Trevor Field and the PlayPumps of Africa

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Please note:

This case study was compiled from published sources, and is intended to be used as a basis for class discussion. It is not intended to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a management situation. Nor is it a primary information source.

This case won the first prize in the oikos Ashoka Global Case Writing Competition 2009 (Social Entrepreneurship track), organized by oikos Foundation for Economy and Ecology, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Case Details:


Case Code : LDEN057 For delivery in electronic format: Rs. 500;
For delivery through courier (within India): Rs. 500 + Rs. 25 for Shipping & Handling Charges


Entrepreneurship/ Social entrepreneurship/ Base of the Pyramid

Case Length : 21 Pages
Period : 1998-2008
Pub Date : 2009
Teaching Note : Available
Organization : Roundbout Outdoor; Playpumps International
Industry : Social Sector
Countries : Africa


The water crisis in the African countries is quite severe with two out of five people lacking access to improved water supply. The implication of this problem goes beyond diseases and deaths due to water-related disease. Particularly in peri-urban and rural areas, women and girls have to commute long distances (up to 8 kilometers) and spend hours collecting water from water sources that could be contaminated. In places where people rely on bore-wells, pumps may break down forcing them to go back to unsafe water sources. Since, the responsibility of fetching water in Africa is linked to gender, women and girls spend a disproportionate part of their time hauling water.

This prevents the girl child from attending school regularly and women from indulging in other economic activity or spending more time with their family.

Touched by the hardship faced by these people, Trevor Field (Field) a UK-born advertising professional who had immigrated to South Africa, sought to do something to address this problem. In the late-1980s, he chanced upon a child's roundabout (merry-go-round) fitted with a pump that could pump water as it turned. Field worked with the inventor of this roundabout to bring about improvements in the system and later developed the PlayPump Water System (PlayPump) that was attached to a high-capacity storage tank and a tap. The four surfaces of the storage tank were used as billboards for commercial and public education/social (such as HIV/AIDS prevention) messages. Revenue earned from the advertising helped maintain the water systems for up to a decade.

Field co-founded a for-profit organization with a social mission, Roundabout Outdoor Pty Ltd. (RO) to install and maintain these PlayPumps in various parts of Southern Africa. The funds for installing the PlayPumps were arranged by PlayPumps International (PI), a non-profit organization also co-founded by Field. By the end of 2007, more than 1,000 PlayPumps had been installed in four countries in Southern Africa.

Experts felt that the PlayPump was a social innovation that was also sustainable. Field had succeeded in scaling up installations of the water system across five countries in Southern Africa by adopting an innovative business model based on collaboration with individuals, corporations, governments, foundations, and non-governmental organizations, they said. However, Field faced a number of challenges in scaling up further as he aimed to install 4,000 PlayPumps in ten African countries by 2010.


  To understand the issues and challenges in starting a social enterprise and managing growth and maturity.

  To understand and explore ways in which a social entrepreneur can build a sustainable business in developing and emerging markets -- especially with respect to serving the BoP population -- while addressing some of the most pressing issues confronting the global community.

  To understand the issues and challenges faced by social entrepreneurs in sustaining innovation and also in sustaining the enterprise financially;

  To study the reasons for the success of the Roundabout Outdoor (RO) thus far, and explore ways in which the venture can be scaled up further in Africa and beyond.


  Page No.
Water, Sustainability & Child's Play 1
Background Note 2
Playpumps - A Social Innovation 5
The Playpump & Sustainability 7
Scaling Up 8
Challenges 11
Looking Ahead 11
Exhibits 13


Environmental analysis, Eco-system framework, Developing & Emerging Markets, Base of the Pyramid (BoP) strategies, Concept, scope, traits of social entrepreneurs, Social entrepreneurship ecosystem, Managing birth, growth, and maturity, Business model, Hybrid business models, Business model innovation, Managing Innovation, Sustainability , Double/triple bottom line, Internationalization

Water, Sustainability & Child's Play - Next Page>>


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