Safe Agua Peru

About the project


Fall 2011  

Building on the investigations and experiences of the successful and award-winning 2009 SAFE AGUA Chile, Designmatters at ArtCenter College of Design once again partnered with the Latin American NGO, Un Techo para mi Pais and its Innovation Center to co-create innovative design solutions to overcome water poverty with families living in Cerro Verde, a 30,000-person slum [asentamientos] perched on the hillsides surrounding Lima, Peru.

Our “competitive advantage” in this unique field for the Safe Agua Peru project lies in the successful partnerships and outcomes of Safe Agua Chile; our participatory relationship with community stakeholders; and the complementary expertise with Un Techo Innovation team partners.

Safe Agua Peru was supported by a 2011 Sustainable Vision Grant of the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). The Innovation Center of Un Techo will be instrumental in moving the full-scale working prototypes through the next phase of development leading to implementation.


How to generate social impact with the right business models at the base of the pyramid is one of the  great innovation challenges today.  The Safe Agua Peru team immersed themselves in a process of co-creation with the families from the Cerro Verde community in Lima.  It is a collaboration that has yielded outcomes that are really astounding.
The students not only addressed–and met–complex needs with low-cost prototype solutions, they also generated a very high level of excitement for the proposed products and systems.  Folks want to see these in the market and are ready to pay for them… this is what I consider true value creation.

– Andrés Iriondo Socias, Head of Social Innovation Project Management

Design Brief



Work with families living in Peru’s asentamientos (slums) to design and develop solutions, products and services for using, obtaining, containing and carrying water, in order to help break the cycle of poverty.

Design goals included:

  • Scalable, sustainable solutions with potential for real world implementation
  • Radically affordable products and services for “Base of the Pyramid” families
  • Solutions that address specific problems, with both quantitative impacts (illness reduction, water conservation, increased time for self-improvement, opportunities to generate income) and qualitative impacts (sense of dignity)
  • Solutions through the sales of: products for individuals & households; products, spaces and services for a small group of families (which can in turn benefit a larger group); services for many communities

Other goals included:

  • Developing a sustainable business plan, including sourcing, pricing, marketing
  • Identifying potential partners/manufacturers in order to bring the products to market
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The bar was set high due to the outcome of Safe Agua Chile. However, for Peru, we were entrusted with a grant by NCIIA and there are very specific goals for the project, primarily to escalate the products to sell millions at a very low cost.  As a result, the team not only operated as a class, but also in some ways as a consultancy that had deliver quality, quantity and very high results. Having an MBA student as a teaching assistant made a huge impact in this regard. It us articulate our design proposals not only in terms of functionality but also in terms of numbers and business cases.”

– Liliana Becerra, Faculty, Product Design, Un Techo para Chile

About Un Techo Para Mi Pais



A non-profit organization founded in Chile in 1997, run by university students and young professionals who are establishing social inclusion processes through housing solutions to eradicate slums and develop sustainable communities through Chile – and a total of 15 countries in Latin America.

The collaboration with Art Center’s team was coordinated with the Innovation Center at Un Techo led by the Chilean Industrial Designer Julian Ugarte, Director, and his colleagues Askan Straume and Andrés Iriondo.


Both experiences, in Chile and Peru, were definitely life changing for the students, faculty and the communities we worked with. Seeing how their projects can actually make an impact in people’s lives is very empowering for designers.

– Liliana Becerra, Faculty, Product Design

Research and Project Development



Day Without Taps

One of the things we take for granted is convenient, unlimited water from plumbing and faucets, yet the families in the community of Cerro Verde who were identified to collaborate on the project have to accommodate their lives to living without running water.

Non-potable water is delivered and filled into 55 gallon barrels at a central location a few times a week. The women of the village must then take buckets to the central location, with many of them walking an hour each way and climbing hundreds of steps to and from their homes situated on hillsides.

To better understand this limitation, design teams conducted an empathy exercise called “A Day Without Taps.” Faculty and students lived for a day using only 3.5 gallons of water, taken either from the nearest hose or from a previously filled container. Students documented the experience in individual written journals.


Designmatters’ partnership with the Society and Business Lab at USC illustrates the sophistication of the program. Design alone can create amazing and unique solutions.  But in order for those solutions to be implemented and sustainable, they need to be supported by a strong business model.  This practical foundation underlies a program that looks for ideas that are not built for a book or a showcase, but rather for having a real impact on peoples’ lives.

– Adlai Wertman, Professor of Clinical Management & Organization, Founding Director of the Society & Business Lab, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California


Field Research and Methodology Cards

The immersive ten-day field research trip that kicked off the project in Peru allowed the students to work directly with the team of Un Techo Para Mi Pais Peru and families living without access to basic services in Cerro Verde – including running water and sanitation. The focus was on investigating the role that water plays in their everyday lives.

As part of the facilitation students received to gain the confidence and structure to navigate a completely new territory in the field research process, faculty created a tool kit of methodology cards specifically targeting the project objectives.  As for the Safe Agua Chile projects, faculty drew input and inspiration from different design research sources and methodologies, including IDEO’s Method Cards and their Human Centered Design (HCD) tool kit, and also from their our own professional background and experience in the field of anthropology, design research and insights.

The research cards were organized into broad and specific research focus. For the broad topics, rather than focusing only on the functional problems of storing, carrying, using, and re-using water, design teams decided to assess the “big picture” aspects of the problem. Understanding core values, aspirations, and daily life gave us further insight into the problem and helped students bond with families in the community.  In turn, specific focus research topics addressed water-related issues that would directly target project objectives and deliverables. Click here to download the Safe Agua Peru Methodology Cards.

Driven by the field research, the students formed five teams and began the analysis of field data for the concept/design development phase. Their goal was to create complementary, low-cost prototypes and systems to solve the specific water-related needs identified during the on-site, field research phase.

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It was important for the students in the Safe Agua Peru project to understand the similarities and differences that they would encounter, compared to the Safe Agua Chile project. The living conditions, geography and weather  were much harsher.

Through interaction with the families, and especially the children, the students quickly identified needs for products they could design that would directly benefit the children, whether from a health standpoint (Soap Buddy and VitAmigos) or educational opportunities (Clean+Smart).

– Penny Herscovitch, Faculty, Environmental Design


Field Testing Prototypes with Families in Cerro Verde

After midterm, student Mariana Prieto returned to Cerro Verde to lead the field testing of the initial prototypes and gain critical feedback directly from the local stakeholders of the project. Mariana’s leadership of the co-creation process catapulted the product development in response to the families’ needs.

The Ducha Halo system developed during the Safe Agua Chile project was also retested here to gain additional feedback for conducting further research and prototypes towards final production.

Following midterm, the teams continued designing while developing comprehensive business plans to support the manufacture and distribution of the products, and, began crafting full-scale working prototypes.

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As students, we rarely get the opportunity to conduct such through and in-depth research. The Safe Agua Peru experience in general has been, by far, the most complete and rewarding experience of my academic career.

Before we started, I had questions about how we would find a fresh perspective from the results of Safe Agua Chile. The Chile projects had addressed many of what I assumed would be the most critical problems we would encounter in the (asientamentos). Would we, in Peru, find anything new to tackle? Would our solutions only fill in the gaps of the designs from Chile, and be less poignant as a result? Only a day or two into the research we realized that this was not going to be case.

– Kim Chow, Student, Product Design




Developing multiple projects that complemented each other was a critical aspect to the holistic goal of improving the quality of life for the families of Cerro Verde as a whole. Throughout the process, the teams of students continually shared their findings with each other towards that goal.

A significant component of the outcomes was the articulation of how the products were envisioned (individually and collectively) to become a sustainable business – whether by or for the community members. The collaboration with the Society and Business Lab at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business was the key to this outcome. Having an MBA candidate as a teaching assistant throughout the term provided the design teams with an invaluable resource to be able to explore and construct preliminary business plans around their innovative design concepts.

Based on the final project results, Designmatters is working in concert with Un Techo to pursue further prototype testing and design refinement, and leverage a network of business relationships, with the ultimate goal of implementing some of the systems and products.

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Penny, KC and I had been part of the Safe Agua Chile project so we had some experience from that, but we also knew that the villages in Peru were far less developed. The people were in a much lower social class, with housing, in many cases, still made up of dirt floors and masonite walls. There would be very significant new challenges for our team to address in Peru. The students proved to be more than up to the task.

– Dan Gottlieb, Faculty, Environmental Design


How important is field research to creating good design? I am positive that we would not have come up with VitAmigos had we not gone to Cerro Verde and had such a connection with the families that hosted us. We thought about how it would impact them at every stage of the design process. Being able to ask for feedback and input during the development phase helped shape the project and hopefully VitAmigos will continue to evolve based on their feedback and partnership as we move forward.

– Cora Neil, Student, Environmental Design

Project Solutions

Soap Buddy
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Carlos Vides

Soap Buddy is a soap-dispensing bracelet for kids promoting hand washing by making soap more accessible and fun. Handwashing is critical to preventing diarrheal illnesses, and can reduce twice as many water-related deaths as clean drinking water alone. How can we help make handwashing fun and soap accessible for kids? Soap Buddy makes handwashing fun by extruding paste soap (common in developing countries) though the bracelet’s faceplate. The interchangeable faceplates become animated when the soap is extruded: Spiderman shoots out a soap web, Hello Kitty’s whiskers grow, soapy boogers ooze out of a nose, or roses grow from a stem. Soap Buddy is always right there to remind kids to wash with soap, even when mom can’t. It’s never been so fun to wash hands!

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Alex Cabunoc & Ji A You

GiraDora is a human-powered washing/spin-dryer a user can sit on that increases the efficiency and improves the experience of hand-washing clothes. For under $40, GiraDora more than doubles productivity, increases health of women and children, and affords the opportunity to begin breaking the poverty cycle. The user sits on top of the drum-like appliance and pumps a pedal with her foot, which agitates, cleans, rinses, then spins-dries clothes. While providing a more comfortable, ergonomic, and efficient way to clean clothes, GiraDora also affords opportunities to generate income.

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Thomas Kong & Cora Neil

VitAmigos provides a new fun, playful and interactive experience for moms and kids that brings together water purification and nutrition in a tasty beverage, helping reduce illnesses and medical costs associated with water born disease. For the 1 in 6 people living without access to potable water, purification methods are costly, time-consuming, and often inconsistent. Kids often end up drinking sugary-sodas in place of clean water. Vitamigos combines water purification and nutrition in a tasty beverage, creating a new, fun, playful, and interactive experience for moms and kids living without access to potable water. It is a more convenient and economical alternative to boiling water and healthier than the sugary drinks purchased from the local bodegas. The ultimate goal of Vitamigos is to help reduce the illness and medical costs associated with waterborne disease.

Caja del Tesoro
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Seth Weissman & Viirj Kan

Caja del Tesoro is an innovative vending system to generate supplemental income and provide necessities for the community – any time, day or night. Caja del Tesoro is a micro business initiative and innovative analog vending machine that has the potential to teach bottom of the pyramid women the skills necessary to earn their way out of poverty. This stand-alone storefront is a convenient, safe and accessible place to purchase much-needed items for the community anytime, day or night. It is designed with a variety of internal and external features specifically for safe transactions, product adjustability and an entrepreneurship program that can seamlessly integrate into the balance of life and routine for women living at the bottom of the pyramid.

Clean + Smart
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Mariana Prieto & Alexandra Yee

Clean+Smart use the purchase of laundry detergent as the vehicle of distribution of educational earning tools to the BOP (bottom of the pyramid) market in a unique, convenient and affordable way in order to support parents’ aspirations for their child to achieve academic success. Families living in extreme poverty aspire to provide their children with better educational opportunities, to break the cycle of poverty. Clean+Smart found an opportunity in these families frequent soap purchases to distribute free “ADI” educational toys in each detergent package. Clean+Smart’s line of ADI educational toys – in Spanish, Arma (Build), Descubre(Discover), and Inspira (Inspire) — consists of three series of toys, each designed towards the development needs of a specific age group. Clean+Smart gives soap companies a competitive edge in the market, increases social responsibility, and most importantly gives poor children a better chance at succeeding in school.

Balde a Balde
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Kimberly Chow

Balde a Balde (“Bucket to Bucket”) allows for running water from any bucket, to maximize cleanliness while optimizing water use. (Field testing proved invaluable to the design process. Based on one of the mother’s comments during early prototype testing, the design was modified) “I can’t control how much water I use.” – Karina Nearly half of the world lives without access to running water. Balde a Balde (Spanish for “Bucket to Bucket”) is a portable faucet that provides running water from any container, bringing the health benefits and experience of using a tap to families living without running water. The user attaches Balde a Balde to any container with a universal clip, then begins a continuous flow of water with just a few squeezes of the siphon pump. Users can easily control the exact amount of water they need, with a simple click of the on/off spout or a twist of the valve to regulate flow. Balde a Balde harnesses gravity to bring the dignity of running water to the 3 billion people living without taps.




Once again, Safe Agua Peru demonstrates the immense potential for responsible design to generate social, cultural and economic change. The six products have obtained provisional patent status, are being further tested, and through Un Techo’s Innovation Center, are being presented to potential manufacturers and distributorsDesignmatters has also initiated the Spring studio, Safe Agua DM Development Seminar, which is hosted by the Environmental Design Department under the leadership of faculty members Penny Herscovitch and Dan Gottlieb and will incubate and develop the Safe Agua Peru projects further over the coming months.


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