Businesses that solve a social issue are always intriguing, particularly when they address the basic necessities of life. I’m often amazed at how simple the solutions are and wonder why no one came up with the idea sooner.
I’ve recently learned of some innovative entrepreneurs who’ve created solutions to what is probably the most urgent issue: the availability of safe drinking water in the developing world. A couple of my favorites are Cynthia Koenig’s Wello Waterwheel and Roundabout’s Playpump.
The WaterWheel is a 25-gallon drum that holds five times the amount of water women traditionally carry on their heads, alleviating the tremendous physical and time burden of water collection. The Wello wheel is basically a barrel with a handle that can be easily pulled or pushed similarly to roller-board luggage. Women and girls spend about a quarter of each day collecting water. Using the water wheel will free up time to spend on more productive activities like work or school.
The Playpump utilizes the energy of children at play to pump water. As the children play on the roundabout, borehole water, which has been tested and deemed safe for human consumption, is pumped into and stored in a 2,500 litre tank, allowing access to the water when needed.
Until a recent visit with my son, Todd, who builds green homes in mountain communities off the grid, I never thought about the challenge of getting power to a construction site in a rural area. Obviously, power tools are necessary and because Todd’s goal is to be as eco-conscious as possible, he doesn’t want to run a gas generator. He showed me how they have rigged up a mobile solar power station on a trailer to supply energy for the building process. This got me thinking about how useful a mini version of this could be, particularly in the developing world.
A string of recent natural disasters has made us even more aware of how suddenly we can be without power and water, conveniences many in developed countries take for granted. Just this weekend, millions of people on the East coast were without power. Some may also be without safe water. I wonder how some of these dilemmas can be turned in to viable business opportunities for an aspiring social entrepreneur. That’s what triggers the inspiration for many businesses that make a profit and a difference. Any ideas?