistent source of safe, drinkable water at an affordable price.

Drinkwell, a U.S.-based company, developed a long-term solution.

Instead of purchasing water in bottles that often end up in landfills, customers purchase cards to use at water kiosks, or Water ATMs, akin to a bank’s automated teller machine. The water is filtered to ensure safety and is sold at a fixed price of just 8 cents per 20 liters.

Since its creation, Drinkwell has dispensed 710 million liters of water in low-income communities and created more than 430 jobs across Bangladesh.

Drinkwell has worked in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, in partnership with the municipal water utility Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, to deploy 290 Water ATMs since 2017, where 40% of Drinkwell’s employees who operate the Water ATMs are female.

Two women sitting at desk as one works on documents (Courtesy of Drinkwell)
A Drinkwell employee, right, who operates a Water ATM, meets with a new customer in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2018. (Courtesy of Drinkwell)

The U.S. State Department will honor Drinkwell December 9 with a 2022 Award for Corporate Excellence in the climate resilience category. The award recognizes U.S. companies that uphold high standards in the communities where they operate and demonstrate that sustainability can support the economy.

Filling a need

Much of Bangladesh’s drinking water is contaminated by naturally occurring arsenic and by industrial waste, saltwater intrusion and human waste. Many citizens rely on water from ponds or streams.

Minhaj Chowdhury, who co-founded Drinkwell, is a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi heritage. Many in Chowdhury’s ancestral home district of Chittagong have died of waterborne illnesses. This encouraged him to find a solution to polluted water.

He visited Bangladesh in 2012 as a scholar with the nongovernmental organization BRAC via the Fulbright Program. After researching whether residents would pay for clean drinking water, he founded the company in 2014.

Mike German and Minhaj Chowdhury standing at booth during event (Courtesy of Drinkwell)
Drinkwell founders Minhaj Chowdhury, right, and Mike German represent Drinkwell at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in 2019. (Courtesy of Drinkwell)

Mike German, the company co-founder and a 2012 Fulbright U.S. student studying in India, helped build Drinkwell’s model in Bangladesh. The water-filtration technology relies on regenerable nanoparticles to sustainably remove toxins from water.

After the toxins are removed, the water is filtrated to make it safe for consumption. Public utilities can use this method to provide water in other underserved areas.

Next year, Chowdhury said Drinkwell is expected to reach a billion liters sold in Bangladesh. “It has truly been the honor of my life to build Drinkwell’s Water ATM model.”

The 2022 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence was also awarded to a company for inclusive economic growth and to a small company and a multinational enterprise for responsible business operations.

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