It began several years ago, when a group of businessmen in South Africa discovered a water pump powered by a children's merry-go-round. Realizing the tremendous potential to bring clean water to other communities that desperately need it, they founded what is today called PlayPumps International.

The Fool's own Bill Mann had the opportunity to speak with Jill Rademacher, president of PlayPumps, to learn more about this fascinating organization. Readers who donate to PlayPumps will be eligible to win a free subscription to our international investing service, Global Gains.*

Bill Mann: Jill, maybe you can describe for us exactly what a PlayPump is.

Jill Rademacher: Sure. It's a children's merry-go-round attached to a water pump that sits on top of a borehole, or in layman's terms, a well. The children spin, water is pumped from deep underground, goes up into a storage tank that sits 10 feet in the air. And through a gravity feed, water is then fed to a tap, a simple turn of a tap where communities and schools can then access the water. 

BM: In my travels, I often noticed water pumps in small towns that were provided by non-governmental organizations, and they're just rusted over and useless. The maintenance part is really a challenge, isn't it?

JR: Particularly here in South Africa. In over 50% of the cases, sometimes close to 75%, the PlayPump has replaced a broken hand pump. So a well-intentioned organization put it in, and it probably survived for a year or two, but either the community didn't have the resources or the skills to maintain it through the long term. So it's another interesting piece we've gotten better and better at addressing: expanding into new areas by using that existing infrastructure. Somebody drilled the well at one point, and it can be rehabilitated, and the PlayPump can then be provided. 

BM: Jill, you all are in the midst of a program called "100 Pumps in 100 Days." Tell us about the campaign and about some of the economics, the cost to provide a pump, and how it changes the lives of the people in these villages. How's that for a nice, narrow question? (laughs)

JR: (laughs) I'll take a stab at it. The "100 Pumps in 100 Days" campaign is really a national collective effort to get the man on the street in the United States, the U.K., and worldwide to feel like they can make a difference. But it's part of a larger $60 million campaign over three years that we hope will bring clean water to 10 million people. But we wanted to energize it with these mini-campaigns that people feel like they can get their arms around, so the "100 Days" campaign is the first of what we hope will be many efforts to get the average person to feel like they, too, can make a difference.

So the PlayPump costs $14,000. About half of that cost is the equipment itself, the merry-go-round, the tap, the storage tank, and all the inner workings that make it happen. And then the other half of the $14,000 is really to get the pump in the ground, to transport it there, to train the community, the local crew, and install it -- everything that has to happen sort of beginning, middle, and end. And so you boil that down, if you think, we looked to put a PlayPump in a school or community of around 2,500 people. Sometimes smaller, sometimes larger than that, but that's on the average, say 2,500 people. 

You're really providing a guaranteed water source for 10 years, so that equates to roughly $6 per person for the 10-year period of time, or $0.60 a person per year. So whether you're a fifth grader in Kansas or a family foundation in London or a company here in South Africa, every penny counts. Really, for $6, it's quite a bargain to be able to provide a person with water for 10 years. 

BM: When you really dream, what does your organization look like a decade from now?

To see Jill Rademacher's answer and to read more about this remarkable organization, visit our Global Gains home page, free to Global Gains subscribers. A free trial sign up will get you through the door, and there's no obligation to subscribe. You can also click here to donate to PlayPumps and become eligible to win a free subscription to Global Gains.*

Bill Mann is the lead analyst of Global Gains and a supporter of PlayPumps.

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