SDG06 – Clean Water and Sanitation

These social entrepreneurs are accomplishing Sustainable Development Goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

Making a Sustainable Difference, with Sasha Kramer, SOIL

SOIL is working in Haiti to design, test, and implement social business models to increase access to sanitation services.

Sasha Kramer with SOIL Compost Director, Jean Marie Noel

Sasha Kramer with SOIL Compost Director, Jean Marie Noel

When the business model is right, anything can be a valuable asset, even human waste. SOIL uses a business model that provides sanitation services, improves soil fertility, and creates livelihoods in Haiti. SOIL collects human waste and transforms it into compost that can be safely used in agriculture.

Ecologist Sasha Kramer of SOIL describes her work this way. “We are taking human waste, something that is one of the largest factors in public health issues in the world. And, we are transforming it into something that I, as ecologist thinks is valuable in the world, which is soil, for rebuilding soil fertility and improving agriculture and reforestation.” And, by using social business models, they are creating livelihoods for Haitians. This business model could be a way to provide sanitation services to some of the 2.6 billion people worldwide who lack access to a toilet.

SOIL seeks to prove that it’s possible to sustainably provide affordable and dignified household sanitation services even in the world’s most under-resourced communities. In SOIL’s simple social business design, wastes from SOIL in-home toilets – locally branded as “EkoLakay” – are collected weekly and transported to a composting waste treatment facility to be safely treated and transformed into rich, agricultural-grade compost. This compost is then sold for agricultural application, improving both the fertility and water retention of the soil. Revenue from monthly toilet user fees and compost sales are collected to support ongoing project costs and to showcase the potential for private sector involvement in the provision of affordable and sustainable sanitation services in the world’s most impoverished and water-scarce communities.

An Early Start

Sasha Kramer is an ecologist and human rights advocate who has been living and working in Haiti since 2004. But her journey started much earlier. “I grew up in an isolated rural community in upstate NY, but I was lucky that my parents worked hard to expose me to the inequalities in the world through books and movies,” Sasha explains. “I especially remember being influenced by a book called ‘The Best of Life Magazine,’ which had incredible photos from heroic times in history.

“I was always aware that I was lucky to grow up in safety and comfort and it made me want to find a way to balance my undeserved luck through finding a career where I could challenge the systems that create the conditions where not everyone can experience the same luck that I did.”

Sasha first came to Haiti in 2004 as a human rights observer in the wake of a coup. She spent the next two years traveling in and out of Haiti. “I fell in love with the country,” she says. “It became very clear to me that the most pervasive of human rights abuses in Haiti is poverty.”

A Misstep

In her goal to create a sustainable difference, Sasha says she did not always get it right. “Our initial misstep was one that is not at all uncommon,” she explains. “It’s the idea that providing the infrastructure is going to solve the problem. It’s relatively easy to come in and build a bunch of toilets, give them to people, step out, take the photos and say the project is completed. I think that has been the issue with development projects worldwide.

“Over the years, I’ve come to recognize how naive that really was to assume that, where the level of need was greatest, that people’s willingness to volunteer would be higher. In fact, it’s just the opposite. People who are struggling just to live don’t have time to clean up someone else’s waste and not making a living doing so.”

After three years of giving away toilets, SOIL realized that their model was not working. “We knew that we needed to find a way for people to have a sanitation service that people would want so much that they would be willing to pay something for it.”

Then came the devastating earthquake of 2010. SOIL sent half of their team to Port-au-Prince to see how they could be helpful. For four years, SOIL provided emergency services. Through that emergency response experience, SOIL designed a toilet that uses a replaceable container.

“We took what we had learned from the earthquake in terms of toilet design and waste treatment and brought them back to Cap-Haitien. That’s how we ended up designing our social business for household sanitation.”

SOIL’s Impact

SOIL’s EkoLakay household sanitation social business pilot is providing over 1,000 households in the greater Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince regions with dignified, in-home sanitation. And SOIL’s EcoSan waste treatment facilities treat and transform more than 500 tons of human waste annually, providing a powerful example of how to affordably and effectively increase access to sustainable sanitation services worldwide.

Even as a small grassroots effort, SOIL’s initiative is now one of the most promising tests globally of the paradigm-shifting hypothesis that sanitation no longer needs to focus on waste disposal, but rather on the ecologically beneficial and economically viable nutrient recapture and agricultural reuse of human waste.

SOIL’s model is also one of the few interventions globally that have shown progress towards creating a working social business model for providing sustainable sanitation services to informal urban settlements.

However, Sasha reminds us, “SOIL’s technology and service have been specifically designed for Haiti’s cultural and environmental context. Although most components of the sanitation service we provide are relevant for growing urban areas around the world, replication of our approach would require thoughtful adaptation to the local context in which it was being applied.”

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Sasha Kramer:

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I think about it from the perspective of an ecologist.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We’re transforming a public health risk into an environmental solution.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“2.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to a toilet.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Globally, soil fertility is declining.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We learned that lesson the hard way.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I was very curious to understand these two different perspectives.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“By being forced to start slowly, it gives you a chance to establish the relationships.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We designed a system that is not heavily reliant on heavy infrastructure.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You’re going to fall on your face so many times along the way.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


Science and Our Relationship with Nature, with Bonnie Keeler, The Natural Capital Project

The Natural Capital Project is developing practical tools and approaches to account for nature’s contributions to society.

Bonnie Keeler, The Natural Capital Project

Bonnie Keeler, The Natural Capital Project

As Bonnie Keeler grew up in Eagan, MN, she loved to explore Minnesota’s natural wonders with her family. “My mom was a master at relationships,” Bonnie recalls. “One of the things she taught me was, how people are at the center of everything. Every problem is essentially a problem of relationships. Science can take us part of the way there, in terms of providing the appropriate knowledge base. But when it comes down to actually making change, that’s all about relationships.”

Today, Bonnie is a lead scientist with The Natural Capital Project. The Natural Capital Project is a partnership between the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, the Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund. They solve big problems related to how we value nature and the relationship between people and the environment.

The Natural Capital Project works with a variety of organizations from local community groups who are advocating for a particular environmental future, to private sector companies who are trying to green their supply chain, to national-level governments who are considering the impact of infrastructure. They collaborate with decision-makers to identify questions and develop new science and tools to answer those questions. They test and publish results in peer-reviewed journals.

“If you’ve made a big international commitment to the environment, how do we make that practical, and think of the implementation of it?” Bonnie asks. “Where do you protect? What landscapes do you restore? How do you invest in new infrastructure, whether it’s hydropower, or a big agricultural incentive program? Or a payment program to farmers to adopt different conservation practices? Those are big environmental management decisions that have a set of consequences, not just for those ecosystems, but for the people who depend on them.”

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Bonnie Keeler

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We’re so connected to the environment in so many ways.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“The big problem is, those connections aren’t very visible.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We’re often not thinking of the full set of consequences.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“There is a broad set of users and audiences that our projects serve.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We have partnerships around the world.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“If you’ve made an international commitment to the environment, how do you make that practical?” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We spent a lot of time car camping.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“My mom was a master at relationships.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“People are at the center of everything.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s the human dimensions that require careful thought.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I was searching for the connection between people and nature.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“There was a way to be a scientist, but be engaged in those people-oriented, human dimension problems.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Partnerships are everything.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Are you reading the environmental page in your local newspaper?” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Find someone who you have the opportunity to be inspired by.” @BonnieKeeler @NatCapProject”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

Clean Water, Powered by Gravity, with May Sharif, AguaClara

AguaClara designs gravity-powered water treatment plants for low-income communities around the world.

May Sharif, AguaClara

May Sharif, AguaClara

According to May Sharif, Founder and Managing Director of AguaClara, “More than one in ten people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water on tap.” When people don’t have access to clean drinking water, adults lose time at work and children miss school. They suffer from illness and or even death. “Up to two million people die each year due to waterborne disease,” May explains. “Most of them are children under five.” By providing access to clean drinking water, people prosper and children learn.

Conventional water treatment plants typically do not last more than two years in rural and remote communities. They require skilled technicians and proprietary parts to run and to be maintained. AguaClara has a different approach. AguaClara develops community-scale, non-electric water treatment systems. The systems are designed to be operated by a person with a sixth-grade education and are powered entirely by gravity. They use local materials and local labor to build and maintain the systems, creating a sustainable solution.

AguaClara has its roots at Cornell University. In 2005, Dr. Monroe Weber-Shirk worked with Salvadoran refugees in Honduras. He noticed the lack of access to clean drinking water. He saw that there were water treatment plants, however, the plants did not work. As he investigated the cause of widespread failure of water treatment systems in poor communities, he discovered that the systems built in these communities were not designed for the communities. Working with graduate students, he and the team designed a series of technologies for off-grid water treatment.

May Sharif became involved in AguaClara as a student. She joined the summer internship program and developed designs for the program. “That was my first exposure to the developing world and what water can mean to an entire community,” she says. May pursued a Master’s of Engineering degree and continued to work on AguaClara as her project. After graduation, Dr. Weber-Shirk asked her to continue to work on AguaClara. In 2013, May and fellow graduates of the Cornell AguaClara program formed AguaClara LLC, a social enterprise.

AguaClara currently has 14 systems in Honduras serving 65,000 people, four systems in India serving 2,000 people, and a new plant is being built in Nicaragua.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Maysoon Sharif

[spp-tweet tweet=”“More than one in ten people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water on tap.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

“Conventional water treatment plants don’t last more than two years in remote and off-grid communities.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We put out designs that are open-source.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Being there and working on designs wasn’t translating into new projects happening.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Gravity-powered water treatment works, and it works well.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

“Our partners worked on commercializing it for us.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s a certified BCorporation.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Yes, you can find people to trust but also learn to develop an eye for who you can trust.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“When we leave, we want to make sure they’re taking care of it.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Fail fast.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You have no way of predicting what’s going to happen.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Put your plan in place and be ready to throw it out the window.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I make it a point not to get married to anything I create.” May Sharif, @aguaclarah2o”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


Schools Partnering with Schools for Clean Water, with Patty Hall, H2O for Life

H2O For Life provides a service learning opportunity to schools to raise awareness and take action in the global water crisis.

Patty Hall, H2O for Life

Patty Hall, H2O for Life

Patty Hall says that it was never her intention to be a nonprofit leader. She has always been passionate about education. Even as a child, she knew that she wanted to be a teacher. Patty journey to social entrepreneurship began with her mother. “My mom was a huge Tarzan buff when I was a child,” she explains. Her mother had always wanted to visit Africa but had never found the time. After Patty’s father passed away, Patty decided to take her mother on the trip of her dreams. She and her mother traveled to Kenya.

Patty’s mom struck up a conversation with a local man. The man invited them to come to his village 20 miles away. After spending the day with local families, Patty’s mom told her that she would like to return, but not as a tourist. She wanted to get to know the local people.

About a year later, Patty and her mom returned. Instead of touring, they worked to build a health center. On this trip, Patty noticed the amount of time spent by women and girls in fetching water. It seemed evident that these small villages were in desperate need of a water system.

After several more trips to Kenya, Patty received an email from a person she had met on her visits. He was asking for help to tackle their village’s critical water shortage.

Patty worked through the school where she taught. She started fundraising to help build a water system for the village in need. Their first project raised over $13,000 and provided the community with two sand dams that allowed them to gain access to clean water. “I was so overwhelmed to see how grateful his community was to have access to water,” says Patty. She also saw the impact that the project had on the students. “That was when it hit me how critical is for youth to see that their actions have an impact.”

She soon found additional projects within Africa that needed funding and matched more local schools to these causes. It was at this point that H2O for Life was born. H2O for Life helps match schools in the US with schools in Africa. Through this experience, students learn about the global water crisis. According to Patty, “We are hoping that when people think of the water crisis and they realize the magnitude of the problem, that they can solve the problem. H2O for Life has the solutions, and they need your help to do it.”

The goal of H2O for Life is to educate, inspire, and engage students to take action to provide water and sanitation to those in need. Students also learn about how they can conserve water resources in their communities.

H2O for Life will be hosting their annual Water Ball September 22nd. You can register here to help celebrate ten years of providing water, sanitation, and hygiene education to children around the world.

Also, join them for their Walk for Water event happening October 7th at the University of Minnesota campus. More details can be seen here for this event.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Patty Hall

[spp-tweet tweet=”“They can take action without ever leaving their seats to change the world.” Patty Hall, @h2oschools”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Of the 17 goals, there is something everyone can be passionate about.” Patty Hall, @h2oschools”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I have a real passion for teachers.” Patty Hall, @h2oschools”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I call myself the accidental nonprofit person.” Patty Hall, @h2oschools”]

“I was a teacher for over 30 years.”

“I was so overwhelmed to see how grateful his community was to have access to water.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Water really changed everything for those school communities.” Patty Hall, @h2oschools”]

“Having access to water and sanitation at school really changes the lives of girls.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You have to find good people to surround yourself with.” Patty Hall, @h2oschools”]

“Really seek advice when you are questioning a problem.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Always follow your gut.” Patty Hall, @h2oschools”]

“It’s school-to-school partnerships.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


143, Kathy Ku and John Kye, SPOUTS of Water | Safe Drinking Water for all Ugandans

SPOUTS of Water is a social venture, based in Uganda, that is providing access to safe drinking water.

Safe Drinking Water for all Ugandans, with Kathy Ku and John Kye, SPOUTS of Water

Kathy Ku and John Kye, SPOUTS of Water

In 2010, Kathy Ku spent time in Uganda, where she experienced first-hand the problems with the lack of access to safe drinking water. About 30% of the population of Uganda, around 10 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. And about 60% of the population boils their water to try to purify it. Waterborne illness is the number one killer of children under 5 in Uganda, and sickens millions of Ugandans. The responsibility of securing drinking water falls disproportionally on women and children, reducing their ability to participate in other activities such as going to school.

Kathy had seen this problem before through her work with Engineers Without Borders. She knew that there were low-cost solutions available, such as nickel-impregnated ceramic pots, and yet no one in Uganda was manufacturing them. So, when she returned to school at Harvard, she could not stop thinking about this problem – or talking about it.

When I asked Kathy how she enrolled others into the idea of starting a company manufacturing water filters in Uganda, she told me “It was mostly the fact that I wouldn’t shut up about it.” After talking about the idea almost non-stop, a resident tutor finally advised her, “If you’re not going to stop talking about it, you should just go for it.”

Kathy and a handful of students began working on a design project. They developed a business plan and presentation. John Kye, who was also a student at Harvard, saw the documents that they had produced and was thoroughly impressed. He wanted in.

Initially they contacted nongovernment organizations working in Uganda with their ideas, but the local NGOs were not interested in manufacturing. Eventually, Kathy and John realized that, if this idea was going to come to life, they would have to do it themselves. They formed a company SPOUTS of Water to carry out their plans.

SPOUTS produces an accessible, effective, convenient solution, the Purifaaya ceramic water filter. The Purifaaya filter is locally produced in a factory outside Kampala, Uganda, creating livelihood for Ugandans. They distribute the filters to Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Because the Purifaaya filter costs around $20 USD, and lasts for 2 years, it is affordable to most Ugandan households. Today, around 60,000 Ugandans are using their Purifaaya filters to access safe drinking water. The goal for SPOUTS of Water is to provide safe drinking water to 5 million Ugandans by 2025.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Kathy Ku and John Kye

“I felt like I found something I could be really passionate about, without any doubt.” John Kye

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I wanted to contribute to a positive change.’ John Kye, @SPOUTSofWater”]

“Since joining SPOUTS, I’ve been mostly having fun.” John Kye

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I kind of ended up becoming a reluctant social entrepreneur.’ Kathy Ku, @SPOUTSofWater“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It was mostly the fact that I wouldn’t shut up about it.’ Kathy Ku @SPOUTSofWater“] 

“We would meet during lunch periods or in the evenings.” Kathy Ku

“I had come across the business plan for this project and I was thoroughly impressed,” John Kye

“Everything you study sitting in front of computers is going to be drastically different from everything that happens on the ground.” Kathy Ku

“It’s always interesting to see how people are innovating in their corner of the world.” Kathy Ku

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We’ve had investors describe us as Ramen break-even.’ John Kye @SPOUTSofWater“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘A good heart can last for so long, but a good company can last for decades.’ John Kye, @SPOUTSofWater“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘You have to be on the ground.’ Kathy Ku, @SPOUTSofWater“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Don’t take no for an answer.’ Kathy Ku, @SPOUTSofWater“]

“We were just two kids walking around in dirty t-shirts.” Kathy Ku

“The most fundamental root cause of all of this inequality can be attributed to sheer luck.” John Kye

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


142, Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace Middle East | Connecting Environmental Protection and Peace in the Middle East

EcoPeace Middle East uses environmental protection as a means of peacebuilding and peacebuilding as a means of environmental protection.

In 1993, the Oslo Peace Accord was signed by the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It attempted to create a framework that would eventually lead to the resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. At the time, it appeared that a permanent peace in the Middle East was imminent.

In light of the coming peace, developers rushed in. “There were 50,000 new hotel rooms being proposed around the Dead Sea,” says Gidon Bromberg of EcoPeace Middle East. At the time, Gidon was a student at American University in Washington, D.C. As part of his Master’s thesis, he proposed an important question. “I asked the question…is peace going to be good for the environment?” He did not like the answer.

Gidon recognizes how interconnected the ecosystem of the Middle East is. Water, pollution and environmental degradation do not respect national boundaries. Tens of millions of people live in close proximity across the Middle East. The Jordan River Basin, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea are eco-systems shared across borders, cultures and religions. Therefore, despite traditional enmity, regional cooperation on environmental issues is required.

Gidon proposed a first-of-its-kind gathering of environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from across the Middle East. Because of his youth and inexperience, his idea was met with cynicism. Gidon told me, “I met with about a dozen people who said to me, ‘Nice idea. Come back to us when you’re older.’”

Gidon was not willing to take no for an answer. After his initial meetings, he followed up with a letter. One of the people that received his letter called him and offered to fund the meeting. In December, 1994, Egyptian, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists met at Taba, Egypt with the shared goal of sustainable development and peace across the region. This meeting was the origin of the organization known today as EcoPeace Middle East.

EcoPeace uses both a “top-down” (advocacy) approach and with a “bottom-up” (community) approach.

They maintain independent offices with a Director in each office: Munqeth Mehyar (Amman), Nader el Khateeb (Bethlehem), Gidon Bromberg (Tel Aviv). And yet, they operate as one unit. This allows for a cultural-specific approach with one shared objective: to protect their shared environmental heritage. In this way, they are able to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in the Middle East.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Gidon Bromberg

“The reason we, as entrepreneurs, have been able to succeed is, we’re constantly trying to learn.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We were actually the model of how peace could take place.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME”]

“We are making a new path on what environmental peace building is all about.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Half of our program is bottom-up. It’s community-based.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It’s a whole watershed approach.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME   #WASH“]

“The streams cross the borders. The groundwater doesn’t stop at any political barrier.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Many of our problems are cross-border problems.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

“You can only create a constituency in support of working cross-border when you speak to the self-interest of your own community.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘How else are we going to solve the critical issues that affect your child?’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We often start with school kids.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

“We have staff working in a parallel manner if each country.”

“The textbooks are co-authored by Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians together.”

“For the first time in close to 50 years, fresh water is flowing from the Sea of Galilee, to the lower Jordan River.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘The first lesson is persistence.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

“Take risks. If we continue to play by the existing games, we’re not going to see real change.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Always stay true to your mission.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

014, Steele Lorenz, MyRain | Saving Water Resources through Business Innovation

Steele Lorenz, MyRain

Steele Lorenz, MyRain

MyRain distributes efficient irrigation equipment to smallholder farmers in India. It is not an innovation of technology; drip irrigation has existed and been a proven technology for many years. By using drip irrigation, you can increase crop yield by 50% to 100% and decrease water consumed between 20% and 50% when compared with flood irrigation. Increasing yields can drastically improve the quality of life for smallholder farmers.

Globally, 70% of freshwater is used for agricultural purposes. It has been estimated that by 2050 the world population will be around 9 billion. With the emerging global middle class, the demand for food will double. This places tremendous pressure on our freshwater resources.

In the arid region of southern India where MyRain is working, the water tables are falling rapidly. This could reach a crisis level within 15 to 20 years.

The problem is not the technology. Drip irrigation exists. The problem is distribution. This is where MyRain innovates. This year, the irrigation systems that they have distributed will save 5 billion liters of water. That’s about the amount of water that a good sized city will consume in a year…and they are just getting started.

Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Steele Lorenz grew up enjoying sports. He says he liked games with clear, fixed rules. He participated in lots of extracurricular activities including tennis camp and piano lessons. It was a far cry from the conditions of rural Indian farmers.

Steele attended the University of Minnesota with the intention of obtaining a JD degree and practicing law. Steele says “By accident, I ended up in an entrepreneurship course.” He participated in the Ventures Enterprise. His experience with entrepreneurship lit a fire inside of him. That is when he found the Acara Institute. At the time they were focused on for-profit social enterprises solving water-related issues in India.

Steele participated in the Acara Challenge where his team came in second place. When the challenge ended, Steele and his partners graduated and they went on with their lives. But they were left with a business plan and an awakened sense that they could make an impact. Steele could not escape from the idea. He and his partner Sri Latha kept testing the concept until there was nothing left to do but to either execute or forget it.

Tried working with NGOs, but did not find them to move at the same pace as entrepreneurs. Next, moved to retailers already working with farmers, but there were three main problems to overcome. MyRain has taken on each in turn.

In this episode of the Social Entrepreneur podcast, we discuss:

  • How Steele caught the entrepreneurial bug.
  • The Acara Challenge.
  • The Story of MyRain.
  • The challenges of water resource management in the face of feeding 9 billion people.
  • The three challenges faced by MyRain and how they have addressed each one.
  • How they are scaling MyRain in India.
  • The challenges of measuring impact.


014, Steele Lorenz, MyRain | Saving Water Resources through Business Innovation

013, Jim Smith, MadiDrop | From Academic Researcher to Founder

When I say “early stage entrepreneur,” whom do you picture? A hungry young person in a hoodie, eating Raman noodles and cranking out code? While this might be the prototype, more and more social entrepreneurs are looking more like Jim Smith. Jim is an academic and a scientist. He spends most days in deep research and in the classroom at the University of Virginia. However, thorough a series of synchronous events, Jim was jarred into the world of hands-on entrepreneurship in some of the most underserved communities of the world.

Jim Smith is an advisor and serves on the board of PureMadi, where they developed a sustainable, ceramic water filter. They built a factory in South Africa where they engage local women potters. Therefore, not only are the water filters effective, but they create a revenue stream for women.

Today Jim is the Cofounder and Chief Scientist at MadiDrop PBC (Public Benefit Corporation), bringing a safe drinking water solution to communities throughout the world.

Growing up on Long Island, Jim enjoyed the typical suburban life. His father got up early in the morning and rode the Long Island Railroad into the city. However, when Jim was around 10 years old, his father lost his job. This incident drove Jim to look for a discipline that seemed to produce steady employment and security. His older brother was an engineer, and influenced his decision to focus on environmental and water resources engineering.

Jim admits that his world views was primarily focused on the US and he was not really fully aware of the global challenges with clean water security. He became interested in remediating polluted water systems using natural soil microorganisms. He was primarily working on remediating industrial pollutants in groundwater and doing academic research when he received a call from Robert Marquez who was interested in using ceramics to purify water in developing countries. This work opened Jim’s eyes to difficulties with clean drinking water around the world.

Around this same time, Jim began to develop a course for Princeton University on water supplies in refugee camps. This led to a course that is still taught by Jim today at the University of Virginia called “Water for the World.”

It was from this course that PureMadi was born. Eventually, Jim saw that while PureMadi is a very good solution, one he continues to support, a second solution was required, one that was light weight, inexpensive and easily transported.

The MadiDrop is a small ceramic tablet embedded with silver. It is inexpensive, small and durable. It can be easily shipped anywhere in the world. When placed in a household storage container and filled with water, the MadiDrop releases silver ions, disinfecting the water and making it safe to drink. Unlike the PureMadi water filter, the MadiDrop is produced in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In this episode of the Social Entrepreneur podcast, we discuss:

  • What is a public benefit company?
  • Jim’s story of how he became a water resource engineer.
  • How a set of serendipitous encounters changed the course of Jim’s life.
  • What a trip to Guatemala taught him about how most of the world consumes water.
  • PureMadi and how they empower women in rural villages to create water filtration systems and produce an income.
  • How Jim ended up launching MadiDrop, a Public Benefit Corporation.


013, Jim Smith, MadiDrop | From Academic Researcher to Founder

007, Isabel Medem, X-Runner Venture | Toilets as a Social Enterprise

Isabel Medem, X-Runner

Isabel Medem, X-Runner

In this interview leading to World Toilet Day on November 19, Isabel Medem talks about her work in hygienic sanitation in Lima, Peru. X-Runner Venture is a social enterprise that brings toilets to the residents of informal housing.

Lima is the second driest capitals on earth. In the informal housing, many people resort to pit latrines which spread disease. Because the pit latrines are dug near the houses, they can cause the ground on which the houses are built to become unstable. Some people try to delay using the pit latrines, which can cause further health problems.

After university, Isabel worked in microfinance in Africa. Later, when living in Berlin, she met her cofounder, Jessica Altenburger, who was working on hygienic sanitation. Eventually they moved to Lima where, today, their toilets are in about 400 households.

In this episode of Social Entrepreneurs, Isabel compares the running of a social venture to the care and feeding of a child.

In this episode of the Social Entrepreneur podcast, we discuss:

  • The dangers of pit latrines.
  • How Isabel met Jessie, her co-founder.
  • How, together they designed a solution.
  • How they introduced the solution to the residents of the urban slum near Lima.
  • The holistic system that X-Runner Venture has created.
  • The challenges of running a social enterprise.
  • The importance of scaling the enterprise.
  • The metrics they use to measure their success.
  • Their creative use of mobile technology.
  • The rewards of social entrepreneurship.
  • Advice for new Social Entrepreneurs.


007, Isabel Medem, X-Runner Venture | Toilets as a Social Enterprise

006, David Auerbach, Sanergy | Aspirational Branding of a Toilet

November 19 is World Toilet Day. Why? Because globally, about 2.4 billion people, about one-third of the world’s population, do not have access to a basic toilet. Sanitation-related illnesses kill over a thousand children per day. This problem is compounded by the concentration of informal housing in urban setting.

This week we are bringing you two stories of hygienic sanitation, starting with David Auerbach and Sanergy. David’s mother was a psychologist and social worker. His father was an economist. It seems to him, that he has always been thinking of social justice. When David was a teacher in rural China, he saw first-hand a lack of hygienic sanitation.

In 2010, David and his cofounders participated in the Development Ventures class at MIT. The team quickly settled as hygienic sanitation (read that toilets) as the problem that they were going to tackle. In January 2011, they traveled to the urban slums near Nairobi, Kenya where they researched and confirmed their ideas.

What they found when they arrived was pit latrines, not much more than a hole in the ground with some tin and wood tacked up for privacy. Otherwise, people would use what are euphemistically called “flying toilets,” which were simply plastic bags that are subsequently discarded in the roads and waterways. In fact, over 90% of the waste is never treated and ends up in the waterways, spreading disease.

In 2011, the team started Sanergy, a social enterprise that is working to improve access to hygienic sanitation for residents of urban slums, starting in Nairobi, Kenya. Sanergy built and launched their first toilet on World Toilet Day in 2011.

Sanergy has developed an aspirational brand, Fresh Life, which they distribute in a franchise model. Sanergy uses a full value-chain approach: build, collect and convert. They sell the toilets to franchisees who are residents of the community. The franchisee charges a few cents per use. Sanergy provides training, branding, marketing, government & community relations. They collect, process and treat the waste. The waste is then converted to nutrient rich fertilizer.

Sanergy is creating jobs. 93% of their employees are Kenyans and 60% are from the informal housing community.

In this episode of the Social Entrepreneur podcast, we discuss:

  • Where the idea for Sanergy came from.
  • Their business model.
  • The importance of picking the right co-founders.
  • Using aspirational branding to change behavior.
  • David ends by giving advice to Social Entrepreneurs. He challenges us to use systems thinking to solve really big challenges.


006, David Auerbach, Sanergy | Aspirational Branding of a Toilet