November 12

Al Hammond

A Preliminary Benchmark for Community Scale Water Treatment

Today I am posting the results of a unique partnership and a novel experiment in furthering social entrepreneurship, the fruits of an effort launched on this site a year ago.

The partners were Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator and World Resources Institute, and the attached white paper bears the names of Jim Koch (of GSBI), myself-then of WRI, now with Ashoka: Innovators for the Public-and Francisco Noguera, who has continued the water work at WRI.

The idea was to extend the scaling impact of the GSBI by recruiting a cluster of social enterprises within a single sector for the 2008 class, to add research on the sector as a whole, to involve water experts as well as the silicon valley VCs and CEOs in mentoring process of the water enterprise cluster so as to use them to provide a preliminary benchmark for the sector-and then to share what we learned so that other water entrepreneurs worldwide could build on that knowledge.Â

The sector cluster was planned as 6 enterprises but, in the end, was only four (things happen!), so the database is less robust that we had hoped, and our conclusions must necessarily be more tentative. Yet it is clear to us that we have identified scalable models-both business models and low-cost technology-that are likely to be of use elsewhere. You can judge for yourselves what we accomplished. See also shortened presentations for two of the enterprises, which will give you a more graphic sense of their economic and social potential. (See attachments to this post.)

One measure of success meaningful to the partners is that we collectively have decided to continue with the sector approach, both for a second water cluster (with additional partners such as Ashoka, Acumen Fund, and Water for People), and extending it to other sectors. A second is that I am already working with two of the enterprises in the water cluster to combine their approach with my Ashoka work on last-mile healthcare in India and in another 5 countries –if you are building a community-scale facility to bring healthcare, doesn’t it make sense also to provide clean water that can prevent many diseases, especially the diharial diseases that kill so many children? And in addition to magnifying the social impact, having people come to your facility twice a day to get their water certainly builds in traffic and community acceptance. Thirdly, I am seeing strong signs of interest in both multilateral and private sector investors in this combined approach, not to mention strong interest in the water model itself in the Ashoka network of some 2000 social entrepreneurs across the world.

Where the interest will lead we will find out later, but it is clear that the findings launched here today are already starting to generate ripples. We invite your comments and the sharing of additional relevant experience.