Posted by: justinknabb | October 20, 2009

The beauty in crisis innovation

Justin Knabb: Director of Finance and Accounting

As I’ve learned in the for-profit business world, a crisis can often spark the right, timely motivation to innovate.  Great businesses and products are often created during recessions, and there’s no doubt that the same urgency drives innovation within the not-for-profit world.

Certainly a key difference, however, is that the crises typically found in the not-for-profit world are usually perpetual ones.  Seemingly indefinite crises.  Unforgiving crises that cost people their health, and often their lives.  Organizations such as ours are up against the clock to innovate well, and innovate quickly.  When our engineering counterparts visit Waslala, they have limited time to visit the 50-some villages in great need.  Different geographies call for different solutions, and ample time to engineer an optimal solution right, and all with limited resources.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks and ticks away.  Lives are truly at stake in Waslala.  It is a region where 1 in 3 children are malnourished.  And our engineers continue to deliver by drawing up fully functioning, sustainable solutions.  With 11 systems built to date and about 4x more to go, we have our work cut out for us.

While I contribute to Water for Waslala with my financial acumen, as the project’s Director of Finance, am I continually inspired by the “brains” behind our work.  I am inspired by the way our engineering volunteers apply their skills in such an important way.  And I am inspired by their selflessness–to design drinking water systems for communities that live thousands of miles away from our cozy world in the Philly suburbs.

Selflessness seems to be a key theme not just for individuals committed to our organization, but also for those within other water-focused non-profits.  Here are three that really stick out for me.  Perhaps one (or all) of them might inspire some design tweeks for our project along the way…

Here, Michael Pritchard presents his groundbreaking “Lifesaver” waterbottle to people at the TED Conference.  Perhaps someday WfW incorporates mobile, individualized water cleaning solutions such as this…

Here, PlayPumps makes pumping water from wells–and developing the systems–FUN…

And here, legendary inventor Dean Kamen presents his miraculous water distiller on the Colbert Report…


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