"An exchange like no other" — DNA

Written By: Sumit Moitra
Feb 21, 2011

It’s an exchange like no other. It doesn’t trade in shares or gold. It deals with something basic to life — water.

Rajesh Shah, founder, Peer Water Exchange (PWX), likes to call his brain child a clearinghouse, the global marketplace to select, fund, manage, and track the impact of all water and sanitation projects efficiently, collaboratively, and transparently.

Peer Water Exchange was founded in 2003 and got recognition last November when it won the Intel Environmental Award in California.

Yet, Shah is hardly smiling.

“There’s a complete mind block when it comes to funding the initiative. You need long-term engagement to solve the water crisis, its not like giving a vaccine and curing a disease,” Shah told DNA.

The idea that the crisis of potable water and sanitation could be solved with a combination of small-scale, grassroots projects and appropriate technology led to the birth of PWX.

It uses processes, people and technology for peer review, collaboration, participatory decision-making and crowdsourcing to solicit, fund, manage, and monitor projects.

The projects are worth $28.70 million and cover nearly 25 countries.

PWX’s USP is its transparency in operations. Its website offers donors peer-reviewed projects that require funding.

Last year, funding from the Cisco Foundation helped Shah to develop PWX AnalytiX, a business intelligence tool that uses a large set of filters on maps to look for projects and their status.“The funding is a trickle compared to the scale we are looking at,” Shah said.

Maybe, the idea of running an exchange through a business model combining private investment looking for returns, government support and even philanthropy is something that prospective financiers are yet to grasp.

“A lot of people see what we do as a market. I don’t see it that way,” Shah said.

Maybe, the financiers don’t quiet see the direct link between providing clean drinking water and sanitation with measurable outcomes like income generation.

“If every Indian can’t have privacy, dignity and hygiene, I tell them I don’t care if the GDP isn’t growing,” Shah said.

PWX, Shah said, is agnostic.

“There are some areas where you will make money, and there are areas where you need philanthropy, and in some other places you need to have the government. This is so big that not one solution, not one approach, not one model is going to work; we have to have all of these and bet on them to succeed.”

Till then, Shah will have to wait for financiers who will bet on his brain child.

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