Nikita Chatterjee ‘20 saw her grandmother boiling buckets and buckets of water when she visited her in Mumbai, India. Confused, Chatterjee asked her what she was doing. Her grandmother explained that she was purifying the water since water there does not have the same health safety as in New Jersey, where Chatterjee grew up. That was when Chatterjee realized that water contamination is a reality for millions of people in India. She continues to work on solving that challenge — first as a student at Syracuse University and now as a young alum pursuing a career in public health.
Water in India is often contaminated with industry pollution or body contamination. The experience impacted Chatterjee to the point that she wanted to be a part of the solution, in helping women in India, and people in developing countries, help access clean drinkable water.
Chatterjee believes that clean water is a human right. As an Economics student in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, as well as premedical student, Chatterjee was focused on both business strategy and healthcare. As she developed her skill sets, she focused on creating a solution that could have an impact, while being sensitive to local culture.
First world solutions are not always the best option for a developing country. Water filtration devices can be expensive to purchase, cumbersome to use, and often abandoned over time because of complexity and cost.
Chatterjee noticed that women in India and Bangladesh have been using their saris to filter their waters for a long time. With this concept, Chatterjee had an idea for PAANI – an affordable and culturally sensitive refined water filtration system embedded in a sari.
The filter is made of georgette. The fabric is used in Bangladesh to filter water already and research has proven that the process helps prevents against cholera up to 50%. The porosity and longevity of georgette is what makes it the perfect fabric for water filtration.
As an added advantage, since PAANI uses natural fabrics, there are no artificial dyes to leak into the water.
An updated design of the filter that be featured on the PANNI website soon. There will be pod-sized pockets that are inserted in the georgette filled with different disinfectants. They are arranged so that when the fabric is folded over, the built-in filtration fits together like a puzzle. The fabric can then be placed over a water collection vessel and water could be poured over it to be filtered.
PAANI is targeting specific bacteria that causes waterborne illnesses like cholera, typhoid fevers and dengue fevers that comes from mosquito eggs.
Chatterjee joined the Blackstone LaunchPad, located in the Syracuse University Libraries at the Bird Library, during her junior year of school. The Blackstone LaunchPad has been a resource for her especially by connecting her to many people who could help achieve her vision for PAANI. She was also a part of Invent SU and won the first prize for PAANI in 2019.
She has continued her journey after graduation and has remained in touch with the LaunchPad as a young alum still working on her venture idea. She is also working full-time in the health care industry in a role that bridges business, health and health care training, the goal she established during her academic career. Being a founder allows her to blaze a career path as a public health innovator while also working on her venture pursuit.
Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Natalie Lui ‘22; photo supplied