Posted by: waterforwaslala | October 23, 2009

Water and Social Enterprise

Elise Tosun

Elise Tosun

WfW is a nonprofit – we don’t make money off of our water systems. But instead of just building a water system for “free,” we charge our beneficiaries a small maintenance fee. Why? Because our water systems are not built to last forever, and we won’t be around to fix them when they break. After we provide the funding and expertise to build the initial system, the community has to keep it working. We give them the opportunity to have clean water forever, but they too must make a conscious choice and commit to it.

Why is this so important? Traditional aid has followed the classic model of philanthropy: give us $25 each year, and you can send a child to school or buy them food. The point is that you have to keep giving – this is not a sustainable model.

In the last few years, a new model of philanthropy has cropped up: one which creates an exchange between giver and receiver, or a market transaction. This model has bred a few for-profit organizations, or “social enterprises,” which attack the problems of poverty by creating markets that don’t exist in rural areas. Their projects are self-sustaining because they create local employment and use the revenues they make to provide more services, therefore breaking cycles of dependency on repeated donations.

A small group of social enterprises have begun to create markets for water in rural areas around the world, and they, like WfW, are also giving community members the opportunity to obtain clean water. Check some of them out:

  • Water Health International treats water sustainably using an innovative UV technology, charging users a small fee for treated water. WHI hires local community members in India to staff the “micro-utilities” where the water is produced, thereby providing local employment opportunities as well.
  • Ecotact operates public pay-per-use “Ikotoilets” on lands leased from the government in the urban slums of Nairobi, a breeding ground for waterborne diseases. They also hire local staff to operate and clean the units.
  • SaafWater hires local Pakistani women to distribute a water treatment chlorine capsule door-to-door. Families can add this capsule to their water and have safe, drinkable water in 30 minutes.
  • Sarvajal trains rural “water entrepreneurs” in India to operate their own water treatment centers and sell clean water cheaply to the local population.

There is still a need for traditional aid to reach the truly destitute who have no income at all. But even in low-income areas like Waslala, beneficiaries are able to contribute an amount sufficient to sustain their water systems, ensuring that they won’t become abandoned once they break. In this way, we give each community the power to build their own future – one with clean water.


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