This post is a personal story about how I started working in international development and why what I learned from that work made me join WellDone to help ensure the long-term functionality of critical water and energy infrastructure in the developing world.

The story starts when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Panama. I worked with marginalized communities as a technical consultant to help them build and maintain their own water and electricity systems. Some of these communities lacked even the most basic access to clean water, but many relied on broken gravity-fed water supplies that had been built by international organizations but had later fallen into disrepair. Over the three years that I lived in Panama, many community leaders reached out to me to help them identify low-cost ways to rehabilitate their water systems. Unfortunately, the only way to figure out what was broken was to perform a time-consuming topographical survey of a network of tubes often miles long and buried in dense rain forest.

I later learned that this problem is endemic in the developing world. In Africa, for example, one-third to one-half of all rural water systems are broken at any given time and many are never repaired. As I thought about what could be done to address this global issue, I began wondering how much more it would have cost to include a simple monitoring system along with the broken pipes. Such a system could automatically alert an operator or repair person as soon as something broke, greatly increasing the odds of it being fixed. When I returned to the US, I joined forces with WellDone and we began to design exactly this kind of remote monitoring system: MoMo, the Mobile Monitor.

MoMo is a low-cost, low-power, remote monitoring device that lets infrastructure providers – NGOs, businesses and governments – gather data on the long-term functionality of water and energy systems without needing to visit them. This makes monitoring infrastructure projects easy and cost-effective so that providers can keep the power on and the water running.

MoMo is a flexible platform based on an embedded microprocessor that can power itself indefinitely from a two-inch solar panel or the water flowing through a single faucet. It connects in a plug-and-play fashion with any sensor and can measure anything from water flow through a handpump to energy usage in a microgrid. The data is reported over the cellular network, processed by a software program, and presented on a web dashboard for users to see. MoMo is open-source and can be built at scale for less than $50.

Since one of the major barriers to adoption of remote monitoring among development organizations is cost, our design process had to critically consider every component of MoMo to make sure that it could be robust as well as cost-effective. Over the last year, we have demonstrated MoMo in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. We are working with some small customers to further prove the concept and begin scaling to larger projects. Our largest pilot yet in Tanzania just launched on IndieGoGo.

Since MoMo is completely open-source, including the hardware design and embedded software, we are constantly looking to grow the community of engineers that help improve the device and broaden its applications. If you are interested in contributing to our project or getting more involved, visit welldone.org or our IndieGoGo page.