Hippo Roller

Citizen’s Name: Grant Gibbs

Company: Hippo Roller

Position: Executive Director

Tagline: Simple Ideas. Changing Lives

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

What is Hippo Roller all about?

With hundreds of millions of women and children struggling daily for this basic human right (access to water), the Hippo Roller makes an immediate, and profound impact, significantly improving their ability to collect more water, more efficiently, and empowering them to spend more time on education and other important tasks in the home, and community.

As I have come to understand through this work, whilst access to water remains our greatest challenge, time is still our most precious resource.

So, our primary goal is to help these rural and impoverished communities across the globe improve their access to water through the distribution of Hippo Rollers internationally.

As a social enterprise we do this by working closely with NGOs, Corporate Social Investment programs, Government departments and other donor organisations and individuals.

How long have you been operating?

Though the Hippo Roller originated way back in 1991 (26 years ago), I have been managing it in my personal capacity through a social enterprise dedicated to it, since 1998.

Where did the idea start?

The Hippo Roller was conceptualised in 1991 by Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, two South Africans who grew up on farms, experiencing the national water crisis first-hand. With roots in these water-dependent, resource poor environments, JP & Pettie were familiar with the struggle to access water that millions of Africans experience daily.

In particular, JP Jonker noticed that workers on his dad’s farm were collecting empty plastic containers so that they could use them to fetch their own water.

He thought there had to be a better way.

As co-inventor Pettie describes it, the original idea was based on a wheelbarrow, and in trying to get their concept going, one of the first problems they encountered was the price of the wheel itself. It was simply too expensive.

And it was about then that Pettie had his Eureka moment: “Let’s put the water inside the wheel!”

And so the Hippo Water Roller was born.

How do TOWNHALL Citizens or visitors get involved and are you open to collaboration? If so, what kind?

Water is something that most of us just don’t think about. But for millions, it’s all they think about, every single day. A first step to help, would be to visit HippoRoller.org. Even if you can’t donate, please help spread the word.


Do you have any success stories?

I’ve said it earlier, but it is worth repeating again: “Time is our most precious resource.”

By addressing the difficulty of retrieving water, the Hippo Roller simply buys more time!

And this in turn can be put to more productive use for education, social development and local entrepreneurship.

It goes without saying, that such prospects of increased education in turn give members of the community a measure of independence and skills that allowed them to take advantage of economic opportunities.

In short the additional advantages the Hippo Roller brings to the community include:

  • time savings;
  • reduced effort;
  • reduced strain;
  • increased water availability, with benefits for health and food security;
  • hygienic water storage;
  • improved economic prospects.

With more than 50,000 Hippo Rollers in circulation, and millions of people impacted by it, we see every Hippo Roller distributed as a success story.

The Hippo Roller simply works. It changes lives.

Any interesting fact you can share?

There have been relatively few changes to the original design of the Hippo Roller, a testament to its simplicity and practicality. It remains a technology absolutely relevant to the needs of the communities it serves.

That said, one of the biggest obstacles to distributing these life-changing devices more broadly has been its price tag, and shipping size.

Some years ago, we went back to the drawing board, using the pro-bono skills and resources of Engineers Without Borders, to create a new design on the same principles, one that would be easier to transport.

Two teams worked on the project: one focused on reducing cost in any way, and one focused on playing with the inherent design of the device.

Whilst a few solutions were proffered, none really improved on the original design, which is still in use today, more than 25 years since its inception.

What’s the overall vision for Hippo Roller?

We have set up a Hippo Roller Inc. presence in the US, and have a measure of representation in North America, Europe and Australia. Ideally we would like to set up local manufacturing facilities closer to the countries most in need, as shipping remains the single most costly element of distribution.

We have also investigated the potential of setting up solar-powered Rotational Moulding manufacturing (zero carbon footprint) plants to cater for manufacturing opportunities closer to the points of demand.

But our primary focus is on partnering appropriately with major corporates, NGOs and Government bodies actively targeting sustainable solutions to water access challenges.

We believe that there is massive scope for micro-financing services to include the Hippo Roller as a “Product with Purpose” and to broaden the business model of Hippo Roller to make it less dependent on conventional fund-raising and donor generosity.

We also think that the world of NGOs and philanthropy will be disrupted by web and/or mobile based innovation, in exactly the same way that the Uber, AirBnb, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, Apple, Google and others have turned conventional industries upside down. And so we’ll be keeping an eye on how these might impact on the sustainability of Hippo Roller.

And on that note (sustainability), we expect Hippo Roller’s business model to scale by an order of magnitude in the coming years. It was just last year that Hippo Roller was the recipient of the Frost & Sullivan “2016 African Rural Portable Water Solutions Product Leadership Award”, which summarised its own view of our future, like this:

“Since the establishment of the Hippo Water Roller Project in 1994, the company has continued to provide an appropriate portable water solution for economically poor communities across Africa. Leveraging its relationships with sponsors, corporate partners, and NGOs, the Hippo Water Roller Project has established itself as a sustainable initiative that provides African communities with an immediate and winning water and sanitation solution.”

One thing we do know is that the problem of water security is not going away!

Hippo Roller on the web: