Do Purple Camels exist?

© Giordano Aita |

© Giordano Aita |

When I used to talk about supporting a water project in Africa, I always pictured a modest and fairly unremarkable structure (such as the hand-dug and drilled wells built by organisations like Well Wishers and charity: water). Something not very sexy but that did the job it was meant to do.

That was until I heard about Play Pumps a few years ago!

Like similar projects, the local kids would be able to go to school instead of having to walk for miles each day carrying heavy water containers. However, during breaks a whole lot of students could play together on a big revolving wheel while water was pumped up to a tank for drinking, washing hands and preparing food.

Play Pumps looked bright and cheerful and would probably be the school’s only play equipment. The kids could receive an education and have fun at the same time. The school got water on tap.

On the surface, the idea sounded impressive – maybe even a ‘Purple Cow‘?*

Digging deeper, unfortunately, the concept turns out to have been fundamentally flawed.

An update published by Water For People in June reported that the design was impractical, expensive to install and maintain, unsuitable for general community use, and unsafe for children – even after being modified in consultation with end users. The Play Pumps program has now been discontinued.

Disappointing – but let’s not give up hope!

What if we could design a new type of community pump that was perfectly suited to its purpose and location? Something easily used by a single adult woman and robust enough to stand up to a harsh environment with little or no maintenance by locals – and different enough to attract the attention and imagination of potential donors like me.

A genuine ‘Purple Camel’ that was both functional and remarkable – not a brightly coloured cow or horse with a few novel features tacked on.**

Something that would go viral and everyone would want to support and tell their friends about. Something that would make a real difference to the many communities that do not currently have access to a safe and reliable source of water near their homes…

* In Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Seth Godin says that the key to success is to find a way to stand out – to be a purple cow in a field of brown cows.

** Check out this post by HelloErik for a good take on designing camels not horses by committee (but not sure about the graphic).

Categories: Philanthropy, Water

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. Pip, I like the idea you are trying to develop. A village and its occupants,including the children, making a substantial effort in the running and maintenance of a village water supply system. That gives them a ‘stake’ in ownership and therefore pride for themselves and their village. Well done! All projects should have that participant ownership principle. Our Rotary club has established a water well supply system in a village in Timor Leste and is endevouring to teach the villagers in the maintenance requirements. A slow process.
    Best wishes to you Pip. Cheers, John Wickett.

    • Thanks John
      This post was partly inspired by an Engineers Without Borders Challenge to design a water treatment system for Timor Leste during Australian Engineering Week. Great to hear that Rotary is helping over there. Cheers Pip

  2. Pip, a Purple Cow definitely seems warranted. Have you seen the Purple Cow of an Oven that was invented for the 3rd world: and This stove is super efficient way to burn wood, while charging a cell phone and providing light. You buy a stove and the proceeds go toward funding stove project for distribution in the third world.

  3. I’m not sure about the graphic either =O


  1. Wet dreams « Pip Marks

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