Can Social Enterprise Help 700 Million Who Lack Access to Clean Water?
Monday, March 23, 2015
The problem of global water access is as intransigent as they come. Some 768 million people – more than the population of Europe – still lack access to clean water. Likewise, this year’s Millennium Development Goal target of halving the number of people without sanitation will be missed by 8% – that’s half a billion people.
The traditional charity solution has been to turn up, drill a well and leave, presuming the problem’s solved. Jenny Lamb, a sanitation engineer for Oxfam, explains that without the training or market infrastructure for upkeep and maintenance, such pumps “often become neglected and then unusable”.
There are signs, however, that business, NGOs and charities working in the WASHarena are increasingly converging around a model that they can all agree on: social enterprise.
A new multi-sector report, Water for Women, showcases water social enterprises that offer local employment and reinvest profit in upkeep and maintenance. One such trial in Nigeria, launched in December 2014 and backed by Oxfam and Unilever’s Sunlight soap brand, has established two water centres in the heart of urban communities, where water is pumped and sold at a low cost, alongside food and household products.
Hanneke Willenborg, vice-president of Sunlight, describes social enterprise as “beacons of change. They are flexible, entrepreneurial … and guarantee that there is a big interest to maintain it because salaries and income are dependent on it.”
Unilever couldn’t establish these without NGO help, says Willenborg, “because there is a need for a combined capability. We are very good at branding, we are very good at selling products, but we don’t have the capabilities to train the people on the ground, set up payment structures, maintain the assets … that we need [NGO] partners for.”