LIFESAVER Systems Limited is a British company that has pioneered, developed and now sells globally, a unique nano-filtration technology that turns dirty water into a pressurised supply of pure, sterile drinking water – without the need for power, chemicals or UV light.
This technology has been applied to four main LIFESAVER products:
- LIFESAVER’s 0.75l bottle, delivering up to 6,000 litres of sterile water
- LIFESAVER’s 5l Cube, developed jointly with Oxfam and optimised for emergency response, providing 5,000 litres of sterile water
- LIFESAVER’s 18l jerrycan, providing households with up to 20,000 litres of sterile water
- LIFESAVER’s 750l C2, providing remote communities with two million litres of sterile water.
All of these products have dual applications; providing instant relief in disaster zones, such as following an earthquake or a tsunami; and also in providing longer-term, resilient and sustainable solutions where conventional clean water infrastructure systems have either failed or are non-existent. Considerable market potential existed, therefore, for LIFESAVER to grow its business throughout Southeast Asia.
The Market Opportunity
Thanks to its close working relationship with UKTI, established in 2007, LIFESAVER has been able to introduce its products to government representatives and other potential purchasers in a number of countries across South East Asia. This has resulted in the winning of a number of significant sales contracts across the region.
For example in Malaysia in 2011, a two-year programme to bring clean water to remote communities saw the deployment of 16,000 jerrycans. The success of this programme led to the development in 2013 of a much more ambitious initiative, funded by the Malay Government, to deploy LIFESAVER’s largest unit across Sarawak, Sabah and the mainland peninsula and bring clean water to thousands more remote communities under the 1Malaysia programme.
With UKTI support, LIFESAVER was able to establish local manufacture of its C2 unit at a rotary moulding plant in Kuala Lumpur, creating 20 skilled jobs in the factory, with a further 400 locally-employed support workers responsible for site selection and installation of the units. To date, over 2,500 C2 units (called the M1 unit in Malaysia to link with the 1Malaysia programme) have been manufactured locally. In total, more than one million people are now able to access clean sterile drinking water thanks to LIFESAVER’s participation in the 1Malaysia programme.
LIFESAVER has also been active in other parts of South East Asia. For example, in Thailand, LIFESAVER’s bottle and jerrycan have passed local testing and these products have now been short-listed for inclusion in the government’s Flood Disaster Preparedness equipment packs.
In addition, LIFESAVER is also in advanced talks with the governments of Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, with experts on the ground making introductions at ministerial level within government and at executive level within commercial organisations, NGOs and charities that are either managing disaster relief capabilities, leading clean water infrastructure projects or directing campaigns to end water poverty.
We knew our products were world-beaters and had a proven track record in the field, outside the region. But getting in front of the right people in South East Asia is not something we could have done without UKTI’s local knowledge of the key players in the disaster relief and water infrastructure sectors.
And it’s not the same approach in each market. In Malaysia for example, we were advised us to appoint and work closely with a local partner. This contrasts with the approach we were encouraged to take in Thailand, where it was the guiding hand of the commercial desk in the British Embassy that enabled us to secure that all-important first contract, through building relationships with the appropriate procurement contacts within government.
Finally, whilst LIFESAVER’s deployment of 3,500 jerrycans in response to Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 was managed by the Department for International Development’s Rapid Response Facility, it was the pre-existing relationship with NGOs that speeded up the process of working with DFID and facilitated the swift despatch of our emergency aid to the Philippines.
LIFEAVER’s Top Tips for Doing Business in Southeast Asia
- Research each market well and understand that ‘one size fits all’ won’t work.
- Take the time to build one-on-one relationships with the key players.
- Develop meaningful partnerships with local 3rd parties that can deliver tangible benefits for all.
- Familiarise yourself with local customs and learn as much of the local language as you can.
- Accept that things won’t always work out first time. Learn from your mistakes and work with your partners to improve teamwork and share responsibility.
- Enjoy the opportunities that are out there. Your success also means that you are bringing success to those regions.