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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Net Impact: "Diarrhea Needs a Rockstar"

By Francisco Noguera

MPez(Editor's note: Today, November 19, is World Toilet Day, part of an awareness campaign led by Water Aid.?This post is timely to?stop for a second, think about and learn more a?crisis that?keeps 2.5 billion of the world's poorest citizens away?from?basic sanitation services)

Guest blogger Mike Pezone is a returned Peace Corps volunteer from the Philippines and a 2nd?year MBA from The Johnson School at Cornell University.? He focuses on Base of the Pyramid business?models?at Cornell's Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise.? This past summer he worked in Mexico conducting the BoP Protocol?to develop a water purification business model for an early stage startup.


By Mike Pezone

Water touches everything.?This was reflected in the diverse backgrounds and interests of the panelists at the Saturday morning session about "innovative solutions to water and sanitation challenge".? Hailing from different corners of the water problem, panelists included Mikkel Vesterdaard - CEO of the company that created the Life Straw, Andra Tamburro - Program Director at Water Advocates (the first nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing American support for the global water problem), and Jeff Seabright - VP of Environment and Water Resources at the Coca-Cola Company.

Stan Laskowski, President of the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative Board moderated an engaging session between panelists and participants.? In my opinion the panel was less a discussion on innovative solutions and more of a call to action as each panelist cited statistics reminding us of the gargantuan scale of the current water crisis.

  • 1,000,000,000 people lack access to safe drinking water
  • 2,600,000,000 people lack access to proper sanitation
  • 50% of the schools in developing countries lack access to clean water
  • 75% of the schools in developing countries lack access to proper sanitation
  • Every 15 seconds a child dies from a water related illness

"Diarrhea needs a rockstar!" exclaimed Mikkel Vesterdaard.? I couldn't agree more.? If climate change has Al Gore and?multiple celebrities have signed on in the support of HIV/AIDS, why hasn't a champion stepped up to capture media's attention for this mounting global challenge?? Two reasons, he argues.? One, diarrhea isn't sexy. And two, we pay attention to the crisis like we pay attention to background music.?

However, solutions and technologies to address these challenges exist.?Resources exist.?The profit motive is there.?So what's holding us back??Where are we stumbling in our attempts to scale these solutions? According to Saturday's panel, it is lack?of coordination.?

I will attempt to shed some more light on this by pulling together takeaways from the session below:

1.?Local problems require local solutions

This is crucial and of course presents a significant challenge to scale.? Water quality, distribution, and access to sanitation can vary from community to community.? ??There can be no technological silver bullet as the problems persist on a community level, but the global community can aspire to develop a distribution/ coordination/ collaboration panacea that puts resources and technology in the hands of those that can put it to use.?

In an earlier session I assisted my BoP Protocol colleagues Patrick Donohue of Enterprise for a Sustainable World, Shara Senor and John Paul both from Ascension Health and Paul Gruber from the University of Michigan in an interactive workshop entitled - How to Scale Enterprises Created through the BoP Protocol.? The BoP Protocol is a business incubation process that enables corporations to generate new business opportunities through co-creation with community members.? Who better to help determine the proper distribution channels, messaging, pricing, and product prototype? ?The Protocol eases coordination between both the corporation and the end user who both stand to benefit from a co-created product.?

This? Protocol workshop in particular was very much engaging and the participants generated their own ideas on how to scale BoP enterprises which proved very much applicable to the water and sanitation space.

2. Less supply driven problems, ?more demand driven solutions

Andra Tamburo from The Water Advocates was adamant about this very point.? Governments, multilaterals and civil society need to ditch old development think and create more demand driven solutions for the water crisis.? New solutions must factor in local water consumption and sanitation habits, regional differences, human resources, water access, and technological know- how if they are to be sustainable.? Public policy needs to be crafted in such a way to ease coordination and to help the private sector see this as an opportunity to not only turn a profit, but to also and more importantly save lives.

3.?Ability to scale requires new partnerships

Jeff Seabright of the Coca-Cola Company made an intriguing analogy between the local nature of the water problem and his company being the "canary in the mineshaft."? The enormous multinational has manufacturing plants and distribution centers spanning the globe and thus access to local information on water quality, distribution, and water stress.?

Using 300 billion liters a year, water lies at the center of Coke's core operations and the company recognizes?it as?mission critical.? To that end, Seabright points out that Coke's partnerships must be rooted in the company's core business to be successful.?Thus, on a path to become "water neutral" Coke has forged a myriad of partnerships with NGOs, government agencies, and nonprofits to increase coordination amongst the partners and to execute on Coke's "Reduce, Reuse, Replenish" strategy.??

The session was a call for action and increased coordination amongst donor agencies, policy makers, NGOs, and the private sector.? Solving this coordination problem will not be an easy job, but opportunity exists for enterprises that can scale local solutions all the while forging nontraditional partnerships.? In the meantime "diarrhea still needs a rockstar."

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